Former Jamaican Paralympian, Dean Stewart says it is hard for persons with disabilities to live in Jamaica.

From the waist up, Dean Stewart’s muscled arms hint at his former years of being an athlete on Jamaica’s national paralympic team.

But now at age 33, that he uses his arms to peddle two kilometres most days from his home in Maxfield Park to Half-Way-Tree hints more profoundly at the challenges people living with disabilities (PWDs) face in Jamaica.

Stewart, who was born without legs, told the Jamaica Observer that as a former paralympian, he represented Jamaica twice in the annual New York Marathon, and so wheeling himself to Half-Way-Tree is manageable. But for the rest of his travelling, Stewart describes it as terrible.

“To leave from Half-Way-Tree in the sun to come up to Liguanea is very hard”… Bare-handed, Stewart said he wheels himself from Half-Way-Tree to Liguanea, and waiting for a taxi he said makes no sense.

“First ting, mi cyah just take any taxi; It has to be a wagon. The taxi man dem now, dem nuh know say dem fi come out and help mi put di chair in di back of the vehicle. So I’ll be there waiting fi a long time,” said Stewart, adding that the sidewalk and even public transportation are a hassle, which is subsidised for persons like Stewart who are registered to the Jamaica Council for Persons with Disabilities.

“Dem say dem build di sidewalk for disabled people and di sidewalk can’t hold one wheelchair comfortable, much less two; and then most of these sidewalk dem slant.

“The JUTC bus dem now worse because di driver dem not coming to help yuh, and most of the bus dem cannot accommodate di wheelchair.

“Di government give dem $70 and me fi just give dem $30, and when I go on JUTC bus di driver still want mi $100. A lot of di times di bus driver dem a ask mi fi ID and dem see say mi don’t have any foot. Wah more ID dem want? Dem ting deh terrible and mek mi see say dis country here really dread,” Stewart said.

Accessing public buildings also poses a challenge for Stewart, who explained that he was the first disabled person to attend the HEART Trust/NTA.

“When I went to HEART, a disabled person couldn’t go to HEART because there was nothing in place for disabled people. I couldn’t use the bathroom, in fact, I was the one who make them have fi put ramp and other things there”, said Stewart, adding that although he has been certified in at least three skill areas, there were times when he could not get a job because he could not access an office or building.

“I went to HEART in Rockfort for two years straight and get certified in data entry, welding, and web design. I send in resume all over and still nothing. Sometimes I don’t get a callback, but other times di office can’t accommodate mi because the office would a have to make over back because di wheelchair couldn’t go through the door jamb”, Stewart said.

Most other places, too, are hard to access, he said.

“Most a di place where I go to like the pharmacy, di pharmacy don’t have a ramp. Mi a ask di manager how a pharmacy don’t have a ramp.

“Mi try fi make people know say dem can’t have establishment dat can’t deal with disabled people,” Stewart said, expressing his disappointment that Jamaica lags behind other countries he has travelled to where these provisions are made for disabled persons.

“When me travel mi nuh see dat,” said Stewart.

“Mi guh Trinidad, Bahamas, Australia, Argentina, and people who are like me they don’t really have to go through the things disabled people go through out here.

“Di governments [in those places] put things in place so dat disabled people can get work. For instance, in this supermarket there is not one disabled person working in that supermarket. At least five per cent a di population must have some form of challenge, and there is nobody inside there that is disabled.

“But mi still nuh abandon the hope of getting a job,” Stewart said.

The former paralympian explained that he grew up at Mona Rehabilitation Centre, where he developed his love for sports and later represented Jamaica in swimming, basketball, and table tennis.

These days, Stewart told the Sunday Observer that he has been eking out a living selling craft beads at Welcome Plaza in Liguanea, and sometimes depending on the donations of passers-by.

Stewart said that although he excelled as an athlete, he eventually left the Jamaica paralympic team in order to work to support his family.

“It was never really a sport that paid me, enuh. But when mi used to play mi did excel, because me used to play with the seniors before even Alphanso [Cunningham] played with the seniors. But it so happened that I had to go out and work because I started getting children and having a family,” Stewart said.

Sadly, in recent months, Stewart explained that he lost his one month old daughter, whose cause of death is still unsubstantiated.

“Her name was Daniella Stewart, born August this year,” Stewart said.

Stricken with disbelief at his daughter’s premature passing, Stewart said an autopsy report came back inconclusive.

“All now me can’t understand, because the doctor said to me when him check, him could not see anything physically wrong with the child to show that something happened, so him say dem have to cut the child open. It still baffle me up to today.

“I’m still waiting to see the autopsy report because I got a call and dem tell mi di autopsy report has been done but I told them I wanted to be there for the autopsy, so I’m still waiting for them to tell me the cause of the child’s death,” Stewart said.

Nevertheless, the doting father appeared to be in good spirits, explaining that his other children mean the world to him, and like most other parents, the man whose childhood dream was to become a lawyer said he is now focused on supporting his son, who wants to become a doctor.

“My children dem a my life. Because me never get fi live certain way, I want to make sure dem can do anything and be anything dem want to be. Me have four children and my son wants to be a doctor, and me will do anything fi help him.

“Nobody never love me, even up a di centre. People get paid fi protect me and care for me, but dem get paid fi do that. So me make sure say when mi get my children me do weh me did want somebody fi do to me, love me and care for them”, said Stewart.

“Dats why mi always a talk bout mi children dem because a dem a my life. So when mi lose one now is like a piece a mi life dat gone,” Stewart added.


  1. Accessibility for the physically challenged in Jamaica is atrocious. Because the culture never put any value or worth on this community. It was the norm for parents to drop their children in institutions and forget about them. Even mayors in some cities around the world in wheelchair, so me nuh see why Jamaica who claim dem so progressive leaving these ppl behind. A progressive country care about every one of its ppl. Why dem can’t start getting kneeling buses, make proper sidewalks. An enterprising business may want to start a transportation business to meet the needs of this community.

  2. Terrible shows how backwards and underdevelopment jamaica is. Is there no equality act in the constitution that enshrines the rights of disabled ppl?

    It beggars belief and fantacists on here would have us believe how jamaica is a “paradise” SMFH.

    Push through brother Allah bless you. INSHALLAH

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