As someone who volunteered as a shadow or aide to members of the visually impaired student community at the University of the West Indies throughout my tertiary school life, I understand first hand the importance of help for persons who are disabled.
While there is always room for improvement, I have always applauded moves made in the country that cater to inclusivity for members of the disabled community.
From the installation or construction of ramps to the passing of the Disabilities Act.
Among the provisions in the Act- it prohibits any educational or training institution from preventing a person from enrolling at or attending an institution because of his or her disability.
And one of the latest inclusive moves has been the introduction of our new polymer bank notes that carry special features on every one to make it easier for the visually impaired to distinguish between notes.
I’m slowly getting a hold of the new money.
I had a $1000 and a $500 in hand this week.
On the top right hand of the thousand dollar, I felt a circle in braille.
Similarly on the top right hand of the $500 I felt an X in braille.
I’ve began my thoughts like this because the matter on my mind this morning has to do with a young member of the disabled community.
I’m going to refer to her as Little Williams.
I pounced upon a video of Little Williams on the weekend that has received alot of engagement on social media.
She is 6 years old and Little Williams is a double amputee.
And in her own words in a 2 minute and 50 seconds video, she described the daily challenges she has had at school as a disabled 6 year old grade 1 student.
Let’s take a listen to an excerpt of the audio to hear her explain.
Immediately what struck me about Little Williams is how well she’s able to express herself so that you can understand quite quickly her experiences.
She told us that her support to use the restroom is inadequate.
She’s being taken to the restroom by a student who is also the same age as her in grade 1.
You heard Little Williams expressing the need to have an older child taking her to the restroom. She also questioned why she wasn’t being allowed to use a restroom designated for teachers.
And just based off assumptions, she might want to use this bathroom because it must be cleaner that the student restroom.
Further details on this matter was provided by the 6 year old’s mother on social media.
She said her child was accepted by the primary school.
The mother says she asked to stay with her child part time but was restricted from doing that, with the institution assuring her that it would be able to cater to her needs.
She supported the claim made by Little Williams that it was decided that the 6 year old would use the teacher’s restroom but that was not honoured.
This mother also claims that her child was picked on.
I made efforts to reach Little Williams’ mother, but was unsuccessful.
However based on what has been presented, this grade 1 student is being affected in a way that several other students in need of help have been impacted.
Students like Little Williams need a Shadow or Shadow Teacher.
Last year August in explaining what they do, Acting Chief Education Officer, Dr. Kasan Troupe informed that they may be employed to provide support for going to the bathroom, support a child to eat, or give assistance to a student who will need support to do tasks in the classroom.
There is a need for more Shadows in our schools. Little Williams is in need of a Shadow. This would make her journey and use of the restroom much easier.
The latest available statistics in February, 2023 from the Special Education Unit indicates that 315 shadows have been deployed across the country.
Among that group, 37 have been assigned at the early childhood level, 2-hundred and 12 at the primary level, 64 in high schools, and two in University.
My check on Monday with the Special Education Unit says approximately 2-hundred more Shadows are needed across the education system. And this may just be the number based on applications received.
There might be so many others who are trying to manage and are unaware that the aid is available for their special needs children. So those persons are not reflected in the approximate figure I was provided with.
This needs to be addressed so that students like this 6 year old aren’t deprived.
There’ve been several stories where parents with special needs children have had to quit their jobs or balance a job and shadowing their children because they’re unable to secure one from the Ministry of Education.
For those who’ve had to give up a better paying job, they’ve expressed that the payment they now get from the Ministry is not enough but they have to make the sacrifice for their child or children.
According to reports, Shadows were being paid a pre-tax salary of 40 thousand dollars a month.
In this regard, consideration could be given for an increase.
This may make the post more attractive and make things more manageable and economic for parents who’ve made the sacrifice to shadow their children.
Ultimately more Shadows are needed.
I’d also call this morning for the Special Education Unit to intervene in the case of Little Williams.