In the past, seeing a person with a disability always filled me with the same feelings: discomfort, fear, guilt, and sympathy. Discomfort at trying so hard to act ‘normal’ around them. Fear of causing offence. Sympathy because life can already be so challenging without adding disability to it. Lastly I would feel guilt from knowing that it is only due to chance that I do not have a disability. Strangely enough, despite all these emotions, soon after I would forget the whole encounter entirely. Disability is not something that ever touched my life, so why give it any thought? Little did I know that I would one day find myself working for the Cerebral Palsy Association Eastern Cape (CPAEC).
I was overwhelmed from the very first day. There was a lot of equipment, jargon, and knowledge of which I had no idea. Admittedly, I was experiencing those old uncomfortable feelings again from being surrounded by children with disabilities. For a long time I questioned whether I was even capable of making any valuable contribution at all. But even so, going into the field and seeing first-hand the people whom we help is an experience that changes you.
I am touched by the love for these children, and all the effort and care that goes into helping them live their best lives. I’ve come to have a better understanding of children with disabilities: they are just children, cheerfully tenacious children. I have enjoyed conversing with their parents and families, finding out what dreams they have for their child. They are such beautiful dreams. Working at CPAEC has challenged me from the start, and allowed me to gain a richer understanding of disability.
Although at times I still feel like I’m fumbling around and I have a lot to learn, these things I know for sure: I love working in a place where whatever hard work I do goes towards a good cause; ignorance and a bad attitude can be even more debilitating than an actual disability, and most importantly there is a remarkable difference that can be seen in a child raised with love and support.