By Maia Chung

 There are many things in this world that people focus on, however one that should be paid more attention to, is the fact of a developing a disability; or more specifically the possibility of someday becoming disabled. I have two friends who were unbelievably “normal” who have become disabled – one having lost their sight, with the other heading in the same direction. There was no warning.

If us the members of the normal community, do what we can to augment the services and upgrade the pro visions for disabled people while we are strong and healthy – it may be the same service we have championed that becomes our saving grace, if God forbid we become disabled.

No one is praying to lose their faculties, but the world we live in and research from August bodies indicate we have to face the reality of being normal and then becoming disabled someday.

Not all of us will walk this road thank God, but unfortunately research shows that, “the number of people with disabilities is growing” – Summary World Report on Disability World Health Organization and The World Health Bank copyrighted 2011. According to the document Summary World Report on Disability World Health Organization and The World Health Bank copyrighted 2011: “Diverse Experiences: stereotypical views of disability emphasize wheelchair users and a few other , “classic” groups such as blind people and deaf people. However, the experience resulting from the interaction of health conditions, personal factors, and environmental factors varies greatly.”

The document explains further, “while disability correlates with disadvantage, not all people with disabilities are equally disadvantaged. Women with disabilities experience gender discrimination as well as disabling barriers. School enrolment rates differ among impairments, with children with physical impairments generally faring better than those with intellectual or sensory impairments. Those most excluded from the labor market are often those with mental health difficulties or intellectual impairments.”

Autism is one such issue that is proving the aforementioned true right here in Jamaica. Autistic children are finding it hard to get into schools, despite their proven abilities to learn and learn well, and even with many exhibiting extremely higher than normal rates of learning. The nation’s high schools, are not equipped to handle the Autistic learner, and the rate of moving the secondary system into a place to keep up with the increasing diagnosis of Autism , is taking the State a very long time, leaving us behind with more and more persons receiving the diagnosis of Autism here in Jamaica.

This issue, not Autism, but the intellectual disability needs to be a priority of the government leaders and how we can move our education system as quickly and effectively as possible into a mode where these citizens of this nation, can be accommodated.

“Autism is defined as a complex developmental disability that typically appears during the first three years of life and affects a person’s ability to communicate and interact with others. Autism is defined by a certain set of behaviors and is a "spectrum disorder" that affects individuals differently and to varying degrees. There is no known single cause of autism, but increased awareness and funding can help families today. In March 2012, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued their ADDM autism prevalence report. The report concluded that the prevalence of autism had risen to 1 in every 88 births in the United States and almost 1 in 54 boys. The spotlight shown on autism as a result of the prevalence increase opens opportunities for the nation to consider how to serve these families facing a lifetime of supports for their children. Currently, the Autism Society estimates that the lifetime cost of caring for a child with autism ranges from $3.5 million to $5 million, and that the United States is facing almost $90 billion annually in costs for autism (this figure includes research, insurance costs and non-covered expenses, Medicaid waivers for autism, educational spending, housing, transportation, employment, in addition to related therapeutic services and caregiver costs).” – taken from http://www.autism-society.org/about-autism/.

Hearkening back to Summary World Report on Disability World Health Organization and The World Health Bank copyrighted 2011, “those most excluded from the labor market are often those with mental health difficulties or intellectual impairments. People with more severe impairments often experience greater disadvantage, as shown by evidence ranging from rural Guatemala to Europe.”

Further the Report indicates that, “disability disproportionately affects vulnerable populations. Results from the World Health Survey indicate higher disability prevalence in lower income countries than in higher income countries. People from the poorest wealth quintile, women, and older people also have a higher prevalence of disability. People who have a low income, are out of work, or have low educational qualifications are at an increased risk for disability.

“Data from the Multiple Indicator Cluster Surveys in selected countries show that children from poorer households and those in ethnic minority groups are at significantly higher risk for disability than other children.”

Many of us in our wellness do not consider those who are unwell or disabled much less to stretch our imaginations, to consider “what if I became disabled?” Such morbid depressing thoughts, are not the encouragement of this writer, however – all scenarios need consideration by us all, pretty much like how we have at some time or the next thought, “what if I were Bill Gates rich?”.

Some recommendations of the Report are: “expanding health and social insurance coverage, ensuring that poor and vulnerable people with disabilities benefit from poverty targeted safety net programmes, and introducing fee waivers, reduced transport fares, and reduced import taxes and duties on durable medical goods and assistive technologies”.

Also, “governments, voluntary organizations and professional associations should consider running social marketing campaigns that change attitudes on stigmatized issues such as HIV, mental illness [disabilities specifically intellectual ones] and leprosy. Involving the media is vital to the success of these campaigns and to ensuring the dissemination of positive stories about persons with disabilities and their families”.

Being disabled is not a great happy experience, but it is not the worst thing either. There are multiple disabled people who have changed this world for the better and if we focus on this and regard this community with love and respect and solicitousness the world‘s condition can only improve.

Maia Chung is a cabinet appointed member of Jamaica’s National Advisory Board for Persons with Disability and Chairman of that body’s Public Education Sub Committee mcautismfoundation@gmail.com

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