Up Close ... with Brigitte Lablache, visually-impaired switchboard operator -‘Try to be positive in whatever you do’


19-March-2013

Brigitte LablacheMany people know Brigitte for her involvement with the Association for the Blind and her singing ability, as for many years previously she was part of the group Blind Faith. But now that Brigitte works full-time, she prefers to use her voice on the telephone to connect incoming calls with the correct people at the ministry.

Brigitte has been working for the government for 25 years, first for the Ministry of Employment and Human Resource Development from 1988 to 1993, and then in 1994 until the present in her current post at the Ministry of Tourism and Culture.

A fiercely independent lady, Brigitte radiates confidence and self-assurance, both at her job and in her personal life.
“At home I do a lot of daily things, like cooking and the things that ‘normal’ people do at home. I also help my mother because she’s not well, so I look after her. When it comes to going out, usually one of my two cousins or my brother will drive me,” says Brigitte.

Growing up, Brigitte encountered a series of obstacles in the journey towards getting an education. “I had to learn everything the hard way, because I attended St Claire’s school at that time, which was a normal school. As I was the only blind student in the class, and there were no teachers trained to work with blind students, it was very difficult for me to learn all the different subjects. I had to learn things orally and it wasn’t easy, so unfortunately I had to leave school after Primary 3.”

Brigitte went on to take an English course via correspondence from the School of the Blind in America, which helped her to learn and write in English.

“I learned Braille Grade 1 from my brother, after which I went to India in 1985 for a telephone training course, and with that I learned Braille Grade 2,” says Brigitte.
“At that time I had to go to India to become qualified as a switchboard operator, in order for me to be able to get a job here in Seychelles.”

Brigitte describes her family as a close-knit one, and with two of her six siblings also born blind, she has always had the love and support of her family behind her.
“My sisters have all settled in Australia, but I live with my mother and my brother, who is also blind. My other brother Patrick lives next door to us,” says Brigitte fondly.

Brigitte comes from a musical family, and with both her brother and sister being in the Blind Faith group, she naturally gravitated towards singing and playing guitar, which she learned from her cousin Thomas at the age of 11. Even though she no longer performs professionally, Brigitte still enjoys singing at hospitals and children’s homes for charity and church activities.

“My other hobbies are reading and spending time on my laptop, which is equipped with speech-recognition software. I also like going to the beach, swimming, travelling, meeting new people and I enjoy playing Scrabble and Ludo – I have a special set in Braille that I use to play with my nephew and my brother.”

According to Brigitte, the best thing about her job is the colleague she shares the switchboard operating room with.
“I work together on the switchboard with a wonderful lady who is very caring and understanding. And my other colleagues as well - I get on well with everyone here,” she beams.
“The most important thing of all is that I work in a very happy environment.”

Brigitte connecting an incoming call as part of her daily duties as a switchboard operator

Brigitte reflects that it was always her dream to become a Braille instructor, but harbours some doubts about being able to accomplish this goal.

“At this point in my life, I don’t feel able to go for the specialised training because my concentration levels are not what they used to be when I was fifteen years younger!”
Although she acknowledges that the government has made great efforts to support the blind community, one thing she feels very definite about is the need for more educational provision for blind children in Seychelles.

“There is still a lot of work that needs to be done in this area – for me the most important thing is for blind children to be able to receive the same level of education as sighted children. It’s something I would love to see happening in the future.”

Brigitte is well-known to all her colleagues for having a warm personality and a wonderful sense of humour, and she serves as an inspiration and a role-model for both sighted and visually-impaired people. Her advice for living a happy life is to believe in the power of positive thinking.

“If you think positively, you will be able to move forward,” she explains. “If I had to think, ‘Oh, I’m blind, I have to rely on other people to do everything for me, my life is over because I cannot see,’ I would never move forward. So my advice is: just try to be positive no matter what you do.”

 

by Hajira Amla

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