Above: Sadé Walker in her office at the Ministry of Tertiary Education, St Augustine. Makeup by Shenelle Escayg, photographs by Mark Lyndersay.
Life is a never ending journey starting with a single step and is full of surprises.
I am the product of fraternal twins and life was bliss in the beginning. My parents Hazel Wendy Walker and Patrick Emmanuel Walker married young and shared a humble home in Constantine Avenue, Arouca.
One day, my mother was calling out to me but I did not respond to her voice. Because I was an infant this prompted my parents to get my hearing tested.
After the audiology exam, the results concluded that I had profound hearing loss in both ears and that my twin brother, Audley Jameel, had moderate hearing loss.
We were fitted with hearing-aids and instantly started responding to a variety of sounds. From there on, life progressed with the traditional family dynamics: healthy children and happily married parents.
However, life as we knew it would change because our parents got divorced 3 days before our 5th birthday. I remember feeling nonchalant about the divorce.At 5 years old, I was enrolled in a mainstream Primary school in our neighbourhood, a mere 5 minutes away from our home.
My mother (a former housewife, now employed single parent) gave simple daily rules for us to function while living on a meagre income…
Accept that you can’t hear well. We need hearing-aids to hear, just like people with vision problems need spectacles to see.
Sit in front of the class at all times.
Ask the teacher (and people in general) to repeat if we did not hear them clearly.
Home-work and revision were to be taken seriously. We should NEVER deflect from this rule otherwise punishment would apply.
Following these simple rules, my brother and I successfully completed the then Common Entrance exam. I passed for Malabar Government Secondary School and my brother passed for El Dorado Secondary, now called El Dorado West Secondary. However, we were both transferred to El Dorado Senior Comprehensive School.
There, we met our Special Education teachers, Mrs. Maria Baptiste-Gulston and Mrs. Dawn Crooks who provided support to 13 Deaf and Hard of Hearing students.
In that same year, our mother enrolled us at Deaf Pioneers where we met Mr. John Henry and Mrs. Sharon Henry who taught us basic computing and sewing skills. At this institution, my brother at age 12 found his niche, in computers. I have yet to find my own calling.
Nonetheless, by adhering to simple rules, committed to school work, having a dedicated mom (and strong family support), we both excelled in academia obtaining Associate, Bachelor, Postgraduate and Masters Degrees; and successfully secured jobs in the private and public sector both locally and internationally.
Although I was born Hard of Hearing and with a capability to excel in my educational, financial, personal and professional life; I have faced bullying, discrimination and limitations placed on me because I wore hearing aids and have a speech impediment.
In an interesting twist of fate, in 2015, I was recruited to be a change agent to raise awareness for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing (HoH) Community and to encourage the public to see beyond the disabilities.
I immediately knew this would be a daunting feat.
A person with archaic information about disabled people that is imbedded and deeply rooted in their upbringing would already have long-term conditioned attitudes towards the Deaf, Hard of Hearing and Persons with Disabilities; similar to the ignorance that drives racial prejudice.
But as I recalled the negative treatment I faced with others throughout my childhood, adolescence and adulthood because of my hearing disability and speech impairment, this fueled my decision to accept the opportunity.
Barrack Obama, former US President said it best: “Change will not come if we wait for some other person or some other time. We are the ones we’ve been waiting for. We are the change that we seek.”
With that in mind, I am a foundation member and current Board member of the Voice of the Deaf and Hard of Hearing of Trinidad and Tobago.
I am also a member of the Disabled People International (DPI); and an avid volunteer working in collaboration with other NGOs in their volunteer programs to improve the lives of the Deaf, Hard of Hearing and all Persons with Disabilities with adequate opportunities.
Additionally, since academics laid the foundation for my success thus far, I hope to advance my education in its entirety through academics (i.e. Doctoral degree) and vocational training (i.e. various skills, not limited to making your own mosaics or pottery items that can eventually become a full-time trade).
To take it one step further, I pioneered an on-going initiative “H.E.R.O. Restore Project” focussed on bullying and how it affects all persons with disabilities. H.E.R.O. as the acronym stands for: Helping, Empowering and Respecting Others.
Empowering myself with a good education, I aim to use that education to transform Trinidad and Tobago, and to be the change I want to see in the world with a good head and a good heart.
Consequently, leading by example and being a model citizen for acceptance, inclusion, equity, social justice and fair treatment for the Deaf, Hard of Hearing and all Persons with Disabilities.
My mother believed that her children can achieve greatness, be independent, and be successful in every facet of our lives. Simply because, she did not see our disabilities. Instead, she saw our strengths, capabilities and how far we can go in contributing positively to society if given the opportunity and means to try.
After creating her own system, my twin brother and I are now living proof of what happens when you see beyond the disability.
Sponsors: Dale McLeod, Jacqueline Scott, Starlite Collection, Sacha Makeup, JB Fernandez Memorial Trust II