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Education levels the playing field for the disabled

Ruel
Reid

Monday, December 04, 2017

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More than one billion people, or approximately 15 per cent of the world's population, live with some form of disability, with 80 per cent living in developing countries.

As a country we sometimes forget that there are those around us who are not able to see, hear, speak, walk, or are living with various challenges that are defined as disabilities. These disabilities do not, however, make them any less of a person than other able-bodied individuals and, as a nation, we should look out for them by being courteous and truly being our brothers' and sisters' keeper.

I am fully aware that they do not wish to be pitied; they truly want to be seen as equal and treated as such. Regrettably, members of the disabled community continue to be stigmatised and socially excluded where there are inadequate facilities to enable them to function more fully to their capabilities.

The Government, through the Ministry of Education, has sought to ensure that they have access to one of the biggest equalisers in our country — education. Through the Special Education Unit technical support is provided to schools in the education of students with special needs across the system.

This technical support encompasses education for students aged three-21 years with various special needs, including those who are deaf, hard of hearing, blind, or have visual impairment, students with learning and/or intellectual disabilities, emotional and behavioural disorders, autism, and students who are gifted and talented.

The ministry, in partnership with United Nations Children's Fund, recently launched the Curriculum for Students with Moderate to Profound Intellectual Disabilities. The goal of this document is to offer a child-centred, user-friendly, and appropriate curriculum for use with students with moderate to profound intellectual disabilities to enable them to function as independently as possible. The curriculum addresses the following areas: language and communication, mathematics, science, physical education, music, and life skills.

We have also seen the construction of the Savanna-la-Mar Inclusive Infant Academy, which was opened in September 2017. This was done through a partnership with the Rockhouse Foundation and is a state-of-the-art early childhood centre that accommodates learners with special needs who'll be educated alongside their peers.

The Lyssons Centre of Excellence was also opened in September. This facility, which is the first special education institution in St Thomas, was built through a partnership with the Digicel Foundation. We will also be retrofitting public schools at a cost of $50 million per year over the next five years, in collaboration with the Digicel Foundation, to make them more accessible to students with disabilities.

Research indicates that students with special needs are more likely to drop out of school and have more challenges transitioning to the world of work or tertiary education programme once they complete secondary education. In response to this challenge a School to Work Transition Resource Guide has been developed which will guide educators in developing transition programmes for students with special needs at the secondary level.

On this International Day of Persons with Disabilities, we take note that there is still more to be done, yet we are thankful for the partnerships forged and look forward to fostering inclusion for this very resilient and inspiring community.

Senator Ruel Reid is minister of education, youth and information.

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