Brianna Skeete has Cerebral Palsy (CP) but she is determined not to allow her condition to stop her from living a normal life.
The 19-year-old started an Associate Degree in Visual Arts at the Barbados Community College (BCC) on Monday.
She is the first student who has the condition which affects her ability to move, maintain balance and speak, to attend the Howell’s Cross Road, St Michael campus.
In fact, from the time Brianna was a student at Codrington High School, she knew she wanted to attend the college.
“It’s like a dream for me because I always wanted to come here. So, it gives me an opportunity to show society that persons with disabilities deserve an equal chance to do what they want to do without any restrictions,” Brianna told Barbados TODAY as she shared how she was settling into her new learning environment.
The teenager said she plans to tackle advanced graphic design while at BCC before taking on the world of work.
Brianna’s mother Julia Skeete said from the time her daughter told her she wanted to attend BCC she started pushing her towards that goal.
Julia said she was not only proud that Brianna was accepted to BCC, but also about the fact that her daughter went through the application process like every other student.
“She had to do an interview with her work and had to speak about why she deserves to be here and why she deserves to have a chance to do what she likes, which is graphics. So, when she did the PowerPoint presentation in the interview it really encouraged them not to see just her disability, but to look at the ability that she has, and how gifted she is in that area.
“She was drawing from the time she was five years old, and the older she got the better she got. Then she moved forward to the photoshop and she taught herself how to do it and mastered it,” Julia said, as she looked over at her smiling daughter.
Julia admitted that as any other mother would, she has thought about how her daughter would adjust to college life.
She explained that when Brianna started school at Codrington High, she was accompanied by an assistant, and was accepted by her classmates from the age of six.
Brianna was sponsored by Jenna’s Trust Fund to attend Codrington.
“She is here now, and I will still have a little fear since she is among older people. But I think older people are more understanding and have an open mind more than younger children.
“A few might not understand, but eventually they will learn. They will learn that she is just like anyone so don’t look at the disability, look at what she is able to do,” Julia said.
Meanwhile, Brianna, who is still in the process of observing her surroundings and classmates, said she did not feel uncomfortable or out of place in the new environment.
“I have a friend here but her classes are down that side. But she comes at lunchtime and buys my lunch for me.”
Brianna said her plans for the future include giving back to Barbados by staying on the island to work.
“Most people when they graduate, they go overseas to further their studies because Barbados don’t really accept graphics designers. I want to hopefully work for magazines or newspapers or do graphics for big companies,” Brianna said.
Julia explained that Brianna was diagnosed with cerebral palsy at nine months old. The mother explained that test results showed she and Brianna had different blood types which were one of the contributing factors to the condition.
“And also, what I didn’t know is that I had to get an injection every month to balance my antibodies. My levels were really high, so it affected her physically, but not mentally. Mentally she is as normal as anyone.
“Being amongst other children, when she was nine months, I found out that something was wrong because she wasn’t moving like other children. She was doing therapy from then until she was like five to six years old,” Julia said.
“She couldn’t sit up, she couldn’t roll, she couldn’t creep. Normal simple things children did she couldn’t get done, even to feed herself. But the older she got and the more therapy she got she learned to feed herself. The only obstacle now that comes her way is to have showers on her own and to dress, depending on the type of clothes she is wearing,” the mother added.
Julia said now she is satisfied that Brianna has made a significant step in her life, she wants her to keep reaching for the stars.
“I always tell her whatever you want to do you go for it I am not going to stop you. I am going to assist in any way I can,” Julia said.
BCC’s Principal Annette Alleyne said the College welcomed Brianna with opened arms and was willing and ready to make her as comfortable as possible.
The longstanding educator and newly appointed principal said turning the College into an inclusive environment was a goal she would be working towards.
“An education environment that is more inclusive is something that would be promoted here at the Barbados Community College. I taught a class in Bermuda where there was total inclusion. But what was significant is I had several assistants in that class. I had someone who could interpret for the hearing impaired.
“I had teaching assistants who would go around to the various students in the class and assist. So, it made the process much easier to facilitate. And those are issues we must address if we want to deliver quality education to everybody and to ensure that the playing field is as level as we could get it to include people with all kinds of challenges,” the principal said. [email protected]