by Michron Robinson
Anyone traversing the halls of the Graydon Sealy Secondary School and by chance lays eyes on Toni Wharton would pass her off as any normal 18-year-old with her charming smile and beautiful persona.
However, unlike the other 800-plus students at the Paddock Road institution, Toni is hearing impaired and has been from the age of two.
Her mother, Marcelle Wharton said she realized something was wrong with Toni after she saw mucus oozing from her eyes with high fevers and a skin rash. After taking her daughter to the doctor the unfortunate news was delivered, Toni was deaf.
However, Toni has decided not to allow this to hinder her from overcoming the obstacles in life and in an interview with Barbados TODAY with Toni’s teacher Carmelia Alleyne as interpreter, she relayed her plans for the future and what keeps her pressing on despite her challenges.
“First, it is all because of my mother. My mother would put pressure on me but she would always tell me never give up, continue to try, continue to try and then my teachers were behind me supporting and helping me,” she signed with her winning smile.
Toni admitted that having to prepare for her exams was not an easy feat and though she did not state she had to sacrifice anything, her mother interjected that she had to offer up going on Facebook, which has now proved to pay off after Toni achieved six passes at CXC this year.
Her past principal, Wilmont Straughn stated that he was very much elated with her achievements and added that he was pleased with the determination of both Toni and her mother.
“This speaks of what inclusion is all about. If inclusion is going to be successful as this one was, it must come about with the collaborative effort of all of the parties involved and this is the case of Toni at the Graydon Sealy Secondary,” he said.
Straughn stated that after Toni spent a few years at the St. Giles Primary School, her mother thought it best for her to move back into mainstream schooling with the potential that they saw after attending the Irving Wilson School.
“The concern of the authorities was that the gap between Toni and her age peers at St. Giles was beginning to widen because of her language deficit and the authorities saw it necessary for her to have that specialized communication skill, namely sign language. When she came to us we knew that she always had the potential to achieve academically … but her mother always said that she would like to see Toni get back into mainstream of education if it is at all possible and it was against that background that we tried to keep Toni apace with her age peers,” he added.
For Toni the biggest difference between being in mainstream schooling and going to the Irvin Wilson school was that she did not have that many friends as she did at her specialised school, she gestured.
“At Irving Wilson there were more people who were just like me, who were hearing impaired but here I have fewer friends mainly because of the communication difference, so it does not give me the same sense of security as when I was back at Irvin Wilson,” she expressed.
Her mother said that she allowed Toni to sit the BSSEE at 13 years old after seeing her potential. “Some of the pain started easing because I could see who Toni was becoming so it was not so hard and frustrating. When she sat the exam and passed for Graydon Sealy, the headmaster Matthew Farley and teachers embraced her,” Marcelle said.
She added that she reminds Toni that the Lord does not put more on a person than he or she can bear and encourages her to do a lot of reading while telling her not to give up no matter what.
Toni, who would like to become an accountant or educator, indicated that she would like to see help given to those who have special talents and to have work done so that learners with disabilities could work in their own special way.
Her teacher and interpreter Carmelia Alleyne advised Toni to, “Come out of her shell, learn to embrace everything in the world and learn to reject what you know you do not need in your life and also use every opportunity that has been given to you to improve yourself and also to open more doors for the others that are going to be following you,” she counselled.
She added that it was necessary for others who could hear to learn sign language because in its own way it was also a foreign language. Sign language was an important thing to learn because it is never known when that skill would be needed to communicate, she added.