By Floyd Morris
October 6, 2016

On Monday October 3, 2016, an article was published in the Jamaica Gleaner, chronicling the experience of the National Youth Service (NYS) in getting placements in the private sector for persons with disabilities that they have recruited and trained. It is a heart rending story that was outlined by the NYS because persons with disabilities are willing to make the effort to be trained and ultimately, employed.

Over the past 20 or so years, the NYS has been making a genuine effort to train and place persons with disabilities in jobs. From the Government of Jamaica Information Communication Technology Training Programme in 1999 to the current Job Coaching and Placement initiative, the institution has been doing what is possible to include members of this vulnerable community in its training of youths mandate. But their efforts are being stymied in the case of persons with disabilities as they seek to place them in jobs in the private sector.

In the context of a market economy, the private sector is suppose to be the main engine of growth. They have a greater capacity to absorb persons with disabilities in the workplace than in the public sector. The public sector is severely restricted in its employment capabilities and especially within the context of a market oriented economy.

Recently, I conducted a study on behalf of the Government of Jamaica (GOJ) that revealed just over 91% of the respondents being unemployed. The survey was drawn from a sample of 1,014 persons with disabilities from across the 14 parishes of the island. It is not that these individuals are seekers of handouts and do not want to work. In fact, the converse is more applicable. They want to work. They want to receive real empowerment.

I am not however surprised at the response of the private sector towards the take up of these NYS trainees. In speaking with some of the captains of industry within the private sector, you get a sense that they believe that it will be a burden to employ these individuals. Some of them do not have a clue as to what persons with disabilities can do. Others merely believe that these individuals should be on some form of welfare. As it relates to the latter belief, in a conversation with a senior member of the Economic Growth Council (EGC) created by the Holness administration, I asked what plans were there to include persons with disabilities in the productive capacity of the country. The person responded, “Someone once said, it takes cash to care.” I gather from this statement that the private sector mogle is of the view that the Government can only respond to the needs of persons with disabilities when there is growth in the economy. For me, this is an antiquated view. It represents medieval thinking of persons with disabilities. With the advent of modern technology, we have gone pass the welfarist notion of persons with disabilities. These are individuals who can contribute to the productive capacity of the country. What they need is the requisite training, appropriate technological support and the correct attitude and understanding from employers.