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Disabled champion forced to close charity and look for job in the UK

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An activist stonewalled in her fundraising and searches for employment now faces no choice but to leave Bermuda and wrap up the charity she founded to fight for the disabled.

LaKeisha Wolffe is being forced to move to the UK. (Photograph by Blaire Simmons)

LaKeisha Wolffe’s last act for the Disability Centre of Bermuda is to appeal for help in settling the charity’s debts as she prepared to emigrate to Britain.

Ms Wolffe, who lost one of her legs in a crash eight years ago, said she had to tell her clients last week: “We hate to say it, but we finally give up.”

She said the island’s lack of support for the disabled meant she was forced to “move out of Bermuda for a better quality of life and to get a job”.

“We’re struggling even just to close down,” Ms Wolffe said.

“We can’t even struggle to stay open.”

After two years of advocacy, the 40-year-old mother of two said her charity, which started out as A New Life, had ended up mired in $30,000 in debt.

“We see many other charities getting support, but disability just does not get the same reaction in Bermuda.

“Disability is the most underrated and undervalued of our causes. It’s the black sheep of Bermuda.”

The outbreak of Covid-19 last year coincided with her launch of Charity No. 1011 as Ms Wolffe set up shop in an office on Cedar Avenue, Hamilton.

Her mission was to help create the island’s first prosthetics clinic as well as advocating and supporting the island’s thousands of disabled.

Clients included recent amputees who, like her, abruptly had to navigate the resources available to them after losing limbs to illness or through road accidents.

But even after graduating from the Bermuda Economic Development Corporation, and with some corporate support, the disability centre was unable to raise funds substantively during the pandemic, or secure volunteers.

Covid-19 meant bills piling up on everything from rent to software and stationery, even while she tried to muster pandemic support for disabled people.

Last week, Ms Wolffe appealed for anyone able to assist with getting the charity out of debt to e-mail info@dcob.org.

“If we had 450 people donate $40 to $50 each, we would be able to pay debts and close our charity.”

But she said her own inability to obtain employment in Bermuda spoke to the wider issue faced by the disabled on the island, in which moving to the UK was her only viable choice.

“I cannot sustain a living here,” Ms Woolfe said on Thursday.

“As a disabled person, I cannot get hired for a job. I’ve probably applied to more than 40 positions and had maybe two interviews.

“It’s hard to leave such a beautiful place, but the only way I can keep going to is move off the island.”

With the help of relatives in England, she plans to relocate to Warrington, a town in Cheshire, in six weeks.

Ms Wolffe said large companies in Britain had quotas to fill when it came to hiring people with disabilities.

“It’s probably ten times easier for me to find a job in England than it is in Bermuda, because of diversity and inclusion laws. Bermuda doesn’t have that. It’s too hard to go on trying to live with it.”