Charity aims for equal access
A blind woman is on a mission to improve the lives of people with disabilities.
Sherrie-Lynn Lilley returned to her home country after living in the United States for about 30 years and discovered tasks she considered routine presented problems.
It was the first time the 49-year-old had visited since she lost her sight to retinitis pigmentosa, a degenerative disease of the retina.
She talked to people with eyesight problems on the island and realised their daily experiences could be far more restricted than her own.
Ms Lilley committed to action and launched Inspire Bermuda, a charity that aims to enhance the work already being done to assist people with any type of disability, not just the visually impaired.
Its first event will be held next month. Ms Lilley told The Royal Gazette: “The question I asked myself when I came back was, if you stayed in Bermuda, where would you be?
“When you leave, you're leaving people like yourself who are feeling like they don't belong, they don't fit, they can't work, they're stuck on financial assistance, there are restrictions with travel. I felt such a burden as a Bermudian to come back and speak to those things.”
She added: “My goal and my role as an advocate is to get between the people and the power and to translate those voices into long-term transformations.
“One of our first and primary mandates is to start tackling how we get some solid laws, Acts, on the book to really start to address these things at the legislative level, so that as citizens their rights are protected.”
Ms Lilley noticed a problem with her sight when she was a student at Warwick Academy and her condition was diagnosed when she was 14.
The disease progressed faster over the past nine years and she has been totally blind for nearly three.
She returned to the island in August for the first time since about 2012 and during that trip she met other people with vision problems.
Ms Lilley explained: “That's what really was the catalyst for all of this, sitting with these women and talking to them about their experience, realising that even myself, growing up, I never really saw another blind person.
“I also didn't see too many people with disabilities functioning in the island.”
The mother-of-five said: “I became very aware of how much I have been able to achieve as a visually impaired or blind person — coming to Bermuda, both not seeing others functioning at that level and sitting with people who are living with visual impairment, who do not have access to any of the things I have access to.”
Ms Lilley said regulations under the Americans with Disabilities Act meant access to buildings was made easier through modified doorways, lifts and ramps whilst opportunities in education were also the same for everybody.
She added: “What I'm attempting to do in Bermuda is to bring that equal access — what's reasonable for an individual to function within the parameters of their disability.
“Why not provide for them the same opportunity that an able-bodied person has, if they are able to function?
“That really speaks to their humanity, it speaks to their dignity, it speaks to the fact that as a citizen of the island of Bermuda it should be part of their civil rights.”
She said she had heard stories of people experiencing a lack of access to assistance, particularly in their professional lives.
Ms Lilley, who is studying for a master's degree in mental health counselling, said assisted technology was “the umbrella for everything else” in the workplace.
Ms Lilley added that she was also concerned about movement around the island and believed there should be a “paratransit” service that to provide special transport.
She said her crusade was about being a Bermudian US citizen and “knowing how blessed I am to be able to go to school, to be able to work, to be able to choose that if I want to and not to feel like I'm second class”.
She added: “Someone like myself who is blind, but a brilliant individual, why should I be sidelined because something that's physical is in the way when I can accommodate for that and still function in my life?”
Inspire Bermuda, which has been issued temporary fundraising licence number T2037, will hold a free information session at St Paul's Christian Education Centre in Paget on January 12 from 1.30pm.
The event will include a town hall-style segment to allow people to talk about their own experiences.
Gaylhia LeMay, the associate director, said the charity was looking for volunteers and donations.
She added: “I really want to appeal to people's spirit of giving during this time because without their benevolence we are not going to be able to accomplish our goals.”
For more information or to help, email email@example.com or call Ms LeMay on 338-2455