For further information on the JCPD, persons can contact 926-9374 or 968-8373, or visit any National Insurance Scheme (NIS) offices island-wide. The Jamaica Council for Persons with Disabilities (JCPD) is looking to reach more Jamaicans with disabilities so that the Government can adequately cater to their educational, economic, and social development. Through funding from the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), the Council will be seeking to locate and register more persons across the island. The aim is to create a reliable database “to be able to plan effectively as a government, people, and a nation, because it is important to know the number of persons living with disabilities, to be able to meet their needs,” says the organisation’s Executive Director, Christine Hendricks. The registration process, which gets underway in December, will involve two aspects – data gathering and a medical component, which will provide the Council with sufficient information for developmental planning. “The data gathering aspect will ensure that the various disability groups are represented, indicating the socio-economic status; and the medical aspect, will ensure that all the critical information, regarding the different disability groups, are represented on the medical form,” Miss Hendricks explains to JIS News. While the Council now caters to 12,000 disabled Jamaicans, Miss Hendricks feels that the number could be closer to 400,000 as many persons are unreported. “As a nation, if we are adhering to international standards, we are looking at 15 per cent of the population, which would make it closer to about 400,000 persons across the island with special needs,” she says. The JCPD, a programme of the Ministry of Labour and Social Security, caters to Jamaicans with various challenges, such as visual and hearing impairments, intellectual disabilities, speech impediment, autism, Down’s syndrome, cerebral palsy, paraplegia, quadriplegia, hemiplegia and multiple disabilities. It was instituted in 1973. Miss Hendricks tells JIS News that once persons are registered with the Council, then the body guarantees that throughout each stage of development, their individual needs are met. “What we have been doing is ensuring that whatever the individual come to us with, the appropriate assistance is tailored based on their needs,” Miss Hendricks informs. She explains that children, who are between ages eight to 17, are normally placed in the education system, and “we provide whatever school support is needed”. Educational scholarships are provided on an annual basis to those, who have transitioned to tertiary institutions. “When they reach adulthood, we try to ensure that there are employment and training opportunities available, through HEART Trust/NTA, and other facilities,” she tells JIS News. The Council also facilitates various grant-funded initiatives, where beneficiaries can embark on small, income generating projects if they are business-oriented, or they can apply for Economic Empowerment Grant (EEG) assistance. Miss Hendricks tells JIS News that persons with disabilities can also benefit from a National Housing Trust (NHT) initiative, where they can acquire houses at a low interest rate of two per cent. They are also provided with information regarding their sexual and reproductive health, with various communication tools such as DVDS, comic books, and other training materials used in the education process. “It was thought that persons with special needs didn’t have anything to do with sexual and reproductive health, and so much of the information in that area was not accessible to this sector of society. The JCPD has, however, seized the opportunity to provide such a programme, so they will be better equipped,” Miss Hendricks points out. Other programmes offered by the Council include: a bus pass service, counselling, medical, and social assistance. Miss Hendricks tells JIS News that the Council is working to sensitise the public about the importance of being inclusive as a nation, so that persons with disability can feel like they are real participants in society. “What we want is an inclusive society where all the various programmes that exist include persons with disabilities, which involves access to information about job opportunities, economic and social benefits. We want persons with disabilities, who have the ability to reach their fullest potential, to be accepted within society, so that they can contribute to nation building,” she states. She says that the Council is aiming to do much more for persons with special needs, but notes that there are budgetary constraints hindering the process. She is therefore urging the public to lend a helping hand by funding some of the training and public education programmes, providing technical support, job opportunities, and by volunteering.