Jul 07, 2013 News
“Too often people just focus on the disability, when in fact they should be focusing on the abilities of persons with disabilities, or as we say, those that are differently-able. And in that way a lot of people with great potential just fall by the wayside, as they are not allowed the opportunities as others, to grow to their full potential… and that is sad.”
By Enid Joaquin
Today, the Wismar Hill Primary School in Linden is the only school in Region 10 that has a unit for the visually impaired. This, of course, did not happen by accident, but was made possible through the love and dedication of a former head teacher, who several years ago dedicated his life to making things easier for persons who are visually impaired.
Being visually impaired himself, Colin Ault is all too familiar with the challenges that face those similarly affected.
“You see too often people just focus on the disability, when in fact they should be focusing on the abilities of persons with disabilities, or as we say, those that are differently-able. And in that way a lot of people with great potential just fall by the wayside, as they are not allowed the opportunities as others, to grow to their full potential…and that is sad.
Then when they go to seek a job, even though they might be equally qualified, and in some instances more qualified, quite often they are discriminated against because of their disability.
The way I see it is that societal barriers for persons with disabilities are most times, more discouraging, distressing and challenging, than the disability itself!”
In reflecting on his own life, Ault said that he never got the opportunity to attend secondary school because of his visual impairment, which prevented him from completing the test for Common Entrance in time.
However, that did not prevent him from later acquiring a full education that saw him becoming a school teacher at the age of nineteen, and later a head teacher.
He reflected that if the Common Entrance had been an oral exam, he would have passed with flying colours; but because he had to read and there was no system or special facilities in place for children like him, he could not finish the paper on time.
Ault would however grasp the opportunity to later write the College of Preceptors (CP) which he was successful at. He was at the time a student at Kara Kara Primary.
It was his first external exam, and he was provided with an amanuensis (a person that writes for another). “The person of course had to read the questions to me, and then I gave them the answers which they then wrote down. That was how I was able to write and pass that exam, I passed seven subjects in all; from then on that is how I wrote all the other exams.’’
Encouraged by his success, Ault then sat the GCE exams, after attending evening classes at the Mackenzie Night School. He would be successful in all of the six subjects written.
“That was a most rewarding moment for me when I got those results, because here I was proving to society that not because you had a sight problem, you could not be successful in life – and all that we need is for certain systems to be put in place.”
Ault would join the teaching profession in 1971, as a pupil teacher at the Wismar Hill Primary, and enter the Cyril Potter Teachers’ Training College in 1976, and become a trained teacher in 1978.
This week’s ‘special person’ would later be given a scholarship to attend the Mico College for the Blind in Kingston, Jamaica, in 1998.
This was made possible through the governments of Guyana and The Netherlands.
At Mico College, Ault studied how to teach persons with visual impairment.
He would graduate in two years as top student for the Caribbean from the institution.
Ault said the opportunity presented itself, after he was recommended by a parent who had brought a visually impaired child for him to teach, at the Wismar Hill Primary. He was promoted to senior master of the school in 1995, and then promoted to Deputy Headmaster and finally Headmaster. He would simultaneously head the low vision unit and the school until his retirement.
But it was not an easy road, because he was never provided with a secretary as a head teacher which, he reflected, would have made his work considerably easier.
Those challenges however only served to make him a stronger and more independent individual.
Ault would pioneer the establishment of the unit for the visually impaired at his school in 1995 after returning from Jamaica.
“I had dialogue with the Department of Education here and convinced them of the need for such a unit, and I also sought help from the Caribbean Council for the Blind, in conducting a survey to determine the number of children with visual impairment in Linden.”
“It was discovered that there were twelve of them, who were at school, but were severely visually impaired. They were the first set of students to be absorbed by the unit. Some were transferred from their school to Wismar Hill Primary, while a few remained at their school, and me and a teacher by the name of Gem Carryl would visit the schools of the others, and work with them.”
Over the years, several students with vision problems would benefit from the individualized attention offered at the unit where Ault would serve until his retirement in 2008.
Two of the more successful students were Monett Todd and Devon Lewis, he related proudly.
Ault remembered his early days at school, and how every year his report would have the words, ‘this is a brilliant student, but his visual impairment is hampering his progress’ – however nothing tangible was done to alleviate those challenges.
It was those very words that became the motivational force in his quest, to improve the life of others with similar problems, when he became an adult.
Ault himself was born with macular degeneration, which means that he is unable to read fine print, or to observe details. He admits that during his earlier years his reading had to be done with the use of a magnifier, however today with the new technology available on computers, he can read the newspapers, books and anything else through the JAWS (Job Access With Speech) programme, which presents any given texts in an audible version.
“The computer and the internet have opened up a whole new world to me, even with my impairment, because there are so many books that I can go online and read using the auditory version on JAWS, so any type of information is only a keyboard click away. And the beautiful thing is I can do that all by myself.
As a matter of fact, I even taught myself to type,” he acknowledged proudly.
Ault said he became computer literate more than ten years ago.
Colin Ault grew up on both the Mackenzie and Wismar shores in Linden.
He presently lives in the Wismar Housing Scheme, a stone’s throw away from the Wismar Hill School, where he taught throughout his career.
He has been Christian Education Leader for the Baptist Convention of Guyana for six years now. He is also a commissioner on the National Commission for Disability and the Chairman of LINSEED, (Linden Spearheading Effort for the empowerment of Persons with Disabilities) an organization committed to helping the differently-able to develop their full potential, through training, seminars etc.
However, unfortunately, the organization lost its office and all its equipment in the fire that razed the Linmine Secretariat building during the protest in July 2012.
Ault said that the organization would be very happy to acquire another place with the necessary facilities to continue its work, through which so many people have benefitted over the years.
Ault enjoys swimming, reading, writing poetry, playing the keyboard, and listening to music and cricket. He is the father of four.
He credits a lot of his success to his mother Ruby, whom he described as the driving force in his life as a youth, and who persevered against all odds and insisted that he be allowed to attend the teachers’ training college, when some persons were saying he couldn’t. She also was instrumental in having him take up music as a hobby.
This he did, and even mastered the piano. Today he is the resident organist of the Wismar Baptist Church, where he is also Assistant Pastor.
His beautiful wife Marva also gets a lot of credit for her unwavering support throughout his later years as a student, and also later in his professional life.
“We have more strength within us than we think, and it is not the challenges that life throws us, that matters so much, as how we deal with those challenges,” Ault declared, and then quoted the last verse of one of his poems entitled, “Unshackle me”,
‘Take the stones that are hurled at you by society,
and circumstances and use them for building new horizons. ‘
This ‘special person’s greatest wish right now, is for more attention and support to be paid to persons with disabilities. He is also specifically appealing to the general public, to offer whatever form of support they could, to the two students Shivannie Featherstone and Relon Sumner, who did so remarkably well at the recent Grade Six Assessment. Both students are visually impaired and are products of the unit for the visually impaired of the Wismar Hill Secondary School, which Ault was responsible for establishing.
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