While on his first visit to Jamaica last November to speak at the inaugural Disability Friendly Awards gala organized by the Jamaica Council of Persons with Disabilities, Ontario’s Lieutenant Governor, David Onley, met several individuals and organizations working to improve accessibility and the quality of life for people with physical challenges on the island.
He also visited the Sir John Golding Rehabilitation Centre – formerly the Mona Rehabilitation Centre – which is the primary rehab centre for people with disabilities in Jamaica and the rest of the English-speaking Caribbean.
Founded by late British orthopaedic surgeon, Sir John Golding, during the 1954 polio outbreak that claimed 94 lives, the centre is in disrepair and in desperate need of rehabilitation.
The crumbling structure and outdated equipment were painfully obvious to Onley, who contracted polio at age three and was partially paralyzed from the neck down.
“It’s still a remarkable centre, but the building and the technology have simply not been upgraded since the 1950s,” said Onley, who was once the chair of the Accessibility Standards Advisory Council to the Ontario Minister of Community and Social Services, at an event in the city last Saturday night. “There are heroic feats of ingenuity by staff and patients to make the place work, but it was obvious to me and my colleagues that they really need help to bridge the gap between needs and resources. It seemed to me just a matter of linking up the right people here in Ontario who have the capabilities with those who are in need.”
On his return home, Onley pulled together a group of medical specialists, academics, building professionals and accessibility advocates who developed a plan to rehabilitate the facility that provides medical care, physiotherapy, speech therapy and counselling and social support and manufactures prosthetics & orthotics.
“They met at my office and everyone said what they could do to make this happen,” said Onley.
With financial support from Tim Hortons, Scotiabank and Air Canada, Onley led a fact-finding mission to Jamaica last month. The group included representatives from the University Health Network Toronto Rehabilitation Institute, Sader Power, Carleton University’s Research Educational Accessibility Design Initiative and the Rotary Club.
Dana Douglas Inc. in Nepean also donated 1,700 rollators worth close to $750,000.
“That gives us a real boost of enthusiasm,” said Onley. “In a three-day intensive review process, we considered all of the possibilities of making repairs to existing structures, constructing new facilities and most importantly introducing modern technology for such things at prosthetic devices, artificial limbs and orthopaedic shoes.
“By the time we returned home, we did so with a great deal of confidence and a viable plan for the restructuring of the centre complete with timelines.”
Last week, the Sir John Golding Rehabilitation Centre, the University of the West Indies and the Jamaican government signed a memorandum of understanding.
“What this does is link the centre with the university,” said Onley. “The university will announce the details at an event in Toronto soon of how the centre can be brought into the 21st century. It’s more than just providing equipment.
“We have to make sure that staff and personnel are brought up to speed on the new technologies and the whole process of rehabilitation to integrate them back within the culture. It’s simply not enough to get them new equipment.”