Disability No Obstacle for Medical Student

Photo: Shari-Ann Palmer Disabled Medical Student Evrich Watson (2nd right), engages in discussion with his fellow medical students (from left), Orlando Clarke, Sushanna Pryce, and Jade-Evette Strachan.

Story Highlights

  • Partially deaf student Evrich Watson is proof that living with a disability is no obstacle to success.
  • The fourth-year medical student at the University of the West Indies (UWI), who is completely deaf in one ear, is well on his way to realising his dream of becoming a specialist in the medical field.
  • Jamaica is observing Disabilities Awareness Week from November 29 to December 4, under the theme: ‘Inclusion Matters: Access and Empowerment of All People of All Abilities’.

Partially deaf student Evrich Watson is proof that living with a disability is no obstacle to success.

The fourth-year medical student at the University of the West Indies (UWI), who is completely deaf in one ear, is well on his way to realising his dream of becoming a specialist in the medical field.

Twenty-four-year-old Watson lost hearing in his left ear at age five when he contracted mumps, a contagious disease that left him with an ear infection.

The infection went untreated and by the time he was taken to the doctor, the damage was irreversible. He was completely deaf in the left ear.

“Initially, I considered myself to be normal and I learnt to adapt so a lot of persons who know me will tell you that they did not know I had a disability. I did not feel odd and my family members made me feel welcome,” he recalls.

Watson says his lack of hearing never bothered him until he went to high school. It was there, he says, that he learnt how cruel persons can be towards persons with disabilities (PWDs).

“I became the subject of mockery and being from a poor home did not help. They (students) were not very accepting of me and that made high school difficult. My friends were also shunned,” he recounts.

“I remember being in class and feeling alone. At that time, there was a popular commercial with the tag line, ‘Can you hear me now?’ and the children said it whenever they saw me,” he adds.

Watson says the experience taught him to not rely on others and to be his own motivator.
“As time went on, I became less dependent on people and what they had to say about me. I was set on achieving my goals and I worked towards that,” he tells JIS News, noting that after he began ignoring the jeers, the students eventually stopped.

With hard work, determination and focus, and assistance from teachers, he achieved seven distinctions and one credit and a pass in the Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate (CSEC) examinations and nine distinctions and one credit at the Caribbean Advanced Proficiency Examination (CAPE) level.

The brilliant student is a recipient of the Open Scholarship awarded by UWI to high achievers.

The Jamaica Council for Persons with Disabilities (JCPD), Watson says, has been a tower of support for him. He was first introduced to the Council at age 14 when he was desperately in need of a hearing aid.

He says the Council has not only supported him but has given him the opportunity to reach out to other PWDs.

“The greatest effect that the Council has had on me is by enabling me to impact others. My goal is to be someone that people can look up to, especially young men. I try to assist by motivating [others] and the Council has facilitated that,” he says.

The last of four children for his parents and the only one to achieve such academic success, Watson is also heavily involved in extra-curricular activities, which he calls his “compensatory mechanism.”

“I have always been quite involved because I know some persons expect me not to achieve, so I try to overachieve. I am part of a prison ministry at my church to rehabilitate persons, who have been incarcerated. I am the standing vice-president for the Standing Committee on Reproductive Health including HIV and AIDS for the Jamaica Medical Students’ Association, and I am also part of Jamaica Council for Human Rights, Justice and Peace,” he shares.

Watson tells JIS News that while he is “mostly intrinsically” motivated, he credits his parents as his “greatest influencers.”

“They do not have tertiary level education but they have competed with persons, who have pursued further studies and have done well. They have also instilled in me good work ethics,” he says.

He says he is also motivated by the achievements of late author, political activist, lecturer, and the first deaf-blind person to achieve a Bachelor of Arts degree, Helen Keller, and well-known retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson.

Watson admits that the road to his many accomplishments was often paved with obstacles and hardships but that they all made the experience worthwhile. For other PWDs, Watson shares five pointers that have assisted him on his journey.

The first is to appreciate the journey, even the difficult times and to have self- belief. “At all levels, I had a lot of doubters and I often found that …I had to stand alone and sometimes even the persons you expect to support you (put up) barriers. In standing alone, you cannot allow the negative perspective of people to diminish your duty. I’m in medical school now and no one saw this coming,” he says.

He is also urging PWDs to set goals and work towards them and to assess their resources.

“I indentified where I needed to go and based on that assessment if I was short on resources, I would find an alternative that would still help me to achieve my goals. We are all running the same race but we all have different resources and… if you don’t have those resources, do not watch other people,” he encourages.

Finally Watson is urging PWDs to never give up.

“Never give up and keep your eyes in your lane. You never know how life may turn out. I find that the reason some persons tend not to be successful is because they are watching other people’s successes, but you can’t give up,” he says.

“In high school I wasn’t the brightest person, there were persons, who I considered to be brighter than me and got all the subject prizes and …yet a number of persons are surprised at where I am today and that is because I kept my eyes in my own lane,” he points out.

After completing medical school, Watson plans to specialise in haematology, oncology or urology. He also wants to continue working with his church as well as the disabled community.

“We (PWDs) are just as capable as everyone else and I think that is the general message that it is being sent and persons [are coming] to accept that,’ he says.

Watson says that Jamaica has made strides towards ensuring greater inclusion of members of the disabled community and feels that increased “acceptance of PWDs will come with time.”

He also believes that disability issues should be included in the curriculum, suggesting that the teaching of sign language could help to integrate PWDs by breaking down the communication barrier.

He is also calling for more disabled students to be included in the regular school system.

Jamaica is observing Disabilities Awareness Week from November 29 to December 4, under the theme: ‘Inclusion Matters: Access and Empowerment of All People of All Abilities’.

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