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Up close with Daveanna-Kay Reid - All Woman - Jamaica Observer
All Woman

Up close with Daveanna-Kay Reid

“I am enabled.” These are the words of confident Daveanna-Kay Reid, who depends on a wheelchair to move around, to describe her seven-year-long journey at Digicel Jamaica. Now a human resource executive, Reid started as intern at the telecommunications giant through the Digicel Foundation initiative POWER (Providing Opportunities for a Workforce that is Enabled and Resilient).

Through the POWER internship programme Digicel hires, on average, three members of the disabled community each year, from both the high school and university level.

“I found out about the POWER internship programme through a friend that worked here… She told me about the programme and just told me to share my CV [curriculum vitae]. A few days after I was contacted by Martin Thame, who, at the time, was the recruitment manager. I did an interview like everybody else, and he was blown away by me,” Reid told All Woman.

“It wasn't easy because I was expected to do everything like everyone else. He gave me a true life experience and what I appreciated about him is the fact that he believed in me and he gave me the opportunity to shine and gave me the opportunity to have self-belief,” she recalled.

Her time as an intern not only gave her an appreciation for the “inclusivity” she experienced at the company, but also prepared her to welcome challenges and to be resilient.

During her internship she had the responsibility of ensuring that other interns in the POWER programme were placed in the departments that matched their skill sets, as well as develop strategic plans to measure their performance and identify areas for improvement. Additionally, Reid oversaw the retrofitting of the Digicel global headquarters in downtown Kingston to accommodate people with special needs, such as automated doors for the visually impaired and physically challenged.

“The mandate at the time was just to ensure that persons with disabilities are employed and have opportunities like everyone else,” Reid explained to All Woman.

In the year following her internship, Reid was promoted to human resource assistant and, in 2019, assumed the position of human resource executive. She currently plays an active role in Digicel Jamaica's onboarding of new employees while supporting training.

“What I like is the fact that we are not looked on as special needs persons… you have to be putting in the work to be promoted. We're treated equally here at Digicel, so the same expectation of a regular employee is the same expectation of us in terms of what we do,” she revealed.

Another way that the company celebrates its special needs employees is to observe October as Special Need Awareness Month. But Reid admits that the company doesn't need to do much to acknowledge special needs employees, since it has always made an effort to do so.

As part of the celebrations, Digicel held a conference in which speakers from Fortune 500 companies encouraged the employment of individuals with special needs, both in the private and public sector. And since the company already had staff with special needs, they were given the opportunity to be a part of the planning, as well as share their stories of progress and success.

This, too, was an opportunity for Reid to reflect on the painful ordeal that resulted in her dependence on a wheelchair. On January 2, 2007 she suffered 97 per cent injury to her spinal cord after the vehicle in which she was travelling crashed in the Bog Walk Gorge. Then a 19-year-old sixth form student of McGrath High in Linstead, Reid had to spend time at Kingston Public Hospital and Sir John Golding Rehabilitation Centre in Mona, St Andrew, to recover from her injuries.

Once she was able to move around in a wheelchair on her own, Reid transferred to Charlemont High to complete level two units of the Caribbean Advanced Proficiency Examinations. As part of her rehabilitation she spent five months in Cuba and returned to Jamaica to matriculate into The University of the West Indies, Mona, (UWI) to pursue a bachelor's degree in English education.

It was while at The UWI that Reid became aware of the POWER internship programme and decided to give it a try. Her growth so far at Digicel, she emphasises, has been the result of hard work — not pity.

“I don't use the word pity. It's a word I don't acknowledge,” Reid quipped, adding, though, that she welcomes assistance.

“I just want to have equal opportunity right across the board. Whatever it is, give me the same opportunity that you would give an able-bodied person… I am deserving,” she continued.

In fact, Reid explained that part of her growth has been due to her company's management working with employees to craft an “individual development plan” with which they can chart a career path. And, like herself, colleagues with disabilities have excelled and gained promotion in finance, human resource, customer care, among other departments. This, she believes, is a true reflection of enablement, inclusivity and equal opportunity.

“I support the enabled community. And, for me, what that means is that I'm not disabled until I don't [have] access. So I'm really disabled when access is not provided, when inclusivity is not provided, and not being provided with the same opportunities as everyone else, everywhere else,” she said.

In addition to the support she receives from co-workers, Reid says she receives assistance from friends and family, most notably her husband. The mother of a four-year-old son and two-year-old daughter speaks highly of her husband with whom she has had a relationship prior to her accident. He helps her to balance family life with work, school, and even a Paralympic career.

A student of the club throw — Olympic equivalent to the hammer — Reid said her dream of being a Paralympian has been shelved due to commitments to family and work. She, however, hopes to return to the event some time in the future.

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