“I am not just a blind senator, I am a senator who happens to be blind.” This is what Kerryann Ifill, had to say after she took the oath in February 2008, to become one of the 12 government senators of Barbados. She is the Deputy President of the Senate. She also said it was an honour for her that Prime Minister David Thompson, thought her worthy to sit in the Upper Chamber.
Born in 1974, Kerryann is a confident and an articulate lady, and has come a long way from that 5 year old little girl, who went to sleep one night and woke up blind the next morning. Her juvenile cataracts developed complications and the retinas became completely and irreversibly detached. Kerryann recalls that it was the positive attitude of her parents, that the negative impact of her blindness on her life was reduced to a great extent. She was made to grow up as any other child.
Remembering her childhood days she says, “I still was a child in the house, I still did chores like anyone else, I still participated meaningfully in my family life and I still got punished.” She is happy her parents did not overprotect her and that she was not discouraged to try doing something new if she wanted to. Perhaps that’s what gave her the confidence to move on and be what she is today.
Kerryann holds the distinction of being the first blind student to attend the University of West Indies. She was a student of Cave Hill Campus, from where she graduated both in sociology and psychology. More recently in 2006, she gained a master’s degree in business administration (MBA) from the Durham Business School.
Kerryann admits she had no political aspirations prior to being offered a senatorial role. However, she now sees it as a great opportunity for the disabled community to be recognised as a part of society. When people with disabilities become a part of such forum, then the myth of blind people’s inability to work can be easily overruled. Before she became the senator, Kerryann had been working as a research project officer with the Barbados Council for the Disabled (BCD). So she understands the importance of an inclusive society and is committed towards representing the interests of all by tackling issues which affect everyone in society.
With the extensive use of the assistive technology Kerryann has overcome the most obvious challenges of navigating her way through the senate chambers and other areas of the parliament buildings. Kerryann may be visually impaired, but she is determined to getting the people to see past her disability and recognize her for her work.
Kerryann is familiar and comfortable with available gadgets and uses them to do her day-to-day chores and also to do her senate work. She uses machines that convert text into Braille so she can read her parliamentary papers, including bills and resolutions. To make sure not to disrupt the parliamentary sessions and its decorum, Kerryann has developed innovative ways to recognize senators who want to speak during these sessions. Using her Braille watch, Kerryann silently monitors the length of their speeches and makes sure they finish their speech within the time limit allotted to them.
For her, the word ‘challenge’ is a synonym for opportunities. According to her, “Life is about challenges, everybody faces them sometime or the other, but it’s important not to let that challenge be bigger than who you are.”