Above: Gerald Oriol, Jr., Haiti’s Secretary of State for the Integration of Persons with Disabilities (Photo: James English)
By James English
LATE LAST month, the Haitian government and USAID inaugurated Ecole Nationale Edèze Gousse and Lycée Célie Lamour, existing primary and secondary schools in Jacmel that were recently rehabilitated into fully handicap-accessible facilities through the installation of items such as ramps, handrails, paved alleyways and adapted toilets.
“Upgrading these schools not only creates opportunities for youths with disabilities but also is a way to sensitize the local community about the need to have all facilities open to the public and other public infrastructure accessible to persons with disabilities in order to facilitate their full integration in society,” said Gerald Oriol, Jr., Haiti’s Secretary of State for the Integration of Persons with Disabilities,
Secretary Oriol, who attended MIT leadership training with other members of the Ministerial Cabinet on the day of the inauguration, toured both schools with his departmental coordinator two days after the ceremony.
The project with USAID, which is funded for approximately $900,000 US dollars, aims to render six schools fully accessible in order to create models of inclusion that other communities throughout Haiti can emulate.
The project also supports a larger government objective of increasing the nation’s school enrollment rate, which the United Nations Development Programme recently reported had increased from 47 percent in 1993 to 88 percent in 2011.
In order to increase enrollment rates further, the government seeks to eliminate barriers to education, particularly for children with disabilities, who have often been excluded from public education due to stigmatization and an inaccessible environment.
According to a statement from the BSEIPH, the agency aims “to ensure that there are regular schools within the cities and provincial towns that are accessible to persons with disabilities so that they have the opportunity to attend school with the least possible challenges and are able to participate actively in the classroom and courtyard and be as autonomous as possible.”
The Bureau for the Secretary of State for the Integration of Persons with Disabilities (BSEIPH) is planning to open a branch office in Jacmel later this month to serve the local disabled population and to advocate for further accessible construction and renovation as the government and private sector develop the historic seaside community into a key tourist destination.
A primary and secondary school in Les Cayes are next for renovation, followed by a primary school in Port-au-Prince and a secondary school in Mirebalais.
USAID and BSEIPH are also exploring the possibility of undertaking infrastructural upgrades at two special education schools in Port-au-Prince.
James English works at Texas Christian University in Fort Worth, Texas. His articles on Haiti have appeared in Ability Magazine, the Miami Herald and the Caribbean Journal.