A football tackle changed his life ... but not his dreams
Twelve-year-old Damarie Thomas was concentrating on utilising his skills to keep possession of the football when he felt a hard tackle from behind which hurled him to the ground. In an instant, his world changed. Though his injuries did not result in paralysis, they were extensive enough to drastically affect his movement. It was the last time he would play football.
Now nineteen and legally an adult, Thomas uses a wheelchair to travel distances. He proudly claims that from being able to move only two steps at a time, he can now do five steps unaided. He calls them “mountain steps”. Limited resources have curtailed his physiotherapy which has helped his mobility, but he is hopeful that he will be able to resume soon. Experiencing trauma such as this would have broken many an adult, but not this young man. “It’s not what happened, it’s how you go back from it,” he said philosophically.
After his injury, Thomas did well in his primary school exams and gained a placement at Jamaica College (JC), one of the top-rated high schools in the Corporate Area. However, at that time the school was not equipped to accommodate a physically disabled student and he had to accept a transfer to Cumberland High School near his home in Greater Portmore. JC has since become more accessible and accommodating for students with disabilities.
Thomas, now enrolled in an information technology course at Abilities Foundation, proudly proclaims his improving abilities in learning coding. Under the guidance of Executive Director Susan Hamilton, the Abilities Foundation strives to empower persons with disabilities through skills training and is one of the partners in the RISE Life Enabling Opportunities for Persons with Disabilities Project funded by the European Union. The multi-disciplinary training centre provides for Thomas an opportunity to chase new dreams.
It has been a long journey to get there even though Thomas speaks positively. “I have no challenges, I have motivation.” Like an old soul in a teenager’s body, he speaks passionately about not allowing people’s opinions to influence him negatively, but there are times when you sense that it isn’t always easy for him. “I do not want them (society) to see me as a poor thing because I have a disability. We are all human beings. What happened to me could happen to you. So, with every breath that you take be grateful.”
What does the future look like for Thomas then? He is adamant that he wants to start a business that can help to empower other persons with disabilities as he feels that entrepreneurship is an area that inner-city communities need more support in. “I see myself making a change in the world. I want to start a foundation called UPRISE, to break down some of the barriers society has placed on them because of their address or their disability. They (people) see you in a wheelchair and they use that stigma to put you aside.” But he is keeping his options open as far as a career is concerned with his sights set on law, motivational speaking, and real estate.
Thomas’ optimism is intentional and infectious. He professes to be deliberate in surrounding himself with people who have a positive energy, like his friend Trishanna, whose free spirit he admires; and his uncle who also has a disability. “He is my role model,” he said softly. “I never see that man down.”
In that moment you get a glimpse of his vulnerability. After all, he knows he still has to make his own way in the world, roadblocks and all. You “cyaan tek it off and put it back on”, he pointed out, referring to the permanence of most disabilities. And so, with his back straight in his chair and jaw set firmly, he gave some general advice, including to the leadership of the country. “Accept persons with disabilities for who they are and put their skills to the test. Give them a chance to prove themselves ... to support themselves and their families. Vision 2030 of Jamaica being the place of choice to live will never be accomplished until we become one nation.”
The Disabilities Act is one such tool that was implemented to promote the individual dignity, freedom of choice and independence of persons with disabilities. The Disabilities Act came into effect on February 14, 2022. This followed the act’s approval in 2014 and the affirmation of the Disabilities Regulations in 2021. As a result, this week marks the one-year anniversary since the act came into effect.
The passing of the act is a significant milestone as it opens up a world of opportunities for persons like Thomas. His success story has only just begun. We shouldn’t be surprised if he adds prime minister to his list of careers in the future.
Thomas’ story is one of many being shared under the Enabling Opportunities for Persons with Disabilities Project, which is implemented by RISE Life Management Services. The project is funded by the European Union to highlight the many ways in which the disabled are UNSTOPPABLE when given equal access to resources and opportunities.