Finding my indomitable spirit in the wake of adversity
By Manique Gunaratne
I was fully equipped for a good career with bright prospects awaiting until; one day darkness literally came upon me. In my late 20s I lost my sight due to Retinitis Pigmentosa which has no known cure to date. My world, which was once filled with colour and sunshine transformed into one overcast by clouds. The exclusion and isolation for a once bright, independent, dynamic young woman was enough to send me into deep depression and despair. Like many in my situation, I withdrew from society and resigned myself, not to live, but to exist.
But it wasn’t long before my indomitable spirit began to shine through. I refused to succumb to a life of complete dependency and to give up everything that I had worked hard to attain. I refused to accept being treated as a second-class citizen and I set out to get myself a job and become independent once again. I never gave up on what I loved, I showed the world that anything can be accomplished if you have the will to realize the dream. I live by the five ‘D’ s, which helped me achieve so much. They are the ‘Dream’ to be a role model; followed by Desire, Determination, Dedication and Discipline to achieve it.
A person’s determination and courage in the face of adversity coupled with a pleasant and an endearing personality brings to my mind Helen Keller, who herself was visually impaired, Her words: “although the world is full of suffering it is also full of the overcoming of it,” offer inspiration.
As a person with a disability, I have utilized my time and resources to effectively overcome my disability and more importantly, I have focused on helping other persons with disabilities to better their lives. I have attended several training programmes – local and international, and I have been a resource person and a trainer at many programmes. I believe that with proper counseling and guidance, persons with disabilities could achieve their aspirations and objectives.
After developing my ICT (Information & Communication Technology) skills, I joined The Employers’ Federation of Ceylon (EFC) in 2001. I handled my duties with meticulous care, patience, poise, professionalism and most of all with the greatest efficiency. My constant smile and pleasing manners made others motivated and lift their spirits. Excellent performance at my work place proves that my disability does not impair my professional skills.
My position as the Manager, Specialised Training and Disability Resource Centre of The Employers’ Federation of Ceylon, entails a busy and a demanding schedule.
Interactive skills and advocacy are of prime importance in communicating with persons with disabilities in order to inspire them, spur them on and achieve their objectives in life.
I changed the course of life from ‘disability to ability.’ I am now an activist for persons with disabilities and my own life is a living example for all what I am advocating. I have travelled widely attending international seminars and conventions and received numerous awards.
There are over 1.6 million persons with disabilities in Sri Lanka. It is up to us to dispel the perception that persons with disabilities are dependent. By doing so we can move from sympathy to empathy, from dependence to independence, hidden to open, segregation to integration and exclusion to inclusion.
Today not only have I overcome my disability but also achieved much more, standing tall as a beacon of hope and triumph. I looked at my impairment in a different light. I wanted to be financially and professionally independent while encouraging others to follow suit by becoming a role model, both locally and internationally.
My quest has not been without challenges. Being a woman and moreover, a woman with a disability makes one ‘double-disabled’. Sheer courage and determination have pulled me through not only making me travel across the country but also abroad in specializing in the disability field.
The challange we face is the negative attitude towards the disabled and also the social stigma. People with disabilities are sometimes stigmatized due to religious beliefs, that disability is punishment for wrong-doing in a previous life or an omen of bad luck.
The chance given to me in 2001 by the EFC had made me what I am today. Do not have any reservation about the work that people with disabilities can do. They are as capable as anyone with no disability. Just give them a chance. A chance will do a world of good for them. Change does not happen automatically, we can collectively make it happen. So, let us all get together to create a disable-friendly environment where we can all live with dignity and be loud, proud and passionate.
The writer is the Manager of the Specialized Training and Disability Resource Centre at the Employers’ Federation of Ceylon. She is also an internationally renowned disability rights activist.