Constance Maloney said she simply decided to challenge herself to write because there was a segment open to members of the disabled community, an unusual occurrence.
The competition was held last November as part of national celebrations marking the 50th anniversary of Barbados’ Independence. It provided a platform for her to represent several issues she and other disabled people faced daily.
Life As It Is Living With A Disability In Independent Barbados was the topic she used to discuss education, transportation and employment, as well as the impact of the lack of access.
When asked why those issues, Maloney said: “I live it every day. As a person with a disability I find that many disabled persons are not privileged to education as they would like.”
The 53-year-old, whose eyesight challenges started while at school, said she had to give up her studies at the time, but was now fulfilling her dream of having CXC qualifications.
“I could not continue my schooling; I had to drop out. What we have now in terms of education, we did not have then. The computer and Braille were not available. It’s not that I could not learn but there was not the means for me to be taught,” she told the MIDWEEK NATION.
“I always thought if I had the opportunities then that the children have now, I would have done well. I would have been much farther than I am. I am doing it now though.”
Diagnosed with optic atrophy, damage to the optic nerves that can harm central vision, Maloney recalled the frustrations of being an 11-year-old who could not see the board in class.
She said that around that time, Ministry of Health officials came around to the schools doing screening of eyes and teeth and it was then she realised she had a vision deficiency.
“It hindered me from learning as I would have liked to. I could not see to read the board even when I was sitting close to the front of the class, but there were times when I sat further back, I could not make out anything. It was like a mist,” she said.
Maloney would stay at home with her mother and grandmother after leaving school.
Later in life, when she was 24, she met visually impaired Elviston Maloney, who is president of the Association for the Blind. They married and together raised three children.
Maloney said they coped as a visually impaired couple.
“We managed. At that time I had more vision than what I have now, the sight was much better but they were no challenges raising the children. We did everything like normal; fed, bathed, cooked, clothed them,” she said.
She explained that not having a full education and jobs and with no money, they could not sustain themselves and were then dependent on everyone else or disability benefits.
As for transportation, Maloney said lack of it hampered them because sometimes they would like to go places but could not.
She said her sight now was very limited. “As it is, I can still see the light. I can see objects; sometimes it goes dim and then it would come back up.”
However, she has decided that she will take advantage of all new opportunities that come her way. The essay competition was the start.
She got some assistance from her tutor at the Centre for the Blind, Mark Stoute, who guided her on what points to place emphasis on. “Of course I would do it again,” she added.
“Since the computer came on stream, Braille has been pushed to the background but I believe strongly there is still a need for Braille. I would like to see it return,” she said.
Despite her disability, Maloney said she had long developed a rule to live by.
“My philosophy as a person with a disability is that we should not allow anyone or anything to stop us from achieving what we want. That is my principle; if you want something, you go for it. I passed that on to my children and told them to get an education and make most of their opportunities,” she said.
She spent ten years at the Blind Workshop making mops before she retired, but has now returned to study CXC English.
“To me it is like a dream come true. English was my favourite subject at school. So I am making the most of this opportunity and trying to remain calm as the examination approaches.”
She hopes to further her studies, though she has not decided what to do next. Ultimately, she wants to get into counselling and motivational speaking.
As for others trying to cope with their disabilities, Maloney had some advice: “Once you accept it for what it is, you can cope with it, so I believe that the first thing you must do is accept it. I also have a great sense of gratitude for who I am; it could have been much worse.” (LK)