By JEFFARAH GIBSON
Tribune Features Reporter
SINCE healing from a life altering event Bahamian Iris Adderley has been on a quest to make sure people with disabilities have equal rights in the Bahamas.
Ms Adderley, who resided in Dallas, Texas until moving home in 2000, began an endless battle for people with disabilities. She knows first hand what it feels like to be discriminated against, looked down upon and treated like an “alien from space”. She is paralysed from the neck down.
“I had just been married a little over two years and I got in a car accident in October 1982 in Dallas within five minutes of my house. I had to be cut out of the car. When you hear people say they had to use the jaws of life, I know what that means. They literally had to saw me out of the car,” she told Tribune Woman.
Ms Adderley was airlifted to a hospital where her family was contacted. She spent a month in acute intensive care, and another month in the intensive care unit.
“That was the worse time of my life. I felt so depressed, and miserable with myself. I had just given up on myself, I had given up on God, because I thought why would he allow something horrible like this to happen. I wanted to commit suicide but the only reason I did not was because I was not physically able to do so,” said Ms Adderley.
The therapy that I got was really what pulled me through, although it was degrading for me, because they had to teach me how to do everything all over again. I went through all of that. I thought about the life that I once had and the life that I did not want to live. I felt the carpet was pulled from underneath me,” said Ms Adderley, who serves as a consultant at the Disability Affairs Division of the Ministry of Social Services and Community Development.
The framework for the establishment of a national commission for persons with disabilities has been included in the draft disability legislation scheduled to reach parliament before the end of the year, Minister of Social Services and Community Development Melanie Griffin told a high level United Nations meeting held last month.
The legislation will also provide for the co-ordination of government and private initiatives “to ensure that the needs and concerns of persons with disabilities are heard and acted upon”, Ms Griffin said.
Ms Adderley who was also present at the meeting said “that part of the legislation is extremely important because that is going to be a driving force to ensure that the regulations are put into place and to make sure people honour them”.
Becoming a quadriplegic, someone who has lost total use of their limbs and torso, was something Ms Adderley never dreamed would happen.
After all, she was in her prime and had attained a satisfactory level of success. She had done a lot of modelling and for a short period worked as a flight attendant
“After flying as an airline stuartist for a while, I realised the world was much bigger than Nassau. An opportunity came up when the Grand Bahama Promotion Board was looking for a Bahamian to train oversees. They made a deal with the Ministry of Tourism to have me seconded to the Grand Bahama Promotion Board in Coral Gables as a sales rep. There were no women working as a sales reps at that time. After a year I went back to work with the Ministry of Tourism and they sent me to Dallas,” she told Tribune Woman.
Putting the pieces of her life back together that were shattered after the car crash took effort and support from friends and family who stuck by Ms Adderley’s side, and gave her reasons to live, even when she could not find any.
“I decided I was going to take my life back. I had to learn how to not only physically take care of me, but emotionally take care of me. I had to understand that there was a purpose in that happening to me.
“From that point I went back to my job in tourism, not knowing that the culture of Bahamas transfers wherever Bahamians go. When I went back to work they did not see me as anything else except someone who was injured. So I went from being a district marketing manager to someone who answers the phone because that was all they saw me as. I sent in a proposal and I told them that I had done that work before and I now have a disability and I can handle the disability market. Yet the cultural context from what they saw me was ‘we do not know what to do with you’,” she said.
Ms Adderley pursued tertiary education and obtained a Bachelors of Psychology from the University of Texas, and a Masters in Psychology.
“Then I opened my own private practice as a psychologist, because I realised that I was not going anywhere in tourism.”
A short time later, to the dismay of her family she moved back home and began advocating for the rights of people with disabilities.
“My family told me that it would have been better if I stayed over there, because it would have been too much of a struggle in the Bahamas. I had access to everything I needed in the US.
I told them that if you are going to build a nation you cannot turn your back when you think your country needs what you have. I came back home with an intention to fight for disability, really not realizing how difficult it would be,” she said.
Home was nothing like living in the US; those with disabilities in the US are just regular people, she said.
“When I came back home I was taking care of myself and I had all of the devices and equipment I needed. I could remember clearly one day when I went downtown to the bank, my car lift opened, and people actually froze in the middle of their conversation to stare. I felt like an alien out of space. So I would get angry because all I was thinking was that people were looking at my disability. In Dallas people would not notice you; you were just another person. My brother helped me to understand that Bahamians are not use to seeing people with disabilities. So when I see children staring, I used that as an opportunity to educate them,” Ms Adderley said.
Today, Ms Adderley serves as a consultant at the Disability Affairs Division of the Ministry of Social Services.
“I do not think people understand the challenges people with disability face. If someone says ‘Iris let’s go out’, I have to find out whether or not the place is accessible, 9 out of 10 times it is not. If they say it is, it is usually a ramp and steps. I also have to get their early because there may not be a parking space, and I do not want to get blocked. I have learned to plan every single movement every day. If I want to go to the food store, I have to figure out whether or not I can get there.
Even access to healthcare is difficult. If I want a mammogram, the mammogram machine does not come far enough so I would have to get a sonogram. If I want to get a physical, I have to get on the table, but the tables are too high if there is no one there to life me. So I do not get the kind of health care that I need. All of these things have to be changed,” said Ms Adderley.
“I want the kind of Bahamas where persons do not have to fight for their rights, where persons don’t have to think about where they can go, where persons can have information in accessible formats, where persons can fully participate on equal basis and have equal opportunity, and decide whether they want to succeed or fail. But let that be their choice and not have someone choose for them,” she said.