Sherrie-Lynn Lilley is the Founder/Director of Inspire Bermuda.
This week Inspire Bermuda is celebrating women with disabilities for Women’s History Month!
Today we would like to honour the wonderful and inspiring Kathleen Margaret Carter.
She was the founder and long-time chairperson of the Bermuda Physically Handicapped Association, Kathleen Margaret Carter championed the cause of people with disabilities.
She was herself disabled, and one of only a handful of Bermudians of her generation with a disability to receive access to a formal education. That, along with her talents as an organizer and writer and her media savviness, combined to make her a formidable spokeswoman.
It was largely because of her activism that the needs of handicapped Bermudians were placed on the national agenda. It led to more employment opportunities for the disabled and heightened public awareness of the need to make buildings and streets in Hamilton more accessible to people in wheelchairs.
Without her influence, Summerhaven, the residence for the physically handicapped in Smith’s, would not have been built, and the Human Rights Act would never have been amended to include people with disabilities.
Carter was the only child of George Caswell Carter, a British engineer who came to Bermuda to work for the Bermuda Electric Light Company, and Margaret Daisey (born Taylor) Carter. She was born with muscular dystrophy, a degenerative disease that put her permanently in a wheelchair by age 11.
She received her early schooling at Mount St. Agnes Academy. When she was 13, she left the island to receive rehabilitation at Pinderfields Hospital in Yorkshire, England. Carter remained in the United Kingdom for three years and relied on her sense of humour to cope with her loneliness and isolation.
On her return to Bermuda, she completed a correspondence course in creative writing and began to develop her talents as a writer and a doll maker.
By the 1960s, she had written a novel based on her experiences in the rehab hospital, but despite favorable reviews from publishers, it never made it into print.
She self-published two pamphlets “1609 was a Very Funny Year”, a satirical account of Bermuda’s settlement, and “Bermuda Joe”, about a talking sea horse with the secret for world peace.
She began laying the groundwork for university education when she completed Colin Benbow’s G.C.E. history course, which he taught on television. Courses taken through Queen’s University Extension in Bermuda followed, which led to her receiving a Bachelor of Arts with a major in psychology from Queen’s in 1983.
Carter’s life as an activist began when she took out a newspaper ad, asking people who were disabled to contact her. The result was the formation of the Bermuda Physically Handicapped Association (BPHA) in 1970. It became the forum through which Carter, working with a team of disabled and able-bodied members, led the fight for jobs and greater access to transportation and the integration of children with disabilities into the regular school system.
By 1991, the BPHA could claim success in a number of areas. There were nine hydraulic buses on the roads, where there were none in the 1970s, providing transportation for residents and tourists with disabilities.
A swimming pool had also been built at St. Brendan’s Hospital for use by the disabled for physical therapy, and amendments to the building code, requiring all new buildings to be accessible to the handicapped were on their way to Parliament. Hamilton City Hall had led the way, installing ramps and later an elevator.
Carter served on a number of boards including Summerhaven’s and Government’s Human Rights Commission and the Rehabilitation Council. Her activism extended to the anti-Apartheid Group, which she helped found.
She was a member of the Bermuda Writers’ Collective, and her short stories were included in two of its collections, Palmetto Wine, published in 1990, and An Isle So Long Unknown, which was published in her memory in 1993.
In 1992, while attended a creative writing workshop led by Barbadian writer George Lamming, Carter suffered a stroke from which she never recovered.
Her funeral, which was held at the Anglican Cathedral, was attended by artists and activists, Government and Opposition figures, clergy from different denominations and a host of friends.