The education system not inclusive for disabled students

Children writing
Children writing (Photo credit: Santi VedrÝ)

Director of the Centre for Disability Studies at the University of the West Indies (UWI), Senator Floyd Morris, criticized the Jamaican education system for not being inclusive of students with disabilities. He said the system was backward and segregated and, as a result, the challenges for the disabled had intensified even before the pandemic. Morris said the education system needed sensitization, modern technology, accessibility, and professional support for it to be more inclusive.

In agreement is university graduate, Ralisa Dawkins, who is visually impaired. She added that the institutions and policies in place to advocate for and protect the disabled were “paper pushers” and that more practical solutions were needed. 


Morris emphasized the importance of people understanding that disability was not a contagious disease and that disabled students could learn and function like other students. He added that a natural corollary to an inclusive education system is a public awareness campaign. Dawkins agreed with Morris but held strongly to the view that people with disabilities needed to speak up for themselves. “People with disabilities have the biggest role to play. The government cannot do it for us, the teachers cannot do it for us,” she said. 

Dawkins said that sensitization should start from the home where parents recognized and accepted their children’s disabilies and children accepted that they had a disability. “We have to accept ourselves first and help people to deal with us. A lot of times we are not being discriminated against. People just don’t know how to deal with us,” she said. 

Modern Technology

“In an inclusive education space, the use of modern technology is a foundational tool for the success of those students. Once you equip them with the requisite technological support, unequivocally, they will participate and do extremely well,” said Morris.

Dawkins, who did her undergraduate and master’s degrees at the UWI, commended the systems and policies in place. However, she said there was little to no technology to properly assist students. “First-year was my worst year because of the transition phase. It was not easy but because I was focused and driven, I made the best of every opportunity and I strategized,” she said. She added that she did not know how to read braille and most of the books she had to read were not audiobooks. Therefore, she had to know the keyboard and make use of software like Job Access with Speech (JAWS).


Along with physical access in classrooms and bathrooms, Morris mentioned the training of teachers. He said that trained teachers would know how to relate to children with disabilities, thus, creating accessibility. 

A former student with sickle cell anemia shared that dealing with his disease was made more challenging because his teachers did not understand his struggles and how to accommodate him within the classroom space. “Sometimes I would be at school and have no energy and want to always slump over the desk and have my head down because I am not feeling well and normally a lot of them [teachers] would feel like I am trying to escape participating in class or doing classwork,” he said. 

Dawkins added that to attain accessibility for disabled students, Jamaica needed to define disability because the idea of disability is open to too many definitions. “There is no society in Jamaica that includes everyone with a disability, even the sign internationally is a person in a wheelchair,” she expressed.   


Morris said more professional support was needed because some students may need shadows to assist them in the learning space. Dawkins also shared that while being at UWI, human readers were helpful, and she was grateful that they were available to assist her with her assignments and exams. She said, however, that disabled students must find strategies that work for them because professional support will not always be there. Most of her support came from her family and friends, even some who were also disabled, but it was her drive and attitude toward her disability that allowed her to excel. 

She advised that a lot more needs to be done by the Jamaican government, organizations, and society in general in terms of policies, support, opportunities, and value of people with disabilities. However, since the disabled were the ones being affected, they should meet society halfway.

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