Thu | Mar 21, 2019

Disabilities groups give lawmakers an eye-opener

Published:Saturday | February 16, 2019 | 12:05 AM
Gloria Goffe, executive director of the Combined Disabilities Association.
Christine Hendricks, executive director of the Jamaica Council for Persons with Disabilities.
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Combined Disabilities Association Executive Director Gloria Goffe’s presentation to Tuesday’s sitting of the Joint Select Committee on Occupational Safety and Health Bill, 2017, so impressed lawmakers that it elicited a commitment from Kavan Gayle to undertake a major amendment to parliamentary procedures going forward.

“While Ms Goffe has made an excellent presentation, and there could have been more, based on the time, I am just wondering if when we disseminate a bill of this nature, if it is disseminated in a format that would be conducive to persons living with disabilities,” he said to spontaneous applause.

“And I am suggesting that as a Parliament, that is where we should start first, and Senator Floyd Morris speaks to it often, and if he speaks to it inside here, then those he represents must be given the same support. Maybe today, we would have had a more extensive presentation by this group had they received the bill in a format that would have been conducive to their situation. So I am suggesting that that is where we need to go as a Parliament.”

Impressed by professionalism

The senior trade unionist was impressed by the professionalism and manner in which Goffe, who is blind, articulated recommendations from the umbrella organisation for persons with disabilities, reading from a Braille document with ease and consummate composure.

Having received the 198-page document on Friday, February 8, two days later, Jamaica Council for Persons with Disabilities Executive Director Dr Christine Hendricks confirmed in writing that Goffe and the chairman of the Combined Disabilities Association, Henrietta Davis-Wray, would attend the February 12 sitting to present on behalf of the community. This, despite the fact that they had not been allowed sufficient time for a comprehensive review of the draft document.

Hendricks explained: “Based on the time constraints and the length of the bill, we were unable to do a full review of the legislation. However, in order to ensure adequate representation of the disabled community, we are requesting that consideration be given for additional comments to be presented at a later date.”

Goffe, however, in just about 11 minutes, did justice to their cause, hitting home on a number of critical areas, with her call for provisions from the Disabilities Act 2014, the Building Act 2018, and the Public Health Act to be incorporated into the long-overdue legislation, resonating with committee member consultant psychiatrist Dr Saphire Longmore.

“Thorough and very relevant presentation. I would also add the Mental Health Act,” she said.

An equally impressed Don Wehby zeroed in on another aspect of Goffe’s presentation.

“I thought that was an excellent presentation, and I’d like to congratulate you,” the businessman declared, going on to support the call for a review of Section 75, which speaks to the need for businesses with 20 or more employees being mandated by law to establish an effective joint safety and health committee.

The Jamaica Council for Persons with Disabilities recommended that a similar responsibility be required of businesses with fewer than 20 workers, a point Wehby admitted had caught his eye.

“She raised a very important point, where in looking at the legislation, one could interpret that [it] is geared at larger companies. I think that is something that we, as a committee, will have to investigate further in terms of how we deal with some of these smaller businesses going forward because they’re not really going to have some of the resources to execute.”

Committee Chairman Zavia Mayne gave this assurance: “The submissions are well received by the committee, and the recommendations that you have so highlighted will be duly considered for inclusion in this bill.”

christopher.serju@gleanerjm.com