#2 in a series of photo stories about the lives of Bajan deaf people.
As told to The Calypso Project which is empowering the Barbados deaf community to advocate their needs and wants to their government, public services, businesses and general public.
“I’ve designed and made my own Deaf Ability t-shirt,” says Sandra, “because I want all people to see deaf people’s abilities – not our disabilities.”
“It isn’t deafness itself that disables people, but the barriers in society that prevent us from achieving our dreams.”
Sandra tells us about her dream to be a life coach and counsellor.
“Deaf and hard-of-hearing people are more than twice as likely to have mental health issues,” says Sandra, “because they’ve been dis-empowered by inaccessible schools, workplaces and public services. Despite this, they also have zero access to life skills and counselling support in their own sign language.”
Aged two, Sandra became hard of hearing after a serious head injury from a car accident. As she got older, she became progressively more and more deaf.
“I went to mainstream schools. My best years were in primary school – discrimination was at a minimum, t was just child-play and teasing. Things got worse at secondary school. I vividly recall how I was moved from the back of class to front with a big ugly beatbox (radio hearing aid) strapped to me. Yet, I couldn’t fully understand the teachers and the other students provoked me.”
“So, psychologically I climbed ‘inside a box’ to avoid drawing attention to myself. To keep up with classes, I did extra school work on my own. I taught myself by reading books, books and more books. I didn’t socialize much. I felt like a sardine in a tin. It was a lonely place to be.”
After leaving school, Sandra learned many work skills including masonry, plumbing, car repairs, maintenance, valeting, and office administration. “I was nicknamed ‘the Jill of all trades’,” says Sandra. “At the same time, I asked myself: “Is this what I want to do for the rest of my life? I wanted to stretch myself in other ways. I wanted the same chance as any hearing person to pursue my own dreams too.”
“My life changed after going to an American deaf summer camp. I saw that while most deaf Bajans leave school with no qualifications, thousands of deaf and hard-of-hearing Americans go to university and get professional jobs. This isn’t because one group is cleverer than the other, but rather because they have legal rights and communication support.”
“After this, I began to see my deafness as a blessing in disguise. I broke down years of closed walls to redefine my future goals. The more I got involved in the Bajan Deaf community, and other disability groups, the more determined I was to learn sign language, their culture and be an interceding person between hearing and deaf worlds. I’m now president of the Barbados Deaf Horizon charity.”
“I have a dream to be a professionally-qualified life coach and counsellor, As I’ve experienced similar issues in the past, I can empower other Bajan deaf people to develop their own self-identity, self-worth. I’d give them the tools to be self-reliant and be their own self-advocates too.”
“If that happens, everyone wins,” says Sandra. “Deaf people and their hearing families, friends and colleagues too!”
To find out more about The Calypso Project go to https://www.thecalypsoproject.com
Sandra welcomes all enquiries about the Barbados Deaf Horizon Charity. You can visit their page at https://www.facebook.com/BdosHorizonDeafCharity or email: email@example.com