The University of the West Indies (UWI) has taken the decision to establish a Centre for Disability Studies (CDS). The CDS is an entity that will be involved in advancing the development agenda of persons with disabilities within the Caribbean, through research, academic studies, training and advocacy, which will assist in the region becoming a truly inclusive society by 2030.
The CDS has evolved out of the Office of Special Students Services which was established to give critical support to students with disabilities at UWI. This office has played an indelible role in advancing the cause of students with disabilities at the institution over the past 20 years. It has assisted many students with disabilities in their programme of studies and transformed their lives in a fundamental way.
But whilst the Office for Special Students Services has played this transforming role for a few members of the community of persons with disabilities, it is felt that this level of success is worthy of being extended to a larger segment of the targeted population in Jamaica and of replicating throughout the Caribbean, hence the decision to establish the CDS.
The CDS will have nine (9) major objectives:
• To actively place the issue of disability on the developmental agenda within the Caribbean.
• To place the Centre in a position to act as a focal point for soliciting funding for research and other projects relating to the disabled in the Caribbean.
• To strategically increase the levels of expertise on the subject of disability in the Caribbean.
• To strengthen the teaching programme in relations to Disability Studies up to the Post-Graduate level.
• To increase the number of students with a disability at the UWI.
• To replicate the progress and achievements made at Mona, to the other UWI campuses within the region.
• To make available, the most modern and effective technologies for the empowerment of disabled students attending UWI and
• To actively pursue the expansion of scholarships for students with a disability at the institution.
These aims and objectives will be achieved through a variety of strategies that are captured under the four (4) overarching areas. These are: research; academic programming; training and public advocacy.
A major part of the strategy of the CDS is to establish UWI as the quintessential research institution in the Caribbean on issues relating to persons with disabilities. In this context, the CDS will focus on areas of research relating to:
• The Disabled and HIV in the Caribbean;
• The Disabled and the Labour Market in the Caribbean;
• The Disabled and Entrepreneurship in the Caribbean
• The Disabled and the Development of Sports in the Caribbean;
• The Challenges of the Disabled in the Education System of the Caribbean;
In keeping with the objective of widening the knowledge base on persons with disabilities in the Caribbean, it is proposed to introduce a number of academic programmes and degrees to ensure that the Caribbean becomes an inclusive society that embraces persons with disabilities. To accomplish these strategies, the CDS will be working with the relevant faculties and departments, in a collaborative way, to ensure realization and success.
The CDS will continue to make UWI the leading institution in the Caribbean for the training of persons with disabilities. The CDS will continue to provide the services to students with disabilities and will forge partnerships with other institutions responsible for educating persons with disabilities. Through this mechanism, students who are conducting the various research with the CDS will be required to give certain amount of hours to those institutions that are providing education for persons with disabilities. A major aim of this initiative is to increase the possibility of more disabled students matriculating for UWI. In this context, a Year Zero program will be introduce to assist deaf and blind students who, under normal circumstances, would have been qualified for the UWI but there disability has caused them to have serious challenges with Mathematics and English. These subjects are not adequately taught to these students at the pre-university level and therefore some assistance must be provided to ensure that their potentials are not stifled due to circumstances beyond their control.
One of the major objectives of the CDS is to increase advocacy for better treatment of persons with disabilities within the Caribbean. Using its research findings and through forged collaboration with disability advocacy organizations such as the Combined Disabilities Association (CDA) in Jamaica and the Disabled People’s International (DPI) in the Caribbean, the CDS will seek to advocate for more strategic development of persons with disabilities within the Caribbean. One area of major focus will be for the employment of trained persons with disabilities. The Centre will be advocating for example, that UWI adopts a progressive employment strategy towards trained and qualified disabled individuals. The CDS will also be advocating for the development of a regional policy for the disabled. This was first mooted in the Kingston Accord in 2004 but is yet to become a reality.
Structure In keeping with good management practices, the CDS will be managed by a Board comprising a wide cross-section of individuals from the UWI and other institutions catering to the needs of persons with disabilities. The Centre will be managed initially by a Coordinator who will be required to report to the Board on the day-to-day operations of the CDS. The CDS will report to the Academic Board and Finance and General Purposes Committee, through the Office of the Principal.