Wednesday March 8th, 2023 is International Women’s Day.
It is a day when women across the globe will be specially recognised for their contributions to society and the work they do across various areas. Today, Easy Magazine toasts women across Barbados and highlights three women who are making a difference in society.
She doesn’t care to be labelled as a trailblazer or the first blind person to achieve any great feat. What former senator Kerryann Ifill wants is to simply live her life in such a way that it impacts people around her, especially persons living with disabilities.
Notwithstanding Kerryann’s stance, it is still worthy to note during this Month of the Disabled, and as we approach International Women’s Day on March 8, that this Combermere School alumnus will go down in the annals of Barbados as the first blind woman to enter that learning institution, and the first blind woman to enter the political arena as President of the Senate back in 2012.
While legislation has been passed to ensure that people with disabilities are given their fair place in society, Kerryann still thinks society needs to come to terms with and truly understand how such individuals fit into their communities.
Needs, dreams, ambitions and rights
During a candid interview with Easy, Kerryann, who has been president of the Barbados Council For The Disabled since 2019, and has been a team member of the National Disabilities Unit for the Blind since 2010, where she holds the post of consultant in charge of technological services for the blind and visually impaired, said: “It must be understood that women with disabilities are first and foremost women who have the same needs, dreams, ambitions and rights as other women.
“Our disability simply means that we have to approach things differently, but it does not prevent us from being women.”
She added, “We like to think that we live in an evolved society, but there are those people who cannot see past a disability; those for instance who do not think that I can cook, clean, wash and iron.”
Outspoken, bold and courageous, Kerryann lost her sight at five, while she was a pupil of the then Erdiston Model Mixed School. She had been diagnosed with juvenile cataract, and gradually became blind over a short period of time.
It was in 1994 that she received a National Development Scholarship and yearned to enter the City University of New York. However, circumstances then resulted in her going to the University of the West Indies Cave Hill Campus where she completed a Bachelor’s of Science Degree in Sociology and Psychology.
“I was a rebellious teenager at the time because I did not want to go to UWI. However, God wanted me to be the first totally blind student to go to UWI. It turned out that I enjoyed being there,” Kerryann, who, has a keen sense of humour, shared.
On completion of her studies, she recalled sending out job application after job application, but could find no one who would employ her.
Eventually, she received an open door invitation to join the team at Parent Education for Development in Barbados (PAREDOS), where she was given a stipend and the opportunity to work for six months.
In 2002, she joined the staff at the Barbados Council For the Disabled as project coordinator responsible for coordinating and implementing various programmes. According to her, she became the “media person,” “informational technology person,” and stayed with that organisation until 2010, when she left to take up her current post.
About her role managing information technology for the blind at the National Disabilities Unit, Kerryann admits to deriving lots of pleasure from her work.
She informed, “I derive a lot of pleasure from what I do. I am particularly pleased about one student who for years struggled with many things. I felt a level of joy when she called one day to say she had just paid her bills online. I helped her to do that. Things like that give me joy.”
Kerryann teaches blind and visually impaired people how to use screen readers, browse the Internet and handle Microsoft Suite.
As she spoke briefly about her years as a senator – from 2008 to 2018 – Kerryann stressed that she was very happy to serve.
“It was an honour. It was scary. It was exciting. I never wanted to be involved in politics and I am not a political person, but I did not have a problem doing what I had to do. It was an exciting opportunity and I think I got to make a difference. I was definitely an example to others.”
As President of the Senate, Kerryann recalled, “We started to work on legislation for persons with disabilities. We must consider the path we took during those years, in order to reach where we are today.”
While she admits she may not be directly in the spotlight today as she was back then, Kerryann plays a number of key roles in various national and regional organisations.
She sits on the Constitution Reform Commission; is deputy chairperson of the National Committee to introduce legislation to improve the lives of persons with disabilities; and she is vice chairman of the Commonwealth Disabled People’s Forum.
Sunday School Superintendent
Kerryann has also been president of the Caribbean Council for the Blind since 2013, and serves as vice-president of the National United Society of the Blind Barbados. She has been actively involved in the ministry of the Anglican Church of the Resurrection for more than 30 years, and has held the position of Sunday School Superintendent for quite some time.
A member of the Rotary Club of Barbados South, 49-year-old Kerryann, who, once cherished dreams of becoming an attorney, believes her life is complete.
Having lost her dad in a vehicular accident before she was born, Kerryann, an only child, stressed, “I am not waiting to be completed. I am complete. I am not saying thumbs down to marriage. I need someone to complement me. I don’t need someone to take care of me. I need a partner. There is a difference.”
The godmother to a seven-year-old added, “I have always wanted children, but never wanted to have them on my own. I did not have that one mother, one father upbringing, because my father died before I was born, so I know what it is like growing up in a single-parent environment. However, I have noticed that most children who succeed best, are brought up in loving “twoparent” homes.” Kerryann treasures the continued support she receives from her mom, extended family members, and friends.
“Without them, I could never have succeeded,” she quipped.
Outside of her corporate and church activities, Kerryann enjoys dancing, singing, crocheting, reading and gardening.
Her greatest joy though, is to help people with disabilities in whatever way she can.