Tue | Jul 27, 2021

Legally blind but determined to excel

Tonika Williams dreams of expanding business, motivating others with disabilities

Published:Sunday | April 25, 2021 | 12:14 AMBarbara Gayle - Contributor

‘Focus on my ability and not my disability’ is the mantra which drives entrepreneur and motivational speaker Tonika Williams to excel as she overcomes the odds of being legally blind, but determined to make an impact on the world.

A graduate of The University of the West Indies with a BSc in entrepreneurship, Tonika came to national attention in 2000 when her father, attorney-at-law Anthony Williams, filed a medical negligence suit against the State when her sight became affected because of lack of adequate eye care at birth. The Government accepted liability.

“The case is now a landmark one in the sense that it has opened the eyes of the medical fraternity in taking greater or more meticulous opthalmological care in dealing with infants or neonates, like Tonika, who are exposed to oxygen at birth,” attorney Williams told The Sunday Gleaner.

Tonika was born prematurely at six months and two weeks and weighed two pounds and 15 ounces. Her dad says once the eyes are exposed to oxygen, the eyes have to be covered and there must be consistent, routine visits to ophthalmologists to prevent retinal detachment, but he was never advised by her doctors.

The case created a firestorm in the legal profession as there was an increase in medical negligence cases, said Williams.

“Tonika experienced some tough challenges, as we had teachers questioning her ability to meet the challenges of schooling without going to the Salvation Army School for the Blind, but she defied the odds,” the proud father said.

After graduating from Ardenne High School with eight Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate subjects and four at the Caribbean Advanced Proficiency Examination level, Tonika entered university in 2015.

She confessed that the first year was very challenging.

“I was facilitated with special accommodations by the Office of Special Students Services, but in regard to the mathematics/financial management courses, I was assisted by the Academic Support Unit and the administration of the Special Students Services,” she told The Sunday Gleaner, describing the office as “a home away from home, in that I received assistance from student volunteers assisting to take notes and to assist me to and from classes”.

She added: “My father actually attended some of the lectures at nights so he could assist me also.”

GRATEFUL TO LECTURERS

She is grateful that her lecturers did their best to accommodate her and assisted her to develop her independence, self-confidence, and to build a networking relationship and be the diva on campus.

“The letters in the word ‘diva’, to me, means determined, independent, full of vibes, and awesome at what I do,” she explained.

“I found my true passion in broadcasting and media, based on media students who came over from the University of Technology and inspired students who were interested in pursuing careers in the media,” she said.

In 2018, Tonika conceptualised a business development service and researched and analysed data to make it a reality. In June 2019, ‘Kulcharama with Diva’ was born.

“It is a podcast that takes you on a journey of cultures, ideas, innovations, looking at the lives of persons with special needs, and the happenings in the music/entertainment industry, the entrepreneurship sector, and advising young people about their career path in life,” she explained.

Arising from the podcast, she saw the need to form her company, Kreative Minds Business Development Services (KMBDS), with clients including non-profit and for-profit organisations, authors, life coaches and artistes, catering to audio production and broadcasting needs.

“Although our target audience is persons with special needs, we cater to the wider public as well,” Tonika pointed out. “I am booked to speak frequently at events, both locally and internationally.”

Currently assisted in the business by studio engineer and audio editor Damion Rose and studio engineer and recording artiste Sidney Thorpe, she has plans to expand KMBDS.

“I decided to go into my own business as it is difficult to find jobs for persons with special needs. I want to be that entrepreneurial brand ambassador for persons with special needs to start their own businesses with the very little that they have,” said Tonika.

She is grateful to her parents, Anthony and Naedia, who she described as her support system as they “held my hand to cross the finish line”. She said that her grandparents and her younger siblings, Maleeka and Ayeeka, have also been very supportive.

“Despite the challenges during these uncertain times, don’t quit, don’t give up, the race is not over,” she said, offering a word of advice to other persons with disabilities. “The finish line is there for you to cross it at your own pace.”

Her business details can be found at kreativeminds_ja.

editorial@gleanerjm.com