Two find vision in the reality of their blindness
Daniel Chambers of Bequia and Cheryl Adams of Byera have a few experiences in common. They both lost their vision as toddlers, and each had the opportunity to attend special education institutions abroad through the intervention of others.
In the case of Adams, she was briefly exposed to primary education at the Byera Anglican School. That short-lived encounter later meant that she often found herself at home alone while others attended school. Subsequently placed at the Lewis Punnett Home, it was the intervention of the St Vincent Jaycees that led to Adams attending the School for the Blind in Trinidad around age 12 where she was exposed to a whole new way of life and seven years of skills development which set the foundation for a meaningful life, despite total blindness.
In the case of Chambers, more fondly known as Danny, the intervention that helped change the circumstances of his life was made through Canadians, Ron and June Armstrong.
They, “Were the main players in the Bequia Mission at the time,” and were also closely associated with the Bequia Sunshine School – for Children with Special Needs, which Danny attended as a boy, he told SEARCHLIGHT.
The couple was instrumental in getting him to attend the W Ross McDonald School in Canada where Danny spent four years among other children with a range of disabilities being exposed to a whole new world of possibilities.
Further training was done in the use of Braille and the computer, “in the days of floppy disk,” Chambers related. “How to manage yourself at home and how to get around – when you travel a route things you can do to mark the route,” are skills which he acquired while there. The resident of Union Level, Bequia also did a bit of sports, representing his school at various meets, learnt how to play a piano and even did some wrestling. “It was a life changer,” Chambers said.
As a child, “the challenges growing up were not great,” because he had strong home and community support.
“I was never locked away, I was always up and about,” with his brother, cousins and an aunt who has played a pivotal role in his life.
Today, Danny continues to make the daily trip by boat from Bequia to the Workshop for the Blind in Kingstown, the same place where he had been placed on attachment about 20 years ago while a student of the School for Special Needs in Kingstown. He is one of three blind persons who are engaged in making mops and caning chairs. They have dedicated clients, but Chambers, who has since been acting as president of the National Society of and for the Blind since the death of Stanley Richards, admits that there is more to be done with and for people with visual impairment.
Adams’ stint at the School for the Blind also gave her a whole new perspective on life and she views the period spent at the Lewis Punnett Home as a sort of blessing in disguise. “At the end of it sometimes things that look bad turn out for the good because I ended up getting the opportunity to go to school in Trinidad,” she told SEARCHLIGHT.
There she was exposed to training in the use of Braille, typing, home management elementary math and language arts skills, among other things. “That school played a very important part in my life,” the wife and mother of a young adult daughter told SEARCHLIGHT.
Adams has taught Braille and IT to blind students at the Georgetown School for Special Needs for two decades, but just a few months ago decided to give her full attention to developing a Centre at Sans Souci operated by the organization, Voice of the Disabled that would offer training and skills development to people with all disability types. Like Chambers, she highlights the significance of strong family support in positively influencing the lives of people who are blind.
In St Vincent and the Grenadines (SVG), and the rest of the English speaking Caribbean, May is observed annually as Blindness Awareness Month, and May 18 as Founders Day. That’s the day in 1914 when James Alves pioneered organized work with and for people who are blind in Trinidad and Tobago, Chief Executive of the umbrella, Caribbean Council for the Blind, Avrel Grant explained.
“So it’s a bit of Caribbean spiritedness, rather subtle resistance given our own unique issue in recognition of James Alves,” who founded the Trinidad and Tobago Blind Welfare Association, Grant told SEARCHLIGHT. Outside of the English speaking Caribbean, blindness awareness is observed in October.
Making reference to the established assessment used to determine levels of visual impairment, Grant noted that most people with visual impairment have low vision, “they have less than 25 per cent vision and that’s about 3 per cent of the population, or “about 180,000 low vision people in the English speaking Caribbean”. National programmes for children who are blind vary from very small effort in St Vincent and the Grenadines to a substantial effort in such countries as Trinidad, Barbados and Guyana. But seven in 10 children who need special attention in their education do not receive it, according to research by the regional body.
And while there are programmes for children, albeit generally inadequate, Grant notes that one in nine persons who become blind do so as adults affected by such conditions as diabetes, glaucoma or macular degeneration and generally are left to languish in many parts of the English speaking Caribbean.
“Many have no access to ameliorative services,” pointed out the Trinidad-based Grant who noted that this kind of intervention does not require a huge cash outlay.
“It’s never about taking somebody out of their familiar routine, it’s about helping them to adapt within the framework of that familiar routine.” This is a position which finds resonance with Adams and Chambers. They also concur with Grant that “while something may be happening, a lot more needs to happen and it needs to be driven by public policy…with some advocacy within civil society…”.