“Walk while ye have light, lest darkness came upon you,” says the New Testament. What is it that truly follows darkness? Is it despair or is it simply the end?
I was fully equipped for a good career with bright prospects waiting until one day in the year 2000 darkness literally came upon me. At a young age, 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. I refused to succumb to a life of complete dependency and to give up everything that I had worked hard to attain.
I live by the five “D” s, which let me achieve so much. They are the Dream to be a role model; followed by the Desire, the Determination, Dedication, and the Discipline to achieve the dream.
After developing my ICT (Information & Communication Technology) skills, I joined the Employers’ Federation of Ceylon 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 motivated others and lifted their spirits. Excellent performance at the workplace proves that my disabilities do not impair my professional skills.
A person’s determination and courage in the face of adversity, coupled with a pleasant and endearing personality, bring to my mind the words of Helen Keller, who was herself visually impaired: “Although the world is full of suffering it is also full of the overcoming of it.”
As a person with a disability, I have utilized my time and resources to effectively overcome my disability and, more importantly, I have been active in 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 in many programmes. I believe that with proper counselling and guidance, persons with disabilities can achieve their aspirations and objectives. As a person with a disability, I believe I possess the skills to effectively communicate and interact with persons to overcome their fears and doubts.
My position as Manager, Specialised Training & Disability Resource Centre of The Employers’ Federation of Ceylon, entails a busy and hectic schedule. I practice advocacy coupled with the skills I have obtained to carry out my duties in a responsible manner. I believe that interactive skills and advocacy are of prime importance in communicating with persons with disabilities in order to inspire them, spur them on, and help them achieve their objectives in life.
I changed my course of life from “disability to ability,” and I am now an activist for persons with disabilities, and my own life is a living example for all that I was advocating. I travelled overseas attending seminars and conventions, receiving numerous local and international awards.
I want to be one of Sri Lanka’s leading disability rights activists, agitating to create better opportunities for persons with disabilities. There are over 1.6 million persons with disabilities in Sri Lanka. It is up to us to prove that the perception that persons with disabilities are dependent is wrong. By doing so, we can move from sympathy to empathy, from dependence to independence, from hidden to open, from segregation to integration, and from exclusion to inclusion.
Now not only I have overcome my disability but also achieved much more, standing tall as a beacon of hope and triumph. I look at my impairment in a different light. I want to be financially and professionally independent and stable while encouraging others to follow suit by becoming a role model, both locally and internationally. My quest has not been without its challenges. Being a woman with a disability makes me double-disabled. Sheer courage and determination have pulled me through, not only allowing me to travel across Sri Lanka but also abroad, specializing in the disability field.
The big issues that we face are the negative attitude of people who are able towards the disabled, and also the social stigma which follows in its wake. People with disabilities in Sri Lanka sometimes face stigma due to religious beliefs, including the idea that disability is punishment for wrong-doing in a previous life, or is an omen of bad luck.
I never gave up on what I love; I showed the world that anything can be accomplished if you have the will to realize the dream. The exclusion and isolation for a once bright, independent, dynamic young woman were enough to send me into deep depression and despair. I, like many in my situation, 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. Through my own self-determination, I refused to accept being treated as a second-class citizen. With pure focus, I set out to get myself a job and become independent once again.
Do not have any reservation about the work that people with disabilities can do. They are equally capable as people who do not yet have a disability. Just give them a chance. A chance will do a world of good for them. The simple chance given to me in the year 2001 by The Employers’ Federation of Ceylon made me what I am today. Change does not happen automatically; we collectively make it happen. So let all of us get together to create a disabled-friendly environment with dignity and justice for all, and let us be loud, proud, and passionate.
Ms. #Manique Gunaratne
Manager-specialized training & #disability resource center,
The Employers’ Federation of Ceylon, Sri Lanka