3 recent disability events in SA

Blind Cricket World Cup 2014

This past weekend, South Africa hosted the Blind Cricket World Cup. The final match took place at the Western Province Cricket Club, where India beat Pakistan to become the world champions. In the semi-finals, Pakistan had beaten England by eight wickets, while India had defeated Sri Lanka by 134 runs.

Unfortunately, the tournament was marred by controversy, as the South African blind cricket team had to borrow uniforms and kit due to lack of funding from Cricket South Africa (CSA), not to mention having to sleep in emergency accommodation. The Blind Cricket SA (BCSA) organisation has now lodged a complaint with the Human Rights Commission, due to the inequality of support, funding and publicity given to them, compared to able-bodied sports teams.

Since 2009, South Africa has celebrated National Disability Rights Awareness Month from 3 November (I only recently found about this – so either I’ve been living under a rock or the national awareness of this should be better). This year’s priority has been finalising the National Disability Rights Policy, which Social Development Minister Bathabile Dlamini says is at an advanced stage.

Last Wednesday (3 December) was the United Nations (UN) International Day of Persons with Disabilities. It has been observed around the world by the UN since 1992 in order to promote the dignity, rights, well-being and integration of persons with disabilities in society, as well as to improve awareness and understanding of disability issues. The focus of the day this year was on “Sustainable development: The promise of technology” to remove the physical and communication barriers that exclude and marginalise persons with disabilities. Below is a fantastic video about celebrating our achievements. It is part of a series by Adelaide City Council.

8 characteristics of life in a wheelchair

Since losing my legs just over a year ago, one of the most common questions I get asked is “How are you coping?” I have learnt that life as a full-time wheelchair-user with disabilities has its benefits as well as its frustrations. In that way, it is no different from life as an able-bodied person. Here are a few of the pros and cons I experience most often, which I think are common to many other people with disabilities.

1) Most people are super nice to me

Even strangers go out of their way to offer me assistance, whether it’s a push up a hill, mounting a curb or alighting from a bus. It also seems to give me some kind of implicit authority – whenever I have been in a group of people that don’t really know me, they immediately fall silent when I start speaking and don’t interrupt me until I have finished.

2) But some people can be offensive

There are other people though, that seem to think I am also mentally handicapped, simply because I am in a wheelchair and have a physical disability. The first time my mum took me to the mall we went into a sports shop to look for wheelchair gloves for me. As soon as we started approaching the salesgirl she looked nervously at me and backed up slightly, and only looked at my mum while she was talking to us. As Emily Ladau’s post on The Mighty reveals, I know I am not the only disabled person to have this issue.

3) Going anywhere requires strategic planning

Inaccessible MyCiti bus stop in Cape Town

An accessible MyCiti bus stop – preceded by two inaccessible curbs.

Before leaving the house I must find out whether the place I am going to is accessible.

Will there be disabled toilet facilities?

Are the doorways wide enough for my wheelchair?

Is the outdoor terrain manageable for my wheels?

Are there accessible transport links or can I arrange a lift with someone?

Is it likely we’ll go on from there to a different venue (in which case repeat all checks)?

Living spontaneously just got a lot more risky.

4) Using the toilet requires much patience

First of all, 90% of the times I have used public disabled toilet facilities I have had to wait for an able-bodied person to finish up in the cubicle. Out of about fourteen able-bodied people I’ve waited for, so far only one has apologised for using the disabled toilet stall. The funny thing is, most of them look extremely surprised to come out and find an actual disabled person waiting for them. Yes, we really do exist. We are not unicorns or tooth fairies or elves. We are living, breathing people with disabilities who need to pee.

Secondly, when you literally don’t have a leg to stand on, pulling up your pants requires impressive skill.

5) The same goes for disabled parking bays

There is a reason disabled parking bays are wider than the average and closer to the entrance. Try assembling and dismantling a wheelchair next to your car and wheeling yourself across a parking lot where people drive above the speed limit and cannot see your wheelchair in their mirrors or over their bonnets.

6) People find it difficult to be angry with me

Maybe it’s just my winning personality, but there have been times where I have done or said something that would have made me angry if I had been the other person involved and yet they haven’t shown any annoyance or anger towards me. I hope that they are not too scared to criticise someone in a wheelchair.

7) Some months I spend more time with my doctors than my friends

Groote Schuur Hospital | darylhb on Instagram

Groote Schuur Hospital

I am sure this will change as more time goes by, but in my first year as a person with disabilities, I have been to the hospital at least twice a month. Usually it has been for routine check-ups or therapy, but there has also been one surgery (with all the pre- and post-care treatment that goes with it). As my body now has to function slightly differently, my vitals will always need to be monitored and physiotherapy, occupational therapy and medication may often be necessary. I have enjoyed learning about my body and my mind, and I am impressed by the physiological backup systems that the human body uses to compensate for what is missing.

8) I know the staff at the local hospital by name

Most of the doctors, nurses and administrative staff that I’ve met have been remarkably kind, friendly, efficient and supportive. There are of course other staff that should not be in the healthcare profession at all, as they seem to hate their jobs and resent their patients for any requests that might be made. The attitude of nursing staff has a profound effect on the wellbeing of their patients, many of whom are bedridden or dependent on the staff. A good nurse can make a patient feel safe, hopeful and confident that their condition is manageable.

5 experiences I would have missed if I had died as planned

Today marks the first anniversary of my suicide attempt. My emotions regarding this milestone differ by the hour, but mostly it feels like any of the other things one suddenly remembers, such as, “Oh yeah, I’ve been living in this house for five years now,” or “Huh, can’t believe it’s been nine years since I graduated.” It changed my life, but it doesn’t define me. What a relief to realise that.

Looking back, I can only relate to that day in terms of all that has happened since. Now, I can’t imagine my life without the people I’ve met and the experiences I’ve had over the past year. Here are five of them:

1) Feeling proud of my body for the first time in my life

And not because of how it looks, but because for the first time, I have taken charge of my body and know what it is capable of. I used to take my body for granted and treated it as a functional tool for getting around and expressing myself. The rest of my body has had to compensate for the loss of my legs. I have pushed it and challenged it. My body has risen above my expectations in ways I would not have thought possible. Body, you rock.

2) Playing volleyball with some of the coolest people I’ve ever met

I have never been a sporty person or an adrenaline-junkie. My hand-eye coordination sucks. But learning to play paravolley (sitting volleyball) has been a liberating experience for me. I have learnt that you can do anything if you practise long enough (despite my hand-eye setbacks, my volleyball skills are improving). I have also gotten to know several other people with disabilities (including a Paralympian!), who just happen to be awesome. We are all learning from each other and encouraging each other. Most of all we get each other when it comes to the challenges posed by our disabilities.

ParaVolley South Africa | Facebook Page

3) Acknowledging and understanding my depression (and myself)

It wasn’t until after my suicide attempt that I spoke to anyone about my feelings of hopelessness, worthlessness and failure. When I finally understood that there was a medical cause for them and that treatment was possible, a huge weight was lifted off my shoulders. I wasn’t alone, I wasn’t crazy, I could be easier on myself and life could get better.

No matter what scary thing you’re going through, sharing the load with someone will always make it easier. Yes, sometimes they won’t be able to fix it or solve it, but they can hold your hand and go through it with you. There will always be someone willing to help. If you don’t want to make a loved one responsible for coping with your struggle, talk to a professional or call a helpline. The people on the other end of the line really do want to help and they’re usually experienced. Wouldn’t you rather learn to drive from a seasoned driver than from your brother who takes the bus?

4) Finding a new passion and purpose

For a long time it felt as though I had pursued my dreams and failed at all of them. It took a disability to help me realise what I had in me and how I could use my experiences to make a difference. Always have faith in yourself, because there is no one else exactly like you and somewhere out there is a need and a gap the perfect size for you.

5) Making new friends and reconnecting with old ones

Over the past year, my depression, disability and rehabilitation have introduced me to a number of kind, intelligent, talented people that I would never have known otherwise. The road to recovery has also been smoothed by the constant, unfailing love and support of old friends and family. Near-death, life-altering experiences seem to erase the social barriers between people. We say the things we almost didn’t get a chance to say and reassess the content of our lives. The wonderful people in my life have taught me how great and diverse the world is, and shown me how bright the future can be if we nurture the good in it.