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Guyana Prioritizing People With Disabilities at a New Community Unit

25 persons living with disabilities graduated from specialized computer skills training courses, JAWS (for the visually impaired), and Social Media Marketing in April 2023. Photo: Ministry of Human Services and Social Security

Guyana’s Ministry of Human Services and Social Security is enhancing the lives of people with disabilities through a new training and rehabilitation unit. Built in 2023 and located at two sites in Georgetown and Mahaica, the Support Services for Persons with Disabilities Unit includes services like financial assistance, adaptive equipment, and varying levels of life skills training.

The Ministry requested the expertise of Catalyste+ to assess the needs of people with disabilities and develop policy and operational guidelines. From November 2022 to May 2023, Catalyste+ Advisor (CA) Christine MacFarlane, a disability specialist with decades of international experience and an academic background in health and social services, worked with the Ministry to support the wide-ranging population of people with disabilities.

Participants took an eight-day computer training course and where they learned typing skills, basic troubleshooting, accessing the internet and more. Photo: Ministry of Human Services and Social Security

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO) Report on Disability, 15 percent of the world’s population, more than one billion people, live with a disability. Guyana’s Ministry of Health estimates that 6.4 percent of the population has a disability, about 50,000 people across the country. Guyanese children with disabilities receive services through integrated schools, however, children are at risk of aging out of the system due to the lack of adequate adult services. 

Dr. MacFarlane worked alongside Mahendra Budhram, Technical Services Officer at the Ministry, holding weekly meetings over the eight-month virtual assignment. Together, they laid the foundation for the Operational Framework, which outlines the goals and strategies for each of the Unit’s sectors: the Learning Lab, the Assistance and Adaptive Aids Services, and the Financial Service

A key piece in the process was a survey designed by Dr. MacFarlane taken by people with disabilities ages 16-60. This included information on participants’ age, gender, education, employment, areas of job and training interest, and a self-assessment of their current quality of life. Dr. MacFarlane reached out to disability stakeholders at other Ministries, such as the Ministry of Education, and community groups representing people living with disabilities, who were instrumental in carrying out the survey.

Overall, there are daunting issues facing people living with disabilities, Dr. MacFarlane and Budhram explain. Many of them are living in poverty and need support with issues like transportation, housing, and access to childcare before they can take advantage of training opportunities. For these reasons, Budhram outlines that training like numeracy, literacy, and computer skills, needs to be offered at a variety of levelsl. In some cases, training needs to be more socially oriented, since some participants have been living in isolation, Budhram says.

Through the multiple initiatives led by Dr. MacFarlane and Budhram, the Unit was able to develop and offer a wide range of training to support the diverse population of adults with disabilities. Some of the Unit’s offerings include basic computer skills, Job Access with Speech (JAWs), a software program that enables visually impaired users to read the text displayed on a computer screen with a speech synthesizer, and garment construction. In 2023, the Unit provided training to over 200 people with disabilities.

Minister of Human Services and Social Security Dr. Vindhya Persaud, accompanied by High Commissioner for Canada in Guyana, Mr. Mark Berman, at the opening ceremony for the Support Services for Persons with Disabilities Unit. Photo: Ministry of Human Services and Social Security

Other clients at the Unit are interested in entrepreneurial activities, wanting to learn how to start their own businesses. The  Ministry of Human Services and Social Security set up an agreement with the Small Business Bureau at the Ministry of Commerce, which operates a revolving loan fund for start up ventures. For eligible clients, the Unit is able to provide a letter of reference and a profile to support an aspiring entrepreneur’s loan application.

Given the successful impact of the Unit, the Ministry requested three additional CAs to support their short-term goals. These include increasing the training of the staff to better meet the needs of their clients, engaging with public and private sector employers to explore future opportunities for training, and developing a public awareness strategy about people living with disabilities. Eventually, the Ministry is hoping to fulfill their long-term goals, including expanding the delivery of training services to all ten regions of Guyana, beyond the four regions it urrently serves.