Chaeli Mycroft, recipient of the 2011 International Children’s Peace Prize, is an ability activist and avid wheelchair dancer. She is preparing to study politics and philosophy at the University of Cape Town, South Africa.
Perspective: One bite of the elephant at a time
By Chaeli Mycroft
Some people see disability as a burden, others as a gift. My disability has given me very unique opportunities and experiences that would not have happened if I were not disabled. I am happy and grateful for my disability because it has moulded me into the person that I am today.
I am in no way saying that having a disability is an easy thing to deal with. It is a very complex situation, and it affects almost every aspect of your life. But I hope, throughout my life, to inspire other young people to see their disabilities as an opportunity to focus on ability, not just on their limitations.
My family has always challenged me to focus on my abilities and has never viewed or treated me with pity. For this, I will be eternally grateful because it made me see myself as equal to any able-bodied person. I was also raised knowing that my contribution is of equal importance to anyone else’s, and to stand up (metaphorically) for my rights. My friends view me as an equal and accept that my disability sometimes makes it difficult for me to do things in the same manner as they do, so we just have to be slightly more creative to include me in whatever we’re doing – playing cricket when we were younger, for example. I would be the scorer.
The incredible support I received enabled me to work with children with disabilities in South Africa. For this I won the International Children’s Peace Prize in 2011 – an event that has changed my life in an amazing way. The KidsRights Foundation, which awards this prize annually, has given me the opportunity to spread my message through a worldwide platform and to meet people I would otherwise never meet. They also pay for my education and are making it possible for me to go to university next year with all the adjustments I need.
So many children with disabilities are not celebrated for their capabilities and are hidden away from the world because of fear and ignorance. We need to realize that people with disabilities are crucial in our population. People with disabilities are often the ones who think outside the box – because we have to. We have to make our disabilities work for us and not against us, and teach others to be caring and empathetic. Empathy, something the world desperately needs.
I believe that there are two main issues to be tackled on a worldwide level – accessibility and attitudes. These issues are interconnected and cannot be dealt with one by one. If people can change the worldwide attitude towards disability from one of pity, shame and inferiority to one of abundance, acceptance and equality, then we will see amazing progress. Positive attitudes can lead to improved accessibility – just as inaccessibility is an expression of the view that the needs of people with disabilities are less important than those of able-bodied people, an attitude that has negative consequences for people with and without disabilities.
Improved attitudes should also help address other major issues, such as our experiences of education. I have been in every form of education that a person with a disability can do: special needs school, mainstream state primary and high school, mainstream private high school. I wouldn’t say I’m an expert, but there’s a lot to be said for experience. It was certainly not always easy and simple. Often it was a struggle, and at times I was incredibly unhappy. I worked really hard to be included and to make it easier for the people who are going to come after me. I am finishing my school career in a place where I am fully included and accepted. When I think about it, all I feel is relief – relief that I don’t have to fight so hard for my own happiness anymore. Now I can fight harder for other people with disabilities and their right to happiness.
It may seem that I am always a super-positive person. This is not the case. I have had my struggles, and I am sure that they are not over. The thing that tips the scale towards positivity is the fact that I am surrounded by people who believe in my ability and are positive about my contribution to society – people who counter my negative days. I really love them for that.
My lifetime goal is to have disability become something that is completely accepted and embraced by the global community. It may be a big task, and it may have many facets, but I believe it’s entirely possible.
It starts with believing. I believe in my abilities; I believe wholeheartedly that I can make change happen – that I can change lives. If people with disabilities can’t believe in themselves or if others don’t believe in them, I will believe in them – and hopefully my positivity will spread and encourage more positivity. This might seem insignificant to some but it’s still change.
One bite of the elephant at a time.