Policy: Access to services biggest challenge for disabled

Access, not only to buildings, but also to daily services, healthcare and job training/employment remains the biggest challenge to social integration facing the estimated 3,000 disabled residents of the Cayman Islands.  

That’s according to the recently drafted Cayman Islands disability policy for 2014-2033, which seeks to set out long-term goals to make provision for the disabled in the country.

“Not all learning institutions are accessible to persons with disabilities,” the disability policy states. “Persons with disabilities in need of rehabilitation and habitation services are also encountering major gaps in services, oftentimes resulting in their having to leave the country in order to receive the services they require. 

“Parents are facing difficult decisions every day regarding the need to move overseas with their children who have disabilities in order to ensure that they have the best possible education. It is very unfortunate, but many homes have been divided by distance because one parent has had to leave with their child to seek better educational opportunities.”  

The draft disability policy makes a number of recommendations to improve the situation, but most involve at least some cost and others require a change in society’s views toward the disabled. 

Among the recommendations made by the policy are: Installation of sounds and lights at pedestrian crossings; enforcement of traffic laws regarding disabled parking spaces; review of building codes to improve disabled access to public buildings and spaces, including both government and private sector offices; and provision for disabled evacuation assistance as part of the National Hazard Management Plan. 

The recommendations also seek the establishment of a government-appointed National Council for Persons with Disabilities, including a secretariat to support the council, which would act as the public “champion” for all matters affecting the disabled.  

Another difficulty with creating a public policy to support the disabled is the general lack of knowledge about the number of people with specific disabilities, and services available to treat those disabilities.  

The 2010 census attempted to tally the general areas of disabled residents into general categories. It found that some 2,993 people – Caymanians and non-Caymanians – had some form of disability. The most common disabilities involved sight (788 people), lower limb disabilities (516 people) and “other” (442 people).  

The incidence of “mental illness” was identified in 195 people, and “learning disabilities” in 223 people. 

“Registration leading to more accurate data on persons with disabilities would enable service providers to better plan and implement services, projects and programs,” the policy states. “Armed with more comprehensive information on the extent of disabilities within communities, fundraisers should be more effective in soliciting funds for disability causes.”  

Healthcare standards and access have been ongoing concerns in the Cayman Islands and have been chronically under-funded over the years.  

The policy proposes “provision of an adequate number of mental health professionals specializing in the treatment of persons with disabilities.”  

The draft policy also suggests establishing an inpatient rehabilitation center for the disabled as part of the public sector’s healthcare services. 

Public meetings to discuss the proposed policy will be held on: Apr. 3 at the Aston Rutty Civic Centre in Cayman Brac; Apr. 7 at Mary Miller Hall in Red Bay; Apr. 9 at the Sir John A. Cumber Primary School Hall in West Bay; Apr. 14 at the James M. Bodden Civic Centre in Bodden Town; and Apr. 16 at the Clifton Hunter High School Performing Arts Centre.