Speak up whenever, however possible

Joe O'Brienis a successful DJ, motivational speaker and social media influencer.
Photo courtesy Joseph O'Brien
Joe O'Brienis a successful DJ, motivational speaker and social media influencer. Photo courtesy Joseph O'Brien

Actor and writer Benjamin Snow once said, “Disability is natural. We must stop believing that disabilities keep a person from doing something. Because that’s not true...Having a disability doesn’t stop me from doing anything.”

Joseph O’Brien is the perfect example of someone who has not let his disability keep him from doing what he loves and achieving his goals. O’Brien is a DJ who has been heating up the airwaves on Boom 94.1 FM. He is also a motivational speaker and social media influencer.

The 27-year-old former Fatima College student, from Maracas Valley, has been a resident DJ at Coco Lounge, Potionz Lounge, The Avenue Pub House and Cabana Lounge on Rust Street. He placed third at Slam's Shandy DJ Internship Challenge in 2020 and has been growing in popularity since then.

O’Brien has not let his disability detract from his vision of becoming a successful DJ and he continues to motivate others.

As a child, O’Brien had various diagnoses. He says, “I had PFFD, a bone condition that affects the legs; missing limb (that’s what they wrote on the form); cleft lip and palate; webbed feet and missing toes.

"However, recently, my girlfriend in medical school discovered a syndrome called Fatco syndrome, which fits all my aforementioned conditions perfectly. So I’m hoping to get an official diagnosis soon.

"My main challenges have been within my early years of education. I had to go to a private primary school because the public schools rejected me. The thing is, my mom didn’t have the means to afford the school in the first place, so we did not have many options

"The authoritative bodies of my primary school prevented me from playing with others, penalised me for not having textbooks and humiliated me in front the class when I could not fill a raffle sheet.

Joe O'Brien has been hitting up the airways on Boom Champion 94.1FM. Photo courtesy Joseph O'Brien.

"When my mom became aware of the situation, she was told, 'Joseph needs to learn his place.' by the school’s principal. I only realised that I was being oppressed and abused when, on the first day of Fatima, a dude threw a ball at me while I was watching them play, “You wanna play awa? Take a touch, nuh.”

"At 13 years old, I was invited to play my first school football match (small goal) and hence accepted on the first day of school.”

O’Brien is proud of many things; "My academic accomplishments My journey from being unsure if I can keep up with others to being recognised as one of the best. Making it onto Boom 94, playing soca music for Triple J in Australia twice – a radio station with an audience of two million persons. Watching the downtrodden leave the party in a metamorphosis of happiness.

"When I was younger, it was a bit tough being out in public. People were always friendly, but initially they would assume that I cannot communicate, and therefore direct their questions or comments to whomever was with me. There would be teasing and jeering.

"However, people are now condemning their own friends for being disrespectful. Some would actually resort to violence in anger at the bully. All I know is, I usually feel safe; but let’s chalk that up to male privilege.”

O’Brien has some strong advice to other people with disabilities – “I will say that there are two sides to every coin. Yes, the authorities need to implement many changes for persons with disabilities.

"However, it is important to speak up wherever and however possible. You’d be surprised at how much people are willing to help when they can actually understand your struggle. Understanding that struggle takes communication and one cannot take out their frustrations on others while having any dialogue about any topic. Both sides need to listen in order for there to be a feasible compromise.”

One of the things O’Brien wants to see in place for people with disabilities in TT, at a national level, is access to transport.

“I wish taxi/maxi drivers would be more open to helping wheelchair-bound persons leave their houses on a regular basis. Yes, there are wheelchair buses, but what if we want to go get doubles because of a craving in the morning? It would be nice to see ramps in
all pavements and for them to be able to take a spontaneous trip independently. Soon, I might be wheelchair-bound as well.”

It is his goal to tour the world playing soca and Caribbean music.

“I would love to see local and regional artistes on the Billboard charts. I'm hoping that it would allow for more youths to be able to turn music into a full-time career.

"To those youths out there, I want you all to know that the path to success is honestly paved by learning from our mistakes. Don't wait for the situation to be perfect in order to put yourself out there.

"Life is about risk. Don't be afraid to fail. That's how you learn.”

Radica Mahase is the founder/director of Support Autism T&T


"Speak up whenever, however possible"

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