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Deaf Jamaican scholar wants better accommodation for disabled persons

by: - April 13, 2012
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Minister of Labour and Social Security Derrick Kellier (second right) converses with organisers and participants at the opening of the sixth annual Special Needs Conference staged by the Nathan Ebanks Foundation at the Jamaica Conference Centre in Kingston on Wednesday. From left are NEF Advisory Board members Elaine Wint and Karaine Smith-Holness, social work and disability advocate Marva Mariner, and NEF founder and Executive Director Christine Staple-Ebanks. (Photo: Karl McLarty)

WHEN Marva Mariner started losing her hearing in her teens, she told no one outside her immediate family. The harsh words she heard from the public about persons with disabilities caused the once-confident student of The Queen’s School in St Andrew to withdraw into herself.

“Deaf and dumb, cripple, one-foot, idiot, madman” were among the derogatory terms she heard being used to describe persons with a disability.

A youngster facing an uncertain future, Mariner was also in denial about her condition. “I pretended to hear when I did not, I spoke very little,” she told a conference of special educators, therapists and other professionals working with persons with disabilities.

She said at that time the Jamaican society had little tolerance for her inability to hear. Her schoolwork began to slip.

“I slowly moved from being an active participant to a solitary outsider,” said Mariner after she was diagnosed with profound bililateral sensorineural hearing loss, otherwise known as nerve deafness in both ears.

Today, as a graduate student of the prestigious Columbia University in the Unites States, Mariner is calling on Jamaicans to accept persons with disabilities and enable them to live as independent members of society.

“There can be little forward movement for us a people until each of us takes responsibility to change our views and perceptions of people with disabilities,” she asserted.

The single mother of two was the guest speaker at Wednesday’s opening ceremony of the sixth annual Special Needs Conference staged by the Nathan Ebanks Foundation (NEF) at the Jamaica Conference Centre in downtown Kingston.

Modern technology such as hearing aids, wheelchairs and talking computers can help disabled persons to be as productive as their able-bodies counterparts, she said.

Mariner is pursuing a Master of Science degree in social work, with concentration on advanced generalist practice and programming, mental health/disability.

Also addressing the conference, Minister of Labour and Social Security Derrick Kellier commended the NEF for staging the event and expanding it to include the needs of adults with disabilities.

While acknowledging that more can be done to address the needs of persons with disabilities, Kellier noted some the programmes established by Government to help the disabled. These include almost 17,000 disabled persons benefiting from the Programme of Advancement Through Health and Education; more than 1,400 children were in the Early Stimulation Programme for children aged zero to six years old; and $60 million in grants for entrepreneurial activities for persons with disabilities over the past four years.

The four-day conference is being held under the theme “building the road to independence for children with disabilities in Jamaica”.

The NEF is a non-profit organisation founded by Christine Staple-Ebanks and named after her seven-year-old son who has cerebral palsy. To date the foundation has trained more than 2,000 teachers, parents and other professionals in supporting children with special needs.

BY LUKE DOUGLAS
Jamaica Observer