Premier pushes disabilities legislation

It has been nearly a decade since Cayman’s government watchdog revealed massive disparities in the treatment of the mentally and physically disabled in the Cayman Islands.

That report, from the Office of the Complaints Commissioner, led to the formation of a task force, which led to recommendations for a national Disabilities Bill.

The recommendations were submitted just prior to the end of the former People’s Progressive Movement administration in early 2009.

Since then, some changes have been made to provide more thorough information about the existence of disabilities within the community, particularly among schoolchildren. However, no legislation requiring proper accommodation and equal treatment for people with disabilities has ever been brought to the Legislative Assembly.

Premier Alden McLaughlin, who created the Cayman Islands Disability Policy Subcommittee, said last week that his new Progressives government hasn’t forgotten the issue and intends to bring a new law within the current government’s term in office.

“The [Disabilities] Law will support, promote and protect the interests of people with disabilities,” Mr. McLaughlin said.

The precise form of the bill isn’t known yet.

Background

In 2009, recommendations were presented to government for a Disabilities Bill that would improve access to public and private buildings, improve mental and physical health care treatment policies, and ensure that the disabled would not be discriminated against in hiring or movement.

Prior to that, a comprehensive review of disabilities policies in other countries was completed by a task force nominated by then-Education Minister McLaughlin. That review followed a report from then-Complaints Commissioner John Epp’s office in 2005 that identified many disparities in the treatment and rights of the mentally and physically disabled in the Cayman Islands.

The group’s recommendations included requiring retrofitted improvements to allow disabled people access to buildings and a requirement that employers hire a certain number of disabled people. The group also recommended that the various laws that deal with mental and physical disability issues be consolidated and combined, and that a National Disabilities Council be formed.

Mr. McLaughlin did not indicate whether similar provisions would be included in the Disabilities Bill when it does come before the House.

Some progress

In the meantime, efforts of advocates for the disabled since 2007 have yielded some results.

One key development is a register, completed at the start of the school year in September 2010, showing 185 children with special needs who were in the mainstream public school system.

At the time, another 71 children were attending the Lighthouse School, which caters specifically to children with special needs, and another 120 kids were in the Education Department’s early intervention program.

That year marked the first time a comprehensive count was taken of children with special needs in the Cayman Islands.

The registry contains information on children with physical and mental disabilities, as well as those with developmental problems and learning difficulties.

What the updated information revealed was disturbing. Brent Holt, then the Education Department’s disabilities specialist, said the department is finding more complex and severe disability cases. “And we’re going to have more complex cases coming up through the early intervention program into the school years,” he said at the time.

The Education Modernisation Law 2009, passed by the former PPM government but put on hold while regulations were finalized, required that all schools provide a registry of children with special needs on an annual basis.

Once children who need help were identified, the next step is to provide the resources to do so, Mr. Holt said.

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