Roslyn Hurley is still fighting for people living with disabilities

In 2003, quite to her surprise, Roslyn Hurley was named Barbados’ special envoy for persons living with disabilities. It was a title she did not see coming and she had no idea the then Prime Minister, Owen Arthur, was keeping track of her work.

Today, Roslyn, who has had cerebral palsy from birth, is still amazed. She has never allowed her status as a special envoy to get to her head. But indeed, for most of her entire life, she has been a voice, advocating for herself and others. Whether during her attendance at United Nations conferences overseas, or here in Barbados, Roslyn decided many years ago that she would not sit idly by without trying her utmost best to place persons living with disabilities at the forefront, to receive equal rights and privileges.

One of the most profound and well-known members of the differently-able community, Roslyn is actually stronger than most people think and she possesses a keen sense of humour and fortitude that belie her physical appearance.

About her role as a special envoy, she told Easy during an interview last week, as this newspaper pays homage to those among us who are challenged in various ways, “I just don’t know how it all happened. I was just out there speaking out on behalf of the disabled. It was in 2003 that I was appointed the special envoy by Owen Arthur, but I always thought there were people who advocated better than I could. However, as time went by, the more I spoke, the more confident I became. Some people say I could not speak, but it didn’t bother me.”

Educational in many ways

Roslyn’s strength, resilience, and toughness is demonstrated every day, as she lives her life to please herself in a world where many people do not have the patience to communicate with persons who are differently-able. And while it often takes a fair measure of patience to comprehend what she is saying, Roslyn still has what it takes to grab and keep one’s attention. In fact, conversations with her can prove to be educational in many ways.

The second of three children born to her parents, Roslyn, like her two siblings, were all breech babies (Babies lying bottom first or feet first in the uterus (womb) instead of the usual head-first position). However, while her younger sister and older brother were turned by doctors while in the womb, Roslyn was not.

“She explained, “This resulted in me not breathing when I was born. I lost a lot of oxygen and that’s what caused my disability.”

As a child and teenager, Roslyn would go on to receive private tuition during her school days, and she credited her parents for having the foresight to send her to a private, and “normal” secondary school, when other schools could not take her.

Like many living with disabilities, Roslyn fully understands the need for close family support. During the early years, when her parents were alive, and even now, she has always felt loved and cherished, and is especially appreciative of the support she receives from her younger sister, Joycelyn, a.k.a Sue. Yet she felt the need to make the following point during her interview: “Some people think that Sue is my baby sitter, but she is not. My sister and I have a normal relationship. We are good friends and we get along well. Some people do not understand that. What I can say is that it is good to have a sister like her.”

What she also confessed, is that she did not always make it easy for her mother to take care of her.

A normal life

“My mother used to tell me she never had a disabled child. She never used that word to describe me. I lived a normal life at home, and got lashes like anybody when I did something wrong. I had to learn to wash and cook, and I have always had good friends and family members who treated me well, even my neighbours.”

“It was only when I stepped out of my comfort zone that I would encounter discrimination and experience name calling. The name calling used to make me sad and people would say that my mother damaged me because she took something when she was pregnant with me and that’s why I am the way I am.”

Comments like those made Roslyn angry and to let off her steam, she would often get very angry with her mother, whom she later asked to forgive her.

Roslyn holds the view that people still need to be educated about persons living with disabilities.

She stressed, “This illness, (cerebral palsy) can happen to anybody. One time it was just a set of people, but we now live in a whole new world. We have cancer, diabetes, kidney failure and the like. These illnesses or even a bullet can cause a person to become physically challenged. And we know that medication and transportation costs can be high for such persons.”

That’s why Roslyn who, previously sat on the Board of the Barbados Council For The Disabled and was president of the Barbados National Organisation of the Disabled, is today quite happy and pleased that the recent Budget made provision for persons living with cerebral palsy and autism to receive a pension from the National Insurance Social Services at any age.

“I am very happy to know this. This was something I was fighting for a long time – Ben Stabler and I. He was helping me to advocate for the disabled for many years. I want to see other people living with disabilities receive pensions as well. But I understand that the Prime Minister cannot do this at all at one time.

Roslyn also wants to commend attorney-at-law Michael Lashley for recently making a plea for persons living with disabilities to receive legal aid. She informed that currently, there are two local practising attorneys-at-law living with disabilities.

“I am also glad to know that we can purchase items duty free. I am so happy,” an elated, fired-up and excited Roslyn told Easy.

She explained that prior to the past week’s Budget, only people who were blind and deaf were entitled to a pension.

Mauby coppers

Known for always being well attired, Roslyn paused during her interview to fix her suit. A chuckle followed as she said, “I have mauby coppers, but champagne taste. I like the best. I like to look good.”

Her eye for beauty and detail is evident by the way she dresses. It is also borne out in the fact that eight years ago, Roslyn who also previously sat on a constituency council committee, made the decision to organise a beauty show for persons living with disabilities, The “Shine Like A Diamond” event was stopped due to COVID-19, but Roslyn expressed a desire a few days ago, to hold the event next year, “as long as sponsors come on board.” She wants it to become a Caribbean event.

“I want a queen show just like the Miss World queen show. Every contestant must have a talent and I am looking forward to staging this show again.”

The outspoken Roslyn makes it absolutely clear that she does whatever she can without looking for rewards or fame.

She quipped, “It’s my life. I do not do what I do for fame or recognition. I just want when I am gone to know I would have played my part. I am glad I can see a lot more being done for the disabled, but it’s now time for the younger persons living with disabilities to take up the mantle and help to change the world.” (CH)

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