Dana-Gaye Weller is living proof that there are no boundaries to excelling.
Diagnosed with muscular dystrophy at age three, a genetic disorder that progressively weakens and results in the loss of muscle mass over time, she was given until age eight to live. Now 27 years old, she has surpassed all expectations.
A contrast for many persons with disabilities (PWDs), Miss Weller says that though physically disabled, she was never treated differently at home, in her community or at school. Instead, she says persons were quite accepting of her and would offer help where necessary.
“Growing up I did not face any discrimination. In my community I was treated normal and seen as able-bodied, because I was able to do things that they could do,” she recalls.
A graduate of the prestigious Hampton School in St. Elizabeth, she passed eight subjects at the Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate (CSEC) level and six at the Caribbean Advanced Proficiency Examination (CAPE) level.
After leaving high school, she says that she deferred university for a year. At the end of the period, she applied to the University of the West Indies, Mona Campus, to study psychology.
“Growing up I had friends who come and tell me about issues they are facing and I would try and give them good advice. So, I think that is my gift, to speak to persons and help them so that is why I decided to study psychology,” she tells JIS News.
Though it proved challenging, Miss Weller successfully completed a Bachelor of Science degree in her chosen field.
A few months after job hunting, she was employed at Genesis Academy, a special education institution, as a health and family life teacher and a guidance counselor, where she worked for two years.
She says her experience there was eye opening as some of the students she interacted with had experienced some form of discrimination and struggled with insecurity.
After leaving the institution, she said it was very difficult for her to find another job because of her disability.
It was during that period in 2014 that she heard of a programme through the Jamaica Council for Persons with Disabilities (JCPD) that offered the opportunity for persons like her to gain meaningful employment.
The programme is operated by Internet Income Jamaica and trains persons to use their skills to earn money online.
Since the training, she has worked with several persons overseas via the internet earning up to US$600 per month and has been rated as one of the top performers of the programme.
“People would send me their information, give me the topic and I would do the research and get the information to them,” she explains.
Miss Weller says that apart from earning an income, the online job allows her the opportunity to hone her skills and interact with different persons from other countries.
She was recently awarded by Internet Income Jamaica for her achievement and received a laptop that will further assist her to carry out her functions.
While grateful for the experience, she has her eyes set beyond working via the internet.
“I see myself travelling and talking to large groups as a motivational speaker. I do not see myself sitting in one place; I want to be out and about,” she shares.
“I would also like to merge my two loves, sports and psychology, and do sporting psychology. I am a part of the Jamaica Paralympic Association and I envision myself in Brazil doing discus and club,” she adds.
Her dream, Miss Weller says, may seem farfetched, but she is determined to fulfill them and encourages other PWDs to do the same.
“It is important for them to accept themselves for who they are. They cannot change the situation, but they can change the outcome of the situation. Instead of focusing on the negative and what is not happening and what you cannot do, focus on the positives and on what you can do,” she says.
She is imploring employers to give PWDs a chance to make their contribution to the society.
“Look beyond what you see, because once the person has a brain they can accomplish tasks. Give persons with disabilities a chance because we do not need persons to pity us. We just need an environment to flourish,” Miss Weller says.
While acknowledging that Jamaica has made inroads in the treatment of PWDs, she emphasizes that more sensitisation is needed.
“Jamaicans need more sensitisation about disabilities. Persons with disabilities are the strongest persons you will ever meet, because it takes unimaginable strength and persistence to overcome. We need to realise that anyone can become disabled at any time. We need to adopt the ‘you are me’ mentality,” she tells JIS News.