Before the ruckus associated with airport development and other matters of economic welfare, the December 5th sitting of the House of Parliament featured a very human and empathetic moment. The camera panned to the gallery where, as announced by the prime minister, sat an array of persons from the National Council of and for Persons with Disabilities. Their presence was quite fitting, seeing as December 3rd was recognized as International Day of Persons with Disabilities. The annual observance of IDPD was proclaimed by the United Nations General Assembly in 1992, and this year was celebrated under the theme ‘Transformation toward sustainable and resilient society for all’.
In his commencement speech, Prime Minister Allen Chastanet concurred with the message of the theme, yet highlighted ways in which we have failed people with disabilities in Saint Lucia: the lack of ramps, adequate sidewalk space, or even the lack of sidewalks, has left persons – especially who use wheelchairs – with little choice but to use the streets; the previous absence of elevators in even official government buildings resulted in individuals having to be carried up the stairs. The camera then panned to former editor Rosemund Cleary who could attest to the changes in infrastructure to accommodate him and other persons who relied on the use of wheelchairs.
Despite the various shortcomings in making Saint Lucia just as accessible for the disabled as it is for the regular citizen, there have been some notable strides. The integration of the visually impaired into regular schooling has been one of these advances. Christy Joseph, as singled out by PM Chastanet, is the first blind student to attend the Choiseul Secondary School and is currently in form 1. A truly remarkable child, it made sense to find out how she became so open and blossomed even more than many of her classmates.
Shermie James Darcheville is an itinerant teacher of the blind and visually impaired, who was trained at Mico University College in Jamaica, and who began working with Christy in 2012. Their partnership commenced during Darcheville’s tenure at university, when Christy was the subject of her case study. She recognized that there was no one in the south who would be able to do Braille with Christy, which provided her with more motivation to complete her studies in Special Education. Darcheville now assists Christy with Braille, tactile graphs, and reinforcement of skills within the classroom.
Speaking on Christy’s outlook on starting secondary school, Darcheville stated that she was initially pensive but ‘opened up and is lively and vibrant’. She continued: “She is open to learning and asks a lot of questions.” Perhaps it is this curiosity that allowed for her to place second in her class at the end of the school term. Darcheville especially focussed on Christy’s growing self-confidence and her obvious happiness. “She’s part of everything: she joined the choir, she’s part of Cadets and she even did the road race.”
In an Untold Stories episode titled ‘Kids in Sight’, Dale Elliot was admittedly taken aback by just how ‘normal’ Christy seemed. In a game of catchers, she easily caught up to him, notwithstanding the fact that she is blind. The explanation is that the other senses of the visually impaired are heightened so they locate persons through smell and sound. Although Darcheville is well aware of the way in which the visually impaired function, she recounted an instance when Christy was able to identify a teacher at school even when his footsteps made no sound, saying, “She makes me believe there’s an aura around even though we cannot sense it ourselves.”
A phone interview with Christy revealed that she is just as lively and confident as everyone makes her out to be. She expressed being comfortable at school, and enjoyed being treated well by both the students and teachers. She shared that she liked the children, which Mrs Darcheville had indicated. Having placed second in her class, Christy made sure to let me know that she had attained 100% in Business. As regards her attendance at last week’s parliamentary session, she simply referred to it as ‘great’.
From getting to change the colour of her glass eyes every year, and having spectacles for solely aesthetic purposes, Christy enjoys life as much as any other child, with a few unusual perks of being visually impaired. All who meet her are marvelled by her bounty of capabilities. As Mrs Darcheville said, “Christy knows that she can conquer the world!”