Home' Trinidad and Tobago Guardian : November 13th 2016 Contents 14 UWI TODAY -- SUNDAY 13 NOVEMBER, 2016
Jean Antoine-Dunne -- NODES member and activist
UWI NODES MEMBERS
Dr Jean Antoine-Dunne
Retired Senior Lecturer,
Humanities & Education
Prof Paula Morgan
Professor, Humanities & Education
Dr Jacqueline Huggins
Coordinator, Student Life and Development
Major David Benjamin
Special Olympics Activist, Director of SPEC
Mother of a daughter with Down Syndrome
Dr Benjamin Braithwaite
Coordinator, Diploma in
Caribbean Sign Language Interpreting
Dr Innette Cambridge
Coordinator, Disability Studies Unit
A ya France
Lecturer in Law
Dr John Campbell
Deputy Dean, Humanities & Education
Debra Coryat Patton
O ce of the Campus Principal
FOR PEOPLE WITH DISABILITIES
UWI St. Augustine Student Life
and Development Department
#5 Ragoo Road, D'Abadie
UWI St. Augustine
Disability Studies Unit
Teaching through the Lens of Di erence
A conversation with Jean Antoine-Dunne
BY ALAKE PILGRIM
I have a daughter with Down Syndrome born in 1979, and initially,
like most Trinidadians, I had no idea what that meant. en I started
to nd out as much as I could. I had moved to Ireland in 1977, and
back then life was o en di cult for people with intellectual disabilities.
Some families were ashamed; people were hidden away. My husband
and I both became very involved in activism. We helped found the
County Cavan branch of Ireland's Down Syndrome Association and
were part of a group of parents who helped advocate and ght for
integrated education, that is, education within mainstream schools, for
people with intellectual disabilities. Today that is the norm in Ireland.
Everyone who can go to mainstream schools does so, regardless of
Ireland back then was like Trinidad ten years ago. When I
moved back home in 2005 with Eileen, I once stopped a maxi taxi and
the driver pulled over, took one look at my daughter, and le . at
would not happen today. anks to the bravery of key people with
disabilities and hard-fought struggles by their families, visibility and
awareness have dramatically improved in Trinidad. However, we still
have a long way to go in our perception and interaction with people
As I got closer to retirement from e UWI, I decided that
the most important thing I could do at this point in my life was to
change how people think about disability. at is the reason I founded
NODES: e UWI Network and Outreach for Disability Education and
Sensitisation (www.nodes.co.tt). I was very fortunate to nd a team of
people passionate about launching a network that connects di erent
disability groups and creates a platform for the inclusion and self-
representation of persons with disabilities, particularly in education.
We set out to achieve several goals, including a website at www.
nodes.co.tt, and an international conference on disability at e UWI,
Towards Social Integration: Rights, Roles, Recognition of Persons with
Disabilities held in April 2015. (https://sta.uwi.edu/conferences/15/
started a fortnightly column in Newsday to educate the public about
disability. en I made a documentary called Disabled Mis/Labled,
in which people with disabilities and their families speak about their
accomplishments, and the importance of state and societal support.
Positive change begins with changing our perceptions. I've found
that many people don't necessarily treat persons with disabilities badly.
ey merely act as though they are invisible, or charity cases, rather
than full human beings, with gi s and abilities to contribute to the
wider society. People with disabilities are sometimes even seen as a
threat to society, or as someone who poses a danger both to themselves
and others. is can o en lead to discrimination in the workplace. For
instance, in 2002, George Daniel, who was an activist, business owner,
martial artist and basketball player, as well as a person in a wheelchair,
organised a protest at the National Flour Mills, because of their then
refusal to hire persons with disabilities.
In the lm I made, Jason Dasent, a music producer who is
also blind, put it this way: "I come from a large family and I swam,
windsurfed and went to school at Holy Name Prep. I explored
everything I wanted to do. If there was something adventurous that a
blind person wasn't "supposed" to do, it was kind of an understanding
in my family that I should do it." Yet Jason is not in the majority. Many
blind persons with a range of skills and talents can only nd work in
Trinidad in mindless jobs. is is totally irrational.
One of the most important changes must be in education. ere
is a particular stigma relating to intellectual disabilities and mental
disorders. Yet there is no reason why a person with autism, or Down
Syndrome, or a person who is deaf or blind, cannot be properly
educated. Dr Benjamin Braithwaite, NODES member and Linguistics
lecturer here at e UWI, points out that if you are born deaf, your
rst language is not English. So a deaf person is a foreign language
learner. e rst thing we need is re-education of our educators and
proper educational facilities that take into account the di erent ways
people learn. Most persons with disabilities can attend mainstream
school if it is properly supported.
Adjusting our education system to take into account multiple
intelligences and differentiated learning (where students can be
provided with di erent avenues to learning in the same class or
programme of study) can bring about positive change for our entire
society. Every year when the results come out for SEA people point
out that it is really only a small elite receiving a high-quality education.
We say, "Boys are falling by the wayside and not responding to the rote
learning that exists in most of our schools." We say that there is a class
bias in our education system. And nobody does anything about it.
Maybe if we started focusing on integrated and di erentiated
education, it would bene t everybody. We have the opportunity to
get serious about the need to educate through the lens of di erence --
seeing and appreciating that people are di erent and learn di erently.
Instead we have a segregated education system focused on a few people
who will do extremely well at the CXC and CAPE Level, and with little
attention paid to the rest of the population. e people who need to
change this are those shaping education policy.
I've noticed positive shi s in e UWI School of Education and
in Early Childhood Education at St. Augustine. For example, e
UWI School of Education with the State University of New York has
a conference called Inclusive Education: Achieving Education for All
http://sta.uwi.edu/conferences/17/ie/ coming up in February 2017.
e Institute for Gender and Development has also issued a call for a
forthcoming journal edition on Disability. However, we have a long
way to go. In April 2016, NODES hosted a One-Day Symposium on
Rights and Activism in the wake of the Rati cation of the United
Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities: (http://
Right now the consortium of disability groups (CODO) is
meeting to prepare a shadow report to be presented to the UN on
the government's progress in implementing the CRPD. I am really
pleased to be part of this.
NODES' newest member is a lecturer in law, and I'm excited,
because one of the most important changes we need is legislation, such
as a Disability Act, that respects the rights of people with disabilities.
Successive governments in T&T have put some services in place
for people with disabilities, but these need to be easy-to-access. Right
now, there is too much red tape and the persons administering the
support need to be trained to view families not as people seeking
handouts, but as citizens who have rights. People with disabilities don't
need our pity. ey need for us to see them as full human beings and
equal citizens, and support them in developing all of their abilities.
Disability is not something a person has, but...a limitation in the interaction between a person,
his or her functional ability, and the environment.
(from 'Disabled Mis/Labeled' documentary, directed by Dr Jean Antoine-Dunne: www.nodes.co.tt)
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