It’s Disability Awareness Month, and what better way to celebrate than to showcase talented and inspiring advocates like Erin Brown. Brown is an accomplished para-triathlon athlete, disability inclusion consultant, motivational speaker, and mother of three.
Brown is a sixteen-year-old cancer survivor who had her entire left leg amputated due to stage 4 osteosarcoma, a type of bone cancer that most often occurs in children, teens and young adults. She says that with this loss, “access [that she] appreciated as a non-disabled person was removed with surgery. After becoming, as she later realized, part of the largest intersectional minority in the world, she suddenly realized how different she was living. She found herself neglected, denied jobs she was qualified for, and felt like she was seen as a liability rather than an asset. The lack of accessibility hit her and she was called to action.
In his community of Grand Bahama and the greater Caribbean region, more than one million people live with some form of disability. While efforts are in place to accommodate people living with disabilities, humanity still has a long way to go before achieving truly accessible standards for all. Brown advocates for change in her insufficiently accessible environment and encourages and motivates people to join her movement in her community.
The beginnings of her advocacy and work for people with disabilities were humble. Brown began her advocacy with what she calls “The Bahamian Dream.” Her desire to continue doing what she loves while inspiring others to create accessibility change in her environment has driven her. She is a prime example of the saying “act locally, think globally” as some of her early initiatives were limited to donating extra supplies and equipment she had to others in need.
After realizing the impact these small acts of kindness had on her community, she decided to start a foundation that would reach more people in need. She says: “The look on their faces – so shocked. He connected disability for them differently. They now have another perspective of what people with disabilities can do – what they look like.
Thus, the Erin Brown Foundation and Erin Brown Connects were founded in 2006. The organizations mission is to help people with disabilities find employment, train employees in disability accommodations in the workplace, and advocate for health services are more accessible. Anthony Duttine, Disability and Rehabilitation Advisor for the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), said of Brown, “She empowers people with disabilities to be engaged, to be aware of their rights, whether in employment, by making health services more suitable for people with disabilities. , or to put people with disabilities at the forefront of planning”,
This well-established organization has also proven adaptable to global climate change. During the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, Brown turned her office into a hotline to help people caring for a sick loved one for the first time in their lives. Erin Brown Connects has been nominated for the Bahamian Icon Award for Humanitarianism.
An accomplished athlete herself, Brown mobilizes her organizations to create a community that encourages the development of sport in an environment that is accessible to people with disabilities. She uses her own life’s accomplishments to inspire and bring others together. She was the first Bahamian female amputee to participate in the Sunshine Insurance Marathon and the first Bahamian female amputee to cycle at Ride for Hope, Eleuthera Bahamas.
Brown’s list of accomplishments doesn’t end there. She co-produced The Vagina Monologues for the Bahamas Artists Movement with director Rowena Poitier. This event joined VDay, an international awareness event where funds were raised to end violence against women and children.
She was recognized for her many accomplishments when she was selected for the Bahamian Collection on display at the National Art Gallery for the Bahamas 40th Independence Day celebrations.
Brown’s main occupation is currently as a Workplace Accessibility Advocate for the Department of Health. “For me, the word ‘suffering’ means nothing when I talk about my cancer, my amputation or any other illness or incident,” she says. “I didn’t ‘suffer’. I overcame and now live in a community that has always existed. Our cancer journeys are unique, each designed for growth.
Erin Brown Connects is just the start of Brown’s ambitions. In 2020, she competed in the Tokyo Paraplegic Triathlon and is currently training for the Tokyo 2021 Paralympic Games. She also hopes to go to law school and graduate as a disability rights and policy lawyer. “I realized that after you find what you love, pursue it aggressively,” she says. “Don’t let anyone tell you, ‘You can’t do it. “”
For more information on how you can help Erin Brown advocate for people with disabilities, follow her on Instagram and Twitter.