Story by: Oluatoyin Alleyne

July 9, 2017

Kerryn-and-Stacey-Gunness

Stacey and Kerryn Gunness

Faced with many challenges because of their disability a newlywed couple believe that their union can be an inspiration to many who forced to operate in a world that is often cruel to persons who are disabled.

Kerryn and Stacey Gunness are both blind and they believe that this commonality will help them.

While Kerryn is Trinidadian, Stacey is Guyanese but they are very much in love and do not see the miles apart as a problem as they have faith that job opportunities would open up and one will eventually make the permanent move.

The couple tied the knot on July 1, after a 16-month courtship and when the Sunday Stabroek caught up with them they were enjoying their honeymoon at the Sleepin Hotel on Church Street. Their communication with and attentiveness to each other was visible as the newlyweds touched each other gently and each listened attentively as the other spoke.

Describing their relationship, Kerryn said his wife has shown great love and support for him and being persons with “great visions” he sees them having a long and lasting marriage once they have God on their side.

“I always tell persons that people see generally with their minds and not their eyes… You see, some persons might have physical eyes and don’t have a vision. But we have vision for our lives and the limitations on our physical eyes are not going to hold us back once God is on our side,” he told this newspaper.

While they are aware that they will have challenges, they are firm that they will endure and overcome.

“Our union can be an inspiration to show persons that visually impaired persons can do stuff. We can travel the world. We can be employed. We can go to school and we can even get married. There is nothing stopping us… Again you see with your mind and not with your eyes…” the husband said.

Stacey noted that because the world is a “sighted one” it is hard to be accepted with their disability, particularly in the Caribbean.

“Acceptance is our problem here… We have had so many awareness programmes here and still we have persons who do not accept persons who are blind in Guyana,” she said and her husband added that it is the same in Trinidad.

The new wife said at times the “disrespect is too much and at times it is overwhelming. Even when you are walking down the road they would want to know why you are on the road. They would not help you to cross the road. The rain could be pouring and the vehicles would not stop and even when persons want to help you, the way they hold you is like if they scorn you,” Stacey said sadly.

She has had cases were her cane was kicked out of her hand.

But not all of her experiences have been bad and she singled out Regent Street stores: Broadway Fashion, Beepat’s, Bhena’s and Reliance, whose staff have been very supportive. She ensures that she returns to shop at these places because of how comfortable she is made to feel; some staff members even greet her by name.

Together with her new husband, Stacey said, she hopes to change persons’ perception and hope that this will transcend into a change of attitude.

The journey

Kerryn, who is a computer instructor at the Trinidad and Tobago Blind Welfare Association, said he first met Stacey in 2004 when they both went to an information technology (IT) training workshop in Barbados. They spoke, but went their separate ways after the workshop. It was 11 years later that they started chatting after a friend requested him to assist a visually impaired woman in Guyana with some computer training.

“I organized the stuff and sent it for her and then I chatted with her on his [the friend’s] phone and then from there I asked her if she had skype contact and we chatted on skype. We kept… building the relationship and I visited Guyana and she visited Trinidad,” he said.

He proposed last year August and Stacey said she did not hesitate in saying yes. Both having been hurt in the past, the devout Christians said they allowed God to guide their path.

Stacey spoke about the planning stage of their wedding stating that they were like “two media persons” as they spoke every night at 9 pm to ensure that they were both in sync with the wedding plans.

“It was so exciting because we were able to plan our own wedding. Concerning the girls [bridesmaids] I went to the boutique myself. I placed the order for the gowns. We chose what colours [red, gold and black] we wanted together…,” she revealed.

The fact that they planned and executed the wedding on their own made it all the more enjoyable even though they both indicated that their relatives did assist from time to time.

Concern

Stacey revealed that some of their relatives expressed concern when they announced their intention to get married as they were worried that as two blind persons they may not be able to cope with living alone.

“They could not see beyond [our blindness] it is like they wondered how we are going to manage with cooking and getting certain things done… Even some of my family had that concern but they know that I am independent and capable of taking care of myself and I think they took that and ran with it,” Stacey said, adding that they had amazing support from both of their families.

The only hiccup on the wedding day was the fact that the bride was late but according to her she “did not want to be late” the circumstances were beyond her control.

Now that the wedding is over the couple have a few months together before Kerryn has to return to Trinidad and back to his job.

While he would return for Christmas the couple said that they are both looking for job opportunities in the two countries. Stacey said while her husband lectures at blind organisation she believes he can go beyond this as he is very good with the computer and she thinks he should be in an office setting while lecturing part time as a means of giving back.

Stacey is employed at the Georgetown Public Hospital Corporation’s rehabilitation department and she has been there for the past 17 years as a rehabilitative assistant. She is employed by the Ministry of Public Health and deals strictly with the outpatient section and she also does private work after working hours.

‘Giving back’

“I love what I do because it is a way of giving back to society, it is a way of helping persons and that is satisfying for me,” Stacey shared during the interview.

She said her best days are when patients who began visiting the department in wheelchairs eventually leave walking and that alone is inspiration for her, as often times it is not about the money but about what she referred to as “the bigger picture.”

While Stacey was not born blind she recalled that she started having trouble with her eyes at around five years old and as she grew it got worse even though she had surgeries in the US and Barbados as her mother tried desperately to save her eyesight.

She lost her eyesight at the age of 14 and right now, “I cannot tell night from day but I don’t be in darkness, I do not understand it, it is like a bright light is shining on me.”

Stacey was married before to someone with eyesight and while she declined to speak of the relationship that ended in divorce she said she has a beautiful daughter who is proud and very supportive of her mother.

She said there has never been an instance where her daughter acted ashamed of her disability and even if someone might make a negative comment of her mother’s disability she does not respond She wants to be a psychologist and Stacey said she believes it is because of what she would have seen and experienced while growing up emotionally as it relates to her (Stacey).

“But even at school all her friends, once I get there they would come running to me… She wants to hug up and walk down the road,” Stacey said proudly of her daughter

She shared that being with her new husband is exciting as initially she thought like everyone else and did not want to be with a blind person, but now she thinks differently as both she and Kerryn know each other’s challenges and can assist each other.

“I did say I wanted to have someone who is independent, who has a job and wants to build life and Kerryn has that in him,” the new wife said of her husband adding that he has big vision and is determined to achieve goals.

Stacey graduated from secondary school with six CXC subjects followed by a two-year scholarship through the Ministry of Health where she studied massage therapy and was later employed. She plans on furthering her studies as she wants to read for a degree in physiotherapy at the University of Guyana.

As for Kerryn he was born with his impairment and while his eyes “look normal” the optic nerve which connects the eyes to the brain is damaged and he is considered “legally blind.”

He completed secondary school and he recalled that both teachers and friends were very support during his years of schooling.