Blindness Awareness Month observed in May

By Glen Simon, Ministry of Health

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(GIS) – The month of May is observed as Blindness Awareness Month. The observance calls attention to issues affecting the blind and visually impaired, the opportunities available, and ways in which the society can advocate on behalf of the blind and visually impaired.

This month, the Saint Lucia Blind Welfare Association (SLBWA) is advocating for increased employment opportunities for the blind and visually impaired. Of note, is the Oasis Spa at BodyHoliday Saint Lucia, which embraced the opportunity to have two blind, and one low vision massage therapists in their employ—Etta Mertelly and Stacia Jules.

Etta, a massage therapist, has a condition called macular degeneration.

“At about 18 0r 19 years old, my eyes started degenerating to a point where I wouldn’t be able to see. My vision got fuzzy, and it just seriously affected my academic work. My A grades went down to B grades and those went down to C grades because it got progressively difficult for me to see.”

Stacia, on the other hand, was completely blind from childhood. She has been employed with BodyHoliday Saint Lucia for the past eleven years.

“I am very happy to have a job here and I’m grateful that they had the confidence to employ me as a blind person. They did not know what to expect but they were willing to take a chance.”

Enacted since 1972, the Saint Lucia Blind Welfare Association (SLBWA) is mandated to provide education and training, job placement and social services for blind and visually impaired persons.

Executive Director of the SLBWA, Anthony Avril, is hopeful that many more employers will provide opportunities for the blind and visually impaired.

“I really would like to encourage other employers to emulate the example of the Oasis Spa by providing opportunities for persons affected by blindness, so that they can be gainfully employed,” he said.

Human Resource Manager at BodyHoliday, Alison Chitolie, said the management of the resort believes in equal opportunities.

“We love to employ team members like Georgia, especially Georgia. Georgia is excellent. She performed a treatment for Darren Sammy and he actually put her on his Facebook page. He found her extremely patient and she is just as talented as the sighted team members. It’s not a matter of being visually impaired. Regardless of whether you can see or not, anybody can do anything. It is possible.”

Etta and Stacia are both grateful for the SLBWA’s efforts in securing employment for them, and for the work of the association in treating persons who suffer from eye conditions.

“They are very instrumental in helping blind persons live a better quality of life with the services that they offer,” Stacia said.

The HR Manager believes more can and should be done to support the blind and visually impaired in Saint Lucia.

“We should avoid as much as possible alienating those who are visually impaired. We need to integrate them into society like everybody else. They have to make a living, they have families and they’re just like any one of us. So I think it is important to support the work of the Blind Welfare Association, Ms. Chitolie said.

A special telethon has been organized by MBC Television and Real FM on Friday, May 18, to raise much needed funds while creating awareness of the invaluable efforts of the SLBWA.

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