Discrimination against children with disabilities would be a thing of the past in the island’s school system if 25 loosely organised primary school teachers get their way.
And yesterday, they assembled at Hotel Pommarine, Hastings, Christ Church, with a delegation from Wheelock College, Boston, parents of children with disabilities and other challenged individuals to get first-hand knowledge of their experiences.
Speaking to an audience which included geneticist Dr Theodore Brenner and lecturer in special education Dr Felicity Crawford, mother to a disabled daughter Elizabeth King-Yearwood spoke of the challenges she faced in having her own daughter enrolled in one of the mainstream primary schools.
The concerned mother said: “ My daughter Arielle is ten years and attends Christ Church Primary School thanks to the Christian love of the principal of the school. Several primary schools refused to accept my daughter as a student because her fingers and toes are fused. Under these circumstances I was forced to make representation to the Ministry of Education on Arielle’s behalf.
“Arielle is behind the rest of her Class 2 peers because she had to undergo several surgical procedures. She is teased and taunted
by other children because of her physical challenge. In spite of this she is a well adjusted and friendly child. Her quality of life is high.”
Yearwood told a sympathetic audience that she had asked that Arielle be deferred from sitting the Common Entrance Examination because she had not reached the standard required for the examination.
Stressing that teachers should make every effort to integrate children with disabilities in the class room, Yearwood said: “Teachers have to be more creative. I would like to see a more collaborative effort at schools. There is too much segregation. Parents of children with challenges should be allowed to assist in the school system.”
Sylvester Clarke who is dyslexic, told the audience he passed through school system without anyone recognising that he was faced with a major learning disability.
“I was taunted by students because I could not read or write. I just could not copy anything correctly from the blackboard. However, there was one friend who sought to help me. At least two of my teachers extended a friendly hand to me. I was carpenter at a school and I saw a child with dyslexia who could not copy something on the board; I felt for him because I suffered this embarrassment several times in my school life. I cried many times in my life over my disability. Many of the inmates at Dodds cannot read or write and I would like to assist them,” Clarke said.
Middle-aged Clarke said with much effort he has been able to overcome his challenge to the extent where he attended the University of the West Indies and was invited to give an address at the Coleridge and Parry School on their Teachers’ Appreciation Day.
Meanwhile, Dr Brenner identified such challenged persons as astro-physicist, Dr Stephen Hawkins and Nobel Prize winners John Corinforth, John Nash and Carol Greider who all suffered from disabilities ranging from deafness and dyslexia to schizophrenia but excelled in their chosen fields. The distinguished professor maintained that these individuals excelled in their chosen fields because someone in their earlier life looked beyond their disabilities.
Noting that most societies now have ageing populations, Brenner said: “Do good because it will redound to you. We are living longer and chances are we will have a disability and need assistance.”