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UWI student overcomes disability to graduate with Honours Degree

Published: 
Saturday, January 7, 2017
Clinical psychologist Jovelle Donaldson in her office at The University of the West Indies (UWI) Family Development and Children’s Research Centre (FDCRC), St John's Road, St Augustine.

Since Jovelle Donaldson was diagnosed with juvenile rheumatoid arthritis at age three, which caused all her joints to become inflamed and swollen, she has overcome many challenges such as years of excruciating pain, being in and out of hospital, countless doctors’ appointments, surgeries, physiotherapy, and complications to graduate from The University of the West Indies (UWI), St Augustine with a MSc in Clinical Psychology, last year.

She is now a clinical psychologist at UWI’s Family Development and Children’s Research Centre (FDCRC), St John’s Road, St Augustine.

Eschewing the word “disability” as it limited or reduced what a person can do, Donaldson said she preferred the term “differently-abled”.

Speaking to the Sunday Guardian on Thursday at her office, Donaldson, 27, said “I worked at the centre for the last three years and started as a research assistant. Now that I’m a clinical psychologist I help with research projects, learning events, and work with social workers doing counselling.

“At the children’s centre I look at how to improve early childhood education, the current curriculum, then observe the children in the classroom, what works or not and try to improve on that through research and publications.”

Donaldson said while writing an exam at UWI someone approached her to check out the Academic Support/Disabilities Liaison Unit (ASDLU) which helps people who are differently-abled like herself.

She said ASDLU’s director Jacqueline Huggins made improvements such as making the pavement and walkways more wheelchair accessible to the physically-challenged and gave students assistance which was very progressive of UWI.

Donaldson said she originally wanted to be a doctor after spending so much time in hospital among doctors and feeling so comfortable.

She said she realised that physical medicine was important, but the component of the emotional and psychological aspect was just as important in her case.

Donaldson said her worst time enduring pain was at Newtown Girls’ Primary School and Holy Name Convent where she could not even walk and had to crawl on the ground to get around because of the flare-ups in her joints.

She said she wore braces, casts, and used crutches at school, and doctors strongly advised her parents because of her condition to not attend school as it can become stressful.

Donaldson said she persevered and still attended school thanks to her parents, especially her mother, Parbatee, who was a teacher.

She said Holy Name Convent's principal Ellen Lee Pow and vice-president Mrs Aqui were very accommodating as well as the children who were helpful and didn't make her feel any different.

Donaldson said her condition also affected her eyes and she also suffered from chronic uveitis, inflammation of the eyes.

She said her ailments were now in remission, however she still has remnants of her condition, the joint in her right knee and left elbow were fused.

Donaldson said she still did Shinkyokushin karate, tried to keep active and was very grateful.

She said when she was younger she could not do as much physical activities but still participated in school hockey, swimming and “everything” rather than sit in a corner and watch everyone else have fun

Donaldson said she hoped her achievement will be an inspiration to other differently-abled people to achieve their goals and also their parents to encourage them in their pursuits.

Dr Carol Logie, administrative director of the university's Family Development and Children’s Research Centre said since Donaldson started working at the centre with children her understanding had grown tremendously.

She said she was a team player, hard worker, meticulous, and always willing to listen and be part of new ideas.

Logie said Donaldson enjoyed thinking outside the box and was extremely concerned about what happened to people.

She said she had been an asset not only to the country but the region and had surpassed her physical challenges to help others.

I worked at the centre for the last three years and started as a research assistant. Now that I’m a clinical psychologist I help with research projects, learning events, and work with social workers doing counselling.”