Jeanne Sabga-Aboud photographed in the children’s play area of Pizza Boys, Glencoe. Photograph by Mark Lyndersay.

Originally published in Express Woman, May 28, 2017

My name is Jeanne Sabga-Aboud and I am an OT, or Occupational Therapist.

I believe a lot of my passion and drive goes back to my parents especially my mother. From a young age I was taught and always surrounded by compassion and empathy. I always knew I wanted to work with children and families, I always loved helping people and empowering others to help themselves, especially children. It’s a privilege and an honour and I haven’t looked back since.

Since returning home four years ago I joined our National Association, The Trinidad and Tobago Occupational Therapy Association (TTOTA). It was this step along with my practice in paediatrics that truly inspired me to use my voice to advocate for persons with disabilities and their families in our country. It was here where I began to see the gaps and the barriers in our system, that too often go unnoticed or are ignored.

My exposure and true understanding of the injustices for persons with disabilities within Trinidad and Tobago came within my first week back home.

I witnessed first-hand inaccessibility into popular buildings, inadequate circulation space in restaurants and stores, inaccessible counters in grocery stores, menus with small fonts for persons with visual impairments, no accessible washrooms, schools denying inclusion for students with special educational needs, limited to no availability for support aids for students who require extra assist, no full time positions for OT’s in public hospitals and denial from insurance companies to help cover therapy costs.

Being a paediatric OT allows me to work with children from all walks of life. I work in an outpatient paediatric clinic as well as at a school for children on the autism spectrum. At the clinic I see children with a variety of diagnoses which include Autism Spectrum Disorder, Asperger’s, Sensory-Motor challenges, Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD), Developmental Disabilities such as Global Developmental Delay, Down Syndrome, Cerebral Palsy, delays in fine motor and visual motor skills which can directly affect a child’s academic performance, ADD/ADHD, Visual Perception and Handwriting difficulties, challenges with coordination skills and self-care skills such as difficulties with dressing, feeding and grooming.

I also work with children who have feeding and eating difficulties in what we call “Food School”. I often get asked “Do you ever get sad working in the environment you are in?”, my response is always the same I don’t see their inabilities and what they are unable to do, I look at their capabilities and where each child is at and we start to progress from there.

From the outside the smallest gain made may not be as appreciated but to a therapist and their families it’s such a big deal. Its one of my favourite parts of being an OT, that as well as meeting and talking with so many incredible families, they motivate me to keep doing what I love, even on the harder days.

I meet worried and exhausted first time parents, working parents with big families, vulnerable parents, single mothers or fathers, parents who have the passion to want to do more for not only their child but for others experiencing similar difficulties.

My favourite moments are when I see parents not afraid to ask twenty questions, parents who go back to school to study special education, mothers who have started their own parents support group to reach out and support other families, parents who started Facebook pages to help spread resources and just give others an outlet to ask questions or vent, parents eager to learn and soak up as much as they can, and parents who share the same excitement as me with our gains.

In 2016, I became Chairman of TTOTA, a small but growing NGO. TTOTA’s work is of utmost importance in promoting and developing our profession in Trinidad and Tobago and the Caribbean. We have dedicated therapists who all share the same passion and drive to advocate for persons with disabilities and bring awareness of the importance of our profession.

Today I am proud to say we have 17 members in the Association all in a variety of practice settings. In the past we have hosted Stakeholder Brunches, Professionals’ Evening, school/public promotion days, fundraising events, conferences/workshops, awareness campaigns such as blue Rituals Coffee House cups to raise awareness of Autism Spectrum Disorder for all citizens, as well as provide a bursary for an OT student who returned home to work.

Let’s wake up T and T, I would love to see EVERY building, business, mall outlet, grocery store, restaurant, school, with accessible parking, ramps to enter the building, accessible counters and check out aisles, readable accessible restrooms and fitting rooms with adequate floor space, elevators and lifts in working order.

I would also love to see Occupational Therapists in all of our public Hospitals with full time positions and when there is a team meeting needed for a patient an OT will be right there. I would love to see all hospital discharge decisions be made with OT recommendations to assist with safe transitions back home, home suggestions such as education with safe transfers and self care as well as with any potential need for adaptive equipment and modifications.

I would love to see Occupational Therapy job positions in ALL school settings to assist children with their “occupations” and supporting them with their academic goals and promoting positive behaviour needed for learning. I would also love to see inclusion in mainstream schools for all students with special educational needs.

Finally, I would love more persons in this country to know what Occupational Therapy is and what an Occupational Therapist does and understand the need and importance of it all. I want more and more local students to pursue Occupational Therapy as a profession so that they can join the small yet growing number of OT’s here on the island.
The production of the Footsoldiers segment of the Lioness Project series, highlighting the experiences of 12 workers in the disability field, is supported by the Cause an Effect Organisation, the Massy Foundation and A Very Special Disabilities Forum.