“It is in understanding our differences that we learn our need for each other”
I have had the privilege to meet and work with some amazing people and in over 20 years of working with charities I have seen the very best of humanity in action. I have learnt from people with greater knowledge and wisdom than me, experienced great strength of character, unwavering faith, incredible hope and unconditional love. I have been encouraged to challenge stereotypes and to use my own gifts for the benefit of others. But more than anything, I have gained so much from those many would consider to be disabled.
Back in 1991 I was badly injured in a car accident and my world fell apart. I broke my back in 3 places and for a period of time I was dis-abled, yet after a recovery period of nearly 12 months and a bit of stubborn determination, I was ‘able’ again with some limitations. Some of what I could do before my accident I have never been able to do again because of those limitations. That period of dis-ablement taught me so much, firstly that I was incredibly lucky to survive and secondly that such experiences change your outlook on life and what you do with it. I had to learn patience and accept for a time that I had lost my independence and needed others to help me. But apart from my mobility and the trauma associated with the accident, I was still the same me; able to believe, able to hope, able to love and above all able to develop my understanding of the needs of others.
18 years ago when I was leading a charity working with families and children with cerebral palsy I met an amazing young man who was just about to start a university course studying English. He had cerebral palsy, a reading age of 10 but a remarkable gift that was unlocked using voice activated software. Suddenly, he could communicate in words he was never able to write and to rival the best in his literature, poetry and prose. We were talking one day and he said this profound thing to me.
“So many people keep wanting to label me as dis-abled but I have never been dis-abled. I have never had anything taken away, I was born like this, unique in my own way, I just needed people to believe in my potential as a human being, to mentor me, to be my advocate and to fight for me to be educated in mainstream schools with my peers. Yes, I may not have been as quick as them and yes I would stumble and fall, but I had an insight, I had my own ambition and fortunately my parents saw that and challenged the system to give me a chance”. The charity encouraged him to document his journey and he wrote a short book as a help to parents who had children with cerebral palsy. That lad, just 18 at the time, was an inspiration to me and I thank him for that. That same young man who will be in his mid 30's is now championing inclusion and access at one of Scotland’s leading Universities.
Difference is about not being the same, it is a celebration of uniqueness. It should recognise the need to overcome prejudicial categorisations, discrimination and bias, which in turn leads to true acceptance and valuing of each other. Beneath the apparent physical limitations or indeed the learning challenges which may be a feature of our lives, there is still a hidden potential, a gift, which in its raw form brings blessings in abundance, inspires and produces happiness in others. There is an innate compassion and a joy in these lives which help us to appreciate what we have in ours. It is our difference that make the difference