Excerpt from Observer column published 16 April 2018
By Jean Lowrie-Chin
The arrival of Special Olympics International CEO Mary Davis, hosted by the Digicel Foundation, ushered in a whirlwind of positivity for the special needs community last week.
We headed out to Lyssons, St Thomas on Tuesday morning for the opening of the 10th special needs centre in Jamaica, sponsored by the Foundation. The enthusiasm of Mrs. Jaqueline Wilmot Hendricks, Site Coordinator for Lyssons Special Needs Centre was contagious, as we toured the facilities where there are not only instructions in the basic subjects, but projects that can assist in promoting sustainability. The students proudly showed off large games boards they had painted – Checkers, Ludo and Snakes & Ladders, that will go on sale soon.
Later that day, we enjoyed the company of our Special Olympians, their staff led by Lorna Bell and Board headed by Alrick 'Alli' McNab, and newly appointed State Minister of Sports, Culture, Entertainment and Gender Alando Terrelonge, coincidentally brother of Emcee and Special Olympics Board Director Paula Pinnock. We watched the Unified Team of Special Olympians and students from Pembroke Hall Primary engage in a game of bocce – this sees the engagement of students with their intellectually challenged sisters and brothers, promoting respect and inclusion.
Prime Minister Andrew Holness and Minister Olivia Grange received us at Jamaica House, and we are looking forward to a Labour Day collaboration with Minister Grange, "Ramp it Up" as we build more ramps in schools and public buildings.
Our 'Conversations on Special Needs' at the Jamaica Conference Centre last Wednesday, included presentations by Pastor Phillip Johnson, the father of an autistic son, and Radcliffe Richards, the father of a daughter with Down's Syndrome. They moved us with their passion for inclusion, and their conviction that their children are God-given gifts, who have kindled in them and their families deep love and devotion.
Senator Floyd Morris, Director, UWI Centre for Disability Studies called on the Government to set an effective Date for the Disabilities Act, passed in 2014, to come into force. Indeed, we learned that countries that do not promote inclusion are losing millions as an increasing number of visitors and investors shop around for special-needs-friendly destinations.