As the world comes together to celebrate International Women’s Day (IWD), much work still has to be done to build a truly inclusive movement. One person who has taken up the mantle to lead that charge is former president of the Barbados Council for the Disabled, Maria Holder-Small. She is a shining beacon of hope for all women, as she agitates for inclusion for persons with disabilities in as many areas as possible.
The National Transformation Initiative (NTI) Artivist was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 2006. The debilitating condition changed her entire life and way of thinking, and she was forced to readjust, having “acquired” a disability and becoming a wheelchair user.
Today, Holder-Small is grateful to have such an important role at the NTI as part of the Government’s training and retooling, being inclusive of those with disabilities.
When she joined the NTI in June 2020 at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, no time was wasted in carrying out educational workshops such as disability etiquette sessions with the Barbados Workers’ Union.
“My role is to agitate for change, so my favourite sentence is ‘I’m not an artist, but as a person with a disability, I have a story to tell and only I can tell that story. I want awareness to be created which would result in change and transformation. So that is my personal [and NTI’s] purpose,” she told TODAY’s Woman.
While the ongoing pandemic has proven to be challenging for thousands of Barbadians, Holder-Small has been busy putting in the work with her training sessions and being a staunch advocate and listening ear for members of the community. And even though she faced her own personal challenges with the pandemic, such as not being able to conduct everyday business and go grocery shopping, she remained hopeful and put firm logistics in place to combat those challenges.
Holder-Small noted that COVID-19 curfew restrictions have caused a lot of persons with disabilities to “feel even more disabled”. And as a woman who is accustomed to always being on the move, it was an additional challenge having her movement restricted.
However, the artivist highlighted the importance of mental health and practising healthy coping mechanisms. She advised Barbadians to revert to the days of checking in on each other and following The Golden Rule.
“We have to become more selfless. We have to take the time to reach out to people; reach out to somebody, whether disabled or not, and just say ‘hi’ or ‘good morning’. It could be an elderly lady down the road. Just reach out,” she counseled.
For those having a hard time or feeling overwhelmed, Holder-Small also encouraged them to reach out to at least one person.
“You have to have at least one person to speak to. When you get overwhelmed, it can take you to the pit of darkness where you feel no hope. But I always say, once there is life, there is breath, there is hope. Do not stay on your own if you’re feeling desolate or depressed. Speak to somebody,” she advised.
“We need to get back to our checking-in days and we could all hold hands and come out of this together.”
This article appears in the 2021 edition of TODAY’s Woman. Read the full publication here.