PUBLIC Defender Earl Witter has thrown himself behind the efforts of Maia Chung’s Autism and Disabilities Foundation (MCADF), after the founder announced last week she could not go it alone any longer without government’s support.
Chung also said she would seek audience with parliament in the coming weeks on behalf of children diagnosed with autism, noting that despite her organisation’s success in creating awareness and securing over $10 million through fundraising initiatives, the efforts of her group were being derailed due to the government’s failure to implement infrastructural changes which would improve the lives of those living with the disability.
Speaking to the Jamaica Observer last Thursday, Witter said he would be offering any assistance Chung needed in going before parliament to plead her case.
“I have the highest admiration for Maia Chung for not only founding her organisation, but in relation to that, for what she and others whom she has encouraged to join her have attempted to do in relation to the autistic,” he said.
“I am prepared to support any endeavour by her to be heard by the parliament so that she can put her case directly to the legislator in the hope that they would be moved to give assistance to organisations like hers, which do invaluable work and are deserving of all the support a people can give,” noted the public defender.
Chung, a communication specialist, said that as a result of the awareness created of the disorder by her four-year-old group, more and more parents were coming to the MCADF for assistance. The last government subvention to the group she noted was in 2009, when they received $100,000 to assist some students, although the few schools catering to the needs of autistic children had to charge at least $40,000 to educate them, given their level of disability.
“We need much more government intervention at this level, because identifying a whole bunch of people who are affected by a situation and not having anywhere for them to go is a waste of time,” she said.
Witter said he was mindful of the challenges being faced by those living with disabilities and vouched to be zealous in his efforts to protect them.
“The autistics are a much rejected constituency of the disabled, who like the abled, all they wish to be is enabled, and a caring society should see the self-interest in supporting organisations like hers as well as enabling the disabled,” he said.
Meanwhile, some of the persons who have benefited over the years from the MCADEF were very appreciative of the work done by Chung and her team. They believe her decision to cease outreach activities would be a set back to the community which was already experiencing many hardships.
“I think that lady was doing a fantastic job and it’s just unfortunate,” said Ruth Freeman, a mother of a 30-yearold autistic son who met Chung last year during an Autism Splash that was geared towards registering children with autism for a national database.
“I don’t think enough interest is there and maybe those of us who are affected should raise our voices more clearly,” she added.
Ruthlyn James, who started the Adonijah Group of Schools at her home to cater to the educational needs of disabled children, said Chung has been a strong voice for those living with autism.
“It is sad to know that the foundation is closing because it helped people who are especially financially destitute. Even if she couldn’t provide financially, she was a voice for us,” she said.