Basseterre, St. Kitts (April 11, 2014) — Federal Minister with responsibility for Health and Social Services the Hon Ms Marcella Liburd has thanked the St. Kitts Nevis Association of Persons with Disabilities (SKNAPD), the People Employment Programme (PEP), and the Ministry of Education for addressing the needs of blind and visually impaired persons.
Minister Liburd made the remarks on Thursday April 10 at the McKnight Community Centre, Basseterre, at the closing ceremony of a two-week computer course for persons living with disabilities, which was tailored at addressing the needs of blind and visually impaired persons that was facilitated by Ms Lisa Hickson from Antigua.
“One of the mottos I use in life is ‘Human First’,” said Minister Liburd. “Very often people like to put all kind of other things first, how much degrees you have, where you live, what kind of car you drive, who is friend here and all these other things, but the truth is, what matters most is that we are humans first, everything else is secondary.”
She explained that it was a very exciting time for persons with disabilities especially those who are visually impaired who could now make a step forward with accessing information technology, noting that it was very important for them to do that because the government does not want any of the citizens to be left behind.
“We heard about the laptop programme for children in high schools,” said Hon Liburd. “So we need to ensure that all of our young people even though living with disabilities can also have access to computers.
“I want to say a very special thank you to Ms Hickson for coming here to be our facilitator. I am sure she did an excellent job, and I believe that those who are learning would have benefitted greatly from the two weeks that she had.” Minister Liburd also thanked the master of ceremonies, Community Development Officer, Mr Delroy Prentice.
Hon Liburd said she was aware that the facilitator had indicated that two weeks were not enough and therefore gave notice to the PEP Project Manager who was also present: “We will have to look forward to do a second phase Mr Geoffrey Hanley, so we can keep our young people on the cutting edge. No one must be left behind.”
President of the St. Kitts Nevis Association of Persons with Disabilities (SKNAPD) Mr Anthony Mills observed that after the group was put together with the direct assistance of the People Employment Programme which is paying them weekly wages, they found that those with visual impairment were not benefitting fully from the computer training.
“We contacted the Disabled People International (DPI) North America and the Caribbean regional director Mr Lesley Immanuel in Antigua, and he put me in touch with Ms Hickson who is trained in using the JAWS (Job Access With Speech) software,” explained Mr Mills.
“Ms Hickson herself is also blind and so we thought it would be a good idea for her to come to St. Kitts and impart that knowledge not only to the students who are blind but also to other teachers who can then in turn teach other people so that we know when she leaves that the programme will be on going.”
He thanked the PEP, the Sugar Industry Diversification Foundation (SIDF), and the Australian High Commission for the assistance given to the group and the Ministry of Education which sponsored Ms Hickson’s visit.
“I am proud that today we can say that we have successfully completed the training of persons who are blind and visually impaired in the JAWS software, because that would enable them to be more independent,” commented Mr Mills.
Chief Education Officer Ms Clarice Cotton thanked the Association of Persons with Disabilities for their assistance in making sure that students at the Cotton Thomas Comprehensive School, and their teachers were trained in information technology.
“This is the way everybody is going now,” observed Ms Cotton. “It is important that all young people be are able to use their laptops and all the necessary technologies that would make life easier for them. I know that they were very happy to come to be able to use the computers.
“The Ministry of Education’s goal is to see the students who are visually impaired moving on to regular school, because nothing is wrong with their brain. They should be in a regular school functioning like the other children. With the right technology they should be able to do this. Teachers, I am challenging you to get them ready for regular primary school and secondary school.”
Course facilitator Ms Lisa Hickson explained that the JAWS (Job Access With Speech) Screen Reader gives persons who are blind and visually impaired the same access to information technology as sighted persons do.
“I would want to say to the Ministry of Education to work with the teachers, hear their concerns and their needs, as Mrs Cotton has said that these children need to be in regular school functioning,” said Ms Hickson. “They need support; they need equipment to work with. They need software and I would hope that you would visit the schools, speak with the teachers, speak with the principals and hear their concerns and work with them.”
One of the two blind participants in the PEP-sponsored computer course, Ms Letitia Murray, said: “Before I came here I knew a bit how to use computers – not too much, but this training has exposed me to some very good information. I want to say thanks to PEP and continue doing the good work.”