Remarks by the Minister of Culture, Gender,
Entertainment and Sport
the Honourable Olivia Grange, CD, MP
at UWI Regional Disability Studies Conference: Advancing the
Disability Agenda through Culture and Sports in the Caribbean
UWI Regional Headquarters, Mona
13 March 2018
In March of this last year (2017) Jamaica’s Special Olympics Team represented our nation very well at the Winter Games in Austria. During the competition, a reporter interviewed a member of our team — Andrew Thompson, who competes in Floor Hockey.
The reporter asked him “Do you think you will win?”
Without blinking an eye, Andrew said with a smile: “Yeah, I always win!”
With that confidence, Andrew helped the Jamaica team to defeat Costa Rica to take the bronze medal in Floor Hockey for the FHT1 Division.
But that confidence isn’t limited to Andrew. Building confidence in one’s abilities is one of the main benefits of competing in Special Olympics Jamaica. This is a space in which we do not see disability, but rather it’s a space where we highlight and celebrate ability.
Our national sports programmes for people with disabilities, perhaps more than all others, give us a chance to celebrate ability; to celebrate effort; and to celebrate achievement. All our competitors have to push themselves and overcome several challenges in order to compete.
It gives me great pleasure to watch of our young people discover strength they never thought they had; to do things they never thought possible; and achieve success — the kind that we all can share; the kind that inspires a nation.
But while many people living with disability have been able to use sports and the arts to highlight their abilities with dignity, we are well aware that across all societies, the prospects for people with disability are not as bright as they should be.
There are a billion people living in our world today with some form of disability — and 200 million of them, according to the World Report on Disability, have “considerable difficulties in functioning.”
The data is showing that the prevalence of people living with a disability is rising and will continue to rise as people live longer. We know that there is a higher risk of disability in older people. Added to that, there is the global increase in chronic health conditions such as diabetes, the complications of which sometimes lead to a disability.
The sad reality is that across the world, people with disabilities have poorer health outcomes, lower education achievements, less economic participation and higher rates of poverty than people without disabilities. It’s not that they do not have the ability to achieve in all areas of life — as Senator Morris, Andrew Thompson and others have proven. The problem is that people with disabilities experience barriers in accessing services that people without disabilities take for granted.
As Minister, it is my duty, honour and pleasure to lead the cheers for people with disabilities who compete in sport and take part in the arts. But I have a larger mandate and that is to remove the barriers that prevent them from participating and enable them to unlock their vast potential.
Our national sport policy was developed on the philosophy of Sports for All. It is an inclusive policy that provides the framework for the mobilising all our people — disabled or otherwise — to participate in all forms of physical activity. The major focus of Government’s sports development thrust is enabling our sportspeople to achieve global success through investment in national, community and school sport, coaching, facilities and welfare.
An important pillar of our sport for all vision is providing all Jamaicans with access to sport. To put it another way, our vision is that every Jamaican, regardless of his or her challenges, must be able to access sports facilities and be able to participate in sport.
Each year, my Ministry invests significant sums in building out and improving sports infrastructure. We are continuously improving facilities at Independence Park including the National Stadium, the Stadium Pool, the Leila Robinson Courts and a Multi-purpose Court for Special Olympians. This is in addition to the development of fields, courts and tracks in schools and communities across the country each year.
We are now in the process of major infrastructure upgrades at the National Stadium and the Trelawny Stadium to bring the facilities up to international standards. An important effect of these upgrades is that members of our national family who have disabilities will have greater access to the facilities.
True to our commitment to safeguard the well-being of athletes, the Ministry of Culture, Gender, Entertainment and Sport has also implemented the Jamaica Athletes’ Insurance Plan, in keeping with the National Sport Policy. More than 1,300 of our sportspeople, across the various disciplines, are covered under the Plan, including members of Deaf Sport, Visually Impaired Cricket, Special Olympics Jamaica and Paralympics.
Athletes with disabilities account for roughly ten per cent of all athletes currently registered under the Jamaica Athletes’ Insurance Plan.
In addition, the Ministry provides monthly subventions to each of the 43 registered National Sports Associations to help run their development programmes and to prepare national teams for various competitions. Again, the Associations that represent athletes with disabilities are well supported under this programme.
Regarding training, the Ministry of Culture, Gender, Entertainment and Sport invests heavily in the GC Foster College of Physical Education and Sport, providing a monthly subvention to the college. Thanks to the investment in GC Foster College, schools across the country can now engage at least one well trained Physical Education teacher who is able to spot and develop talent, encourage an active lifestyle, and go on to coach our elite athletes to global success.
However, there is need for more coaches and other technical sport personnel who specialise in areas that will support the mobilisation and participation of people with disabilities to be involved in sport. And this is one area that I want us to focus on addressing as part of building sports for all.
People with disabilities are making significant contributions to the cultural and creative industries. Within my Ministry, the Jamaica Cultural Development Commission has a strong record of engaging people with disabilities in all its annual competitions and celebratory events.
In fact, we have been able to develop initiatives especially for people with disabilities, such as the Deaf Dance Competition. This competition was first staged in 2006 to sensitise the deaf community on dance forms, with a view to encourage them to celebrate the culture in this medium while building their self-confidence.
The competition continues to grow. And last year, we were proud to welcome entries from:
- Jamaica Association for the Deaf Pre-School
- May Pen Unit for the Deaf
- Caribbean Christian Centre for the Deaf
- Christopher’s School for the Deaf
- Jamaica Christian School for the Deaf
- Danny Williams School for the Deaf
- Abilities Foundation
- Port Antonio Unit JAD
- and Lister Mair Gilby High School for the Deaf
The Institute of Jamaica, through the Junior Centre, also has a long tradition of hosting children from all backgrounds including children with disabilities. That programme has helped to produce the very outstanding Jamaican musician, Grub Cooper, who joined the Junior Centre in his youth and successfully completed the programme.
Moving forward, we must ensure that members of the disabled community are able to participate in the cultural and creative industries and to reap the economic benefits from their creations.
In the process of updating the National Culture Policy, we have taken the time to consult with creative practitioners who have disabilities.
Their input is critical. This is one area of human endeavour where we continue to be inspired by the exceptional talent and creativity of our brothers and sisters with disabilities.
In the end, we all want the same things. We all want a worthwhile life. We want to live and work in comfort and dignity, with respect for our contributions. Sport and the cultural and creative industries offer these possibilities.
Sport and the cultural and creative industries offer outlets to celebrate the ability of people with disabilities. Sport and the cultural and creative industries offer them opportunities to express themselves, to push themselves, and to live a worthwhile life.
We have achieved much success in this area. But there is more to be done to improve access to participation and to unlocking the vast potential of our brothers and sisters living with disabilities.