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May 28, 2003

Talent and persistence overcome disability

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This week is being observed as disability week and while there are many activities highlighting the situation of the disabled, the following story by Jacqueline Woods says a lot.

Jacqueline Woods

“So, who does the cooking in the house? Who does most of the cooking in the house, you or Jennifer?”

Andrew Middleton

“We share.”

Jacqueline Woods

“You share? And who cooks the best?”

Andrew Middleton

“Me. (laughs) Sometimes I help she with cooking.”

Jacqueline Woods, Reporting

Twenty-six year olds Jennifer and Andrew Middleton are not your average Belizean couple. The pair, who got married on April twentieth not only share all the household chores, but the Middleton’s are both disabled. Jennifer is completely deaf and cannot speak, while Andrew has partial hearing and limited speech.

Because of their disabilities, people like the Middleton’s, are usually not the first to get a job. In fact, only a few business establishments have accepted the handicapped in their workplace. Marcelina Reyes, who is the Itinerant Resource Teacher at the Special Education Unit, says there has not yet been a study to assess the situation, but knows there are far more that the business community can do to help persons with special needs.

Marcelina Reyes, Teacher, Special Education Unit

“While they are quite a number who are employed, there is a bigger population, I think, who either are not working or only have part-time jobs because they have to have a way of making a living. We don’t have an exact number as such, but we are certain because we see them all the time and they would tell you well I am looking for a job, they are always looking for a job.”

The Middleton’s have always had the support of their family…And maybe that assistance has made them more determined to try and achieve success. Two and a half years ago, Andrew started doing what he loves best…cooking. Since employed at the Radisson Fort George Hotel, Middleton has been winning the hearts of many especially his co-workers.

Co-Worker, Radisson Fort George

“He is very good with fruits because he knows how to fix them up in different styles to let it look very attractive. You almost noh want to eat it when you see it because it looks nice.”

I don’t know if it was a combination of Middleton’s winning smile and creativity that landed him the job, but one thing is certain, his persistence in this case certainly paid off. Listen to what his boss Rob Pronk had to say when asked how did Middleton get the job?

Rob Pronk, Chef, Radisson Fort George

“Well it’s quite a funny story. He did job training at a deaf school in Cayo and after three weeks I evaluated him, I turned to him and said, well thank you, but I don’t have a job for you right now. The next day he came back again, so I said I will sit him down again and I said listen, I appreciate it, but I really I don’t have a job for you and I wrote it down for him and I asked him if you understand and he said, yes, I understand you, and the next day he came back again. And this continued for a week and after the week, I said okay let’s hire him. If somebody wants to work like this, then we just hired him and I have never regretted it, he does a very good job for us.”

Pronk says they do not have a problem working with Middleton’s disability; instead everyone has been inspired by his dedication to the job.

Rob Pronk

“Sometimes we have to speak a little bit louder, or to get his attention we have to wave. But everything else, it’s not a problem at all, he is very flexible and our people in the kitchen are very flexible with him, so it works out really well.”

Middleton believes that if it were not for the support, especially from his mother, he would have the courage to complete his studies, graduate from C.E.T. and get a job.

Andrew Middleton

“My mother, my mother support me and help me. Sometimes my family always help me, my father sometimes not help me. I do not worry, my mother help me, always help.”

Jennifer, who has been working for the Pallotine sisters for ten years, says her husband is not only hard working, but also very attentive at home. The couple communicate mostly by sign language and say they are grateful for all the good things that have happened to them. They admit, however, that there are many more disabled persons struggling to survive.

Middleton says there are many people who will discourage the handicapped from trying to achieve their goal, like what happened to him, but he advises anyone living with disabilities that once you believe you are good at something, you should not let anyone allow you to give up on a dream.

Andrew Middleton

“People they think about me that I am deaf, people say you can’t get a job, you don’t know how to cook. I noh worry about people, I know that I can cook. I noh care, I no worry about people.”

Jacqueline Woods for News 5.



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