Tag Archives: PWD Profiles

Townsely Roberts & Gary Russell

The Bahamas has two citizens one may not consider persons with disabilities: Townsely Roberts and Gary Russell.

Roberts is an accountant. He graduated from The College of the Bahamas in 1995 with an associate degree in Accounting and Computer Data Processing before getting employed by the company that owns Wendy’s and Marco’s Pizza for the next 20 years as an accountant manager.

His greatest benefit was the support of his mother and teachers. Her mother who just listened when the doctor told her that Roberts had to have his left leg above the knee amputated (a peanut butter and jelly jar had been thrown at the back of Roberts’ knee when he was five) and his teachers who refused to just let him sit in a corner while his classmates learn playing basketball, softball, and soccer.

Today, the former president of the Bahamas National Council for Disability (BNCD) is focused on helping other PWDs have employment in the country. He is one of those who believed that the Bahamian public must be educated “on the realities of what disability is.”

Russel is the current chairman of The Music Makers Junkanoo Group and the senior examiner of the Bahamas Compliance Commission. Right after his bones were fractured in a severe car accident when he was 23, Russell went back to his previous job in Marketing and Sales. He even became its acting general manager until the company closed. He pursued Law at The College of the Bahamas after that with an associate degree in Law and Criminal Justice then his bachelor’s and master’s at the University of Buckingham.

Prior to that, Russell worked as a chef from 1979 to 1986 and a sales marketer from 1986 to 1997. He got support from people “willing to accommodate him” all throughout then. He was taught to bathe himself, dress himself, cook for himself, climb in a cupboard, and drive.

Only the thought of not being to change quickly into a basketball gear as soon as he gets off from work tormented Russell. Still, he was able to participate at the Jackson Rehabilitation Centre in Miami. He is giving back to the culture of the Bahamas these days through the arts of Junkanoo, a Bahamian style of dance music that evolved from the traditional music of West Africa.

“It’s okay to fall. You got to learn how to fall. When you fail is how you learn, even the disabled.” ~Townsely Roberts

Video taken from the YouTube Channel of the ZNS Network

Czech athletes

Able to put the Czech Republic in the sports’ map are four of its citizens with disabilities.

Jiří Ježek has lost his right leg in a car accident nine years before he turned to competitive cycling as a hobby. Since then, he has bagged gold medals after another—in the 2000 Sydney Paralympic Games, in the 2004 Athens Paralympic Games, in the 2008 Beijing Paralympic Games, and in the 2012 London Paralympic Games. He has competed against non-disabled riders—the most notable of which was during the Král Šumavy, a 250-kilometer track1—and has claimed the UCI Paralympic World Champion in 2006, 2007, 2009, 2010, and 2011.

Motivated by Joseph Lachman2, Jiří Ježek has written the book “Frajer” (“Ace”) in 2008 “to give hope not only to the similarly disabled people on the grounds of his life story.” He has founded the Czech hockey team of the disabled, supported the AMSA Czech HendiGolf, and backed other charities that help disadvantaged children and promote healthy-living.

Martin Kovář is a swimmer impaired because of a spinal cord injury. He has brought home three gold medals during the 2004 Athens Paralympic Games and created three world records. He used to be the adviser of former Prime Minister Vladimír Špidla, and with this experience, Martin Kovář has engaged himself actively in the Paralympic movement.

Běla Hlaváčková is another Czech Paralympic swimmer. But she is not just any other swimmer. She is the winner of five gold medals in the 50m freestyle during the 2004 Athens Paralympic Games and the 2008 Beijing Paralympic Games.

Petra Kurková is the best deaf sportswoman in the world. She has won a gold medal for the supercombination at the Deaflympics in Salt Lake City in 2007; brought home two golds, one silver and one bronze medals from Swedish Sundsvall; and won four gold medals at the Olympic Games in Davos in 1999.

“Somebody will always try to find some shortcut to victory. But I believe that those cheaters are not happy inside, they must live with the lie.” ~ Jiří Ježek

1Jiří Ježek won second place then—within just a second between him and the winner!

2Impaired, Joseph Lachman was the silver medalist during the 1988 Seoul Paralympic Games.

Video taken from the YouTube Channel of Akis Van Doorn

Mohamed Dalo: the crippled anime artist

It could be luck or just pure circumstance why a 21-year-old Palestinian was able to open an art exhibition in Gaza.

“You draw whatever your imagination leads you to without adhering to any specific shaping or the general appearance of the drawing. I only have my A4 drawing pad and pencils that enable me to live out my dream,” Mohamed Dalo was quoted saying in a report. He has muscular dystrophy.

Muscular dystrophy is a nutritional deficiency disease. It commonly occurs in boys during childhood and could result in an inability to walk or difficulty in breathing or swallowing. Only medications and therapy can “cure” muscular dystrophy by managing its symptoms and slowing its course.

But Mohamed Dalo was still able to “mix with people of various abilities.” “Since I was a toddler, art was a hobby that grew into a passion which knew no boundaries,” Mohamed had added.

A “daily life is a struggle for survival and progression,” however. Before Mohamed had the chance to complete his baccalaureate exams, his health and condition deteriorated to the extent that he could no longer endure a “long and tiring school day.” He left school and solely embark on a journey toward his dream.

Alone, Mohamed got inspired by Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, Frida Kahlo, Claude Monet, Vincent van Gogh, Al Capp, Picasso, Da Vinci, and Japanese anime artists Naoki Tate and Masashi Kishimoto. He eventually got more fascinated with anime—a style of animation developed in Japan—because, unlike other forms of art, Mohamed found anime to be without boundaries.

Gradually, Mohamed began showing his work to others; initially on social media then to friends and family. During an art exhibition at two local events in Gaza, including the “Renewing Contribution” festival at Gaza College, Mohamed’s works were displayed.

Soon afterwards, Mohamed attracted media attention. Palestinian, Iraqi and Jordanian newspapers and TV channels all vied to interview him. The only struggle he had left is not his physical disability but his living in Gaza.

“Living in Gaza is a real challenge for any individual but if you are disabled then it is an entirely different matter; the siege which limits the everyday life of every Palestinian in the Strip, also means those with disabilities are unable to get access to, or learn about, opportunities and facilities that are available for people with special needs.”

Mohamed remains hopeful, though: “I want to leave a mark in the world of art, travel and see what is out there in terms of art, especially anime, open my own exhibition where people from all over the globe can come and view my work and improve my skills through interacting and meeting artists and academics who may help me nurture this talent through further studies.”

Mohamed had his first solo exhibition in Gaza last year entitled “Anime is my Life” at the Arts and Crafts Village.

“Don’t hide or suppress your talent. Nothing is impossible. Be proud of who you are and what you contribute to society. People with disability have a vital role to play in shaping the world and influencing the attitude and perception others have of disability.” ~Mohamed Dalo

José Feliciano: the blind guitarist

As important as his recognition for being the first Latin artist to cross over into the English music market is José Feliciano’s inability to see.

José Montserrate Feliciano García, his full name, was born blind. Despite of this, he was able to play the concertina when he turned six. He was also able to perform at The Puerto Rican Theater in the Bronx when he was just nine and he was around 17 when a music critic from the New York Times saw him play at a coffee house in Gerde’s Folk City. He was described as a “10-fingered wizard who romps, runs, rolls, picks and reverberates his six strings in an incomparable fashion” then.

By the time he was 23, José Feliciano already earned five Grammy nominations, won two Grammy Awards, performed over much of the world, and recorded songs in four languages. Three of these celebrated songs are “Light My Fire,” “Che Sara,” and “Feliz Navidad.” He eventually became known the world over as “the greatest living guitarist”.

José Feliciano has been also referred to as “the Picasso of his Realm.” He has been recognized as the “Best Pop Guitarist” in the Guitar Player Magazine and has been voted the “Best Jazz and Best Rock Guitarist” in the Playboy Magazine. The Billboard Magazine has selected him to receive a “Lifetime Achievement Award.”

The New York City has renamed the Public School 155 in East Harlem to be “The Jose Feliciano Performing Arts School” in his honor. The Catholic Church has knighted him at the Saint Patrick’s Cathedral and the Sacred Heart University in Fairfield, Connecticut has accorded him a Doctor of Humane Letters degree for his musical and humanitarian contributions to the world.

Today, José Feliciano is also known for being the “Ambassador of Good Will” throughout the world. Apart from performing with the London Symphony, the Los Angeles Philharmonic, and the Vienna Symphony Orchestra, among others, he also often supports charities “that he believes are important.”

“I used to be a dreamer in school. I never, in all my wildest days, would ever think I’d become kind of a Latin idol to the women in Latin countries or a hero to young kids. I never thought of that. My main interest really was playing music. I was always fascinated by the sound I could get out of things. I’m just, a very lucky person, that God gave me the chance to do what I’m doing.” ~ José Feliciano

Video taken from the YouTube Channel of ognet

 

Serbia in style

His art is not only ‘for the disabled’. He was just not able to exhibit his works for almost 12 years because he had acquired progressive multiple sclerosis when he was just about to start studying his masters at the University of Arts. He is Darko Babic, a 46-year-old painter from Pozega, Serbia.

As passionate as him is Jelena Jakonic, a 28-year-old woman struck by a subdural hemorrhage during her birth. It caused an atrophy on the optic nerve of her eye so she is almost totally blind. She is mildly retarded yet still “sees the world in colours and not in shape.”

Even though suffering from a form of muscular dystrophy, Milesa Milenkovic has persisted to author the documentaries “Between the lines” and “Moment of Joy” (2014). She is the current director of the festival, “Uhvati samnom ovaj dan” (“Seize this day with me”) and is completing a doctorate at the University of Novi Sad Center for Gender Studies at the present.

“It was strange and insidious. One day I would be able to work but the next day not. I would tire quickly for reasons that were unknown to me at that point,” Babic has been quoted saying in a report in Balkan Insight. He has just enrolled for a master’s degree in visual arts in 2001 then when he realized that “something strange was happening.”

Only until one day in 2013 was Babic given a chance to stage an exhibition by someone from his hometown. He chose to portray children with disabilities and entitled the painting displaying human endurance and dedication “Restart”.

Babic’s struggle also became the theme of a film, also called “Restart”, directed by Dejan Petrovic. But apart from the exhibition and the movie, Babic would hold painting workshops sponsored by the Association for Disabled Persons twice a week to children and youngsters between eight and 30 from Pozega. He would also do so in Arilje, where he received a similar offer from the organization Impuls.

“Situations like this make you realise that art among people with disabilities is marginalized; they do not have the same chances as other artists,” Dragana Latinovic, a visual artist and an art educator, shared about her student Jelena Jakonic in the same report. The latter, despite her medical condition, is cheerful and full of life, spending her days painting in her northern hometown of Kikinda.

To date, Jelena continues to exhibit works at shows for people with disabilities, including at the first creativity fair for the disabled, which was held in Belgrade late last year. It drew the attention of the director of the Museum of Naive and Marginal Art, Nina Krstic, who selected her works for the exhibition “Art in spiritual exile”.

“Having in mind that I am a disabled person, with no art school education, the question of my reliability was brought up – would I be able to do it?” Milenkovic also used to ask herself. “But my mentor convinced them that I am persistent, which made the filming possible,” she added in the very report.

“People with disabilities have various talents, but there are many areas where it is hard for them to achieve affirmation and become visible. This is especially the case in dramatic arts, among actors, directors, where there are no disabled people as far as I know.”

“People with disabilities are rarely shown in a positive context, and mostly as part of stories that deal with social issues. Sometimes sensational headlines glorify the courage of individuals with disabilities, but there is no continuity,” ~ Ruzica Skrbic


Video taken from the YouTube Channel of John Leslie 

Godfrey Esperanzate Taberna: the club-footed cyclist

Like any other kid in Nueva Vizcaya in the 80s, Godfrey Taberna has wished to be a part of the province’s rich history in cycling.

“Natuto ako sa sarili kong sikap kasi nahihiya na rin ako magpahawak kasi malaki na ako noon. Sa umpisa, balancing muna. Saka naman sa pagpepedal,” shared Godfrey in an interview via Facebook.

But unlike any other kid in the town, Godfrey is club-footed. His father said it was because Godfrey’s mother used to crave for ginger when the latter was pregnant. The doctor believed, however, that it could be because of a medicine her mother should not have taken. Godfrey did not blame them, though. He believes—till now—that God has a plan for him.

Clubfoot, medically labeled as congenital talipes equinovarus (CTEV), is a general term used to describe a range of unusual positions of the foot. The foot could be pointing downwards; the foot could be pointing upwards. The foot’s heel could be smaller than normal or, in Godfrey’s case; the foot’s toe could be rotated toward the other.

“Hindi ako sumuko kahit lagi ako sumesemplang hanggang sa natututo na at maayos na ang pagba-bike. Hinihiram ko ang bike ng aking mga pinsan—yun maliit, parang semi-mountain bike lang para kapag hindi ko ma-balance, matutukod ko ang paa ko kapag tumumba.”

Early on

Godfrey was born around the time there was an ongoing war in Mindanao. His father, a soldier, had been assigned in Jolo, Sulu so his mother, a housewife, joined in the barracks.

After sometime, his father was reassigned in Luzon and Godfrey had four siblings more. Godfrey was also able to continue his studies even after his father retired. He could recount, however, how he was treated by the other children then.

“Maraming kumukutya sa akin lalo na kaparehong bata sa edad ko noon. Tiniis ko lahat ‘pag naririnig ko pangungutya. Nilalabas ko na lang sa kabilang tenga.”

That was only when Godfrey got to ask God why was he born club-footed.

When Godfrey turned high school, they moved back to Mindanao. His parents have to live within the farm given them, which was farther from where Godfrey and his three sisters live. They either have to walk around a mountain for 10 kilometres or swim in a brook for four kilometres when getting their allowances. So Godfrey strove to learn how to use a bicycle. His father eventually bought him one upon seeing him able to do so.

“Tuwang-tuwa ako kasi may sarili na akong bike. Kahit saan ako mapunta na gusto ko, mapupuntahan ko na. Hindi na rin ako mahihirapan sa pagpunta sa bukid. Malaking bagay rin ang makatipid sa pamasahe.”

Godfrey learned how to bike when he was already in college. He has also come to overcome his self-doubt amidst the rebuke he would often hear. He gained friends and learned his rights as a person, a citizen of his country, and a person with disability. He started to join in various sports such as basketball and volleyball.

Unfortunately, though, when it would be time for the important competitions, Godfrey would be excluded because of his condition.

“May konting galit sa puso ko at pagsisi sa kalagayan ko. Lahat yun ay kinimkim ko na lang at di ko na lang inilalabas. Inaamin ko, naiinggit ako sa kanila. Kung wala akong kapansanan, sana naglalaro ako ngayon. Naipapakita ko ang aking husay, napapanood ako ng maraming tao at napapalakpakan.”

But Godfrey persevered. He continued building his dream to be a cyclist that those watching in TV or reading the newspapers would know about.

“Sa una kong kompetisyon sa bayan namin, nanalo ako. Nagulat sila sa pinakita ko hanggang marami na akong naging kaibigan. Pagkatapos ko ng pag aaral ay nag-bisikleta muna ako kasi dito ako naging masaya. Nag-training kami sa Baguio, Aurora, Manila, Ilocos at at iba pa. Maraming humanga sa akin hanggang sa nagugol lahat sa pag-bibisekleta ang buhay ko.”

Godfrey Taberna (1)

He also met his wife around this time. She supported Godfrey but eventually got fed up when they have nothing anymore to sustain themselves. The situation compelled Godfrey to stop biking. He became an insurance agent, waiter, executive secretary, project manager, and encoder.

After four years, though, Godfrey stumbled across an ad from the Philippine Sports Association for the Differently Abled (PHILSPADA) looking for cyclists like him.

“Parang nabuhay ulit yun dugo ko sa sports. Nagpunta ako sa Manila, nag-present ako ng mga requirements sa PHILSPADA at naghintay ng approval ng Philippine Sports Commission. Magandang balita at natupad din ang pangarap ko na mapabilang sa mga national athletes!”

Godfrey’s first competition was in the 1st Asian Para Games held in Guangzhou, China last October 2014. He won fourth place then. It was followed by competitions in Malaysia, India, and Korea where he won silver and bronze medals. He had struggled against able-bodied athletes in the Ironman 70.3.

“Mahirap lang maging athlete lalo na sa amin na may kapansanan. Hindi pantay ang benefits sa mga able-bodied. Naghihintay rin lang ng laro para magka-allowance.”

He was also greatly challenged when his father died—not from the vehicular accident the latter was caught in but from blood loss.

“Mahirap maka-move on lalo sa isang katulad ng aking ama na siyang nagpadama ng suporta sa aking gusto. Proud na proud siya sa akin at proud na proud din ako sa kanya.”

At present, Godfrey is lobbying for a bike lane to be regulated. He believes ‘bawat nagbibisekleta ay may karapatan na hindi matakot sa daan’. He is also working in a private company in Greenhills when there are no competitions to support his wife and three children.

“Hindi ako sumuko.” ~ Godfrey Taberna

Video taken from the YouTube Channel of the GMA News and Public Affairs

Photo provided by Mr. Taberna

Shaun Webster: the believer

Persons with disabilities (PWDs) are neither scroungers nor superheroes, a 43-year-old man in Rotherham, South Yorkshire maintains.

His name is Shaun Webster, the international project worker of Change, a human rights organization led by PWDs. He has visited the Czech Republic, Bulgaria, and Moldova to train health- and social care professionals on ‘de-institutionalisation’, community living, and community-based care.

With a learning disability himself, Webster has called for the closure of long-stay institutions for young people with learning disabilities through Lumos, a children’s charity founded by JK Rowling.

“They’re doing it faster in Europe, building small group homes and getting people into the community, here they’re dragging their feet, still putting money into care homes. Other countries are less scared, ready to work with people with learning disabilities,” Webster was quoted in a report.

Webster also believes that PWDs, which number about to 1.4 in the United Kingdom, should be more visible in communities ‘to challenge the status quo’. Politicians must be engaged, and a political party of PWDs ‘might be an idea to get our voice across to government because we’re the experts in real life.’

To date, Webster would champion ‘the fact that people with learning disabilities can, should, and do have the same “real life” as everyone else, with a job, home and family life’. He had three children with his childhood sweetheart before they separated. He is now a grandfather of two toddlers and lives in a community-based supported housing.

“It’s starting,” he says, “but we need to make it louder … people want to have proper jobs, to live in the community and not be vulnerable or patronised.” ~ Shaun Webster

Video posted with permission from lumoscharity