By Boniswa Matiwane Postgraduate Diploma in Media Management student
As part of Rhodes University’s Equity and Institutional Culture annual Disability Week, ability activist Chaeli Mycroft shared her inspiring story with the University.
Rhodes University Vice-Chancellor, Dr Sizwe Mabizela, presented this year’s focus on mainstreaming disability, and introduced Mycroft.
Mycroft was awarded the Medal for Social Activism from the Nobel Peace Laureates in 2012. She has climbed Mount Kilimanjaro and completed a number of Comrades Marathons in her wheelchair and Cape Town Cycle Tours in a buggy.
She spoke about what disability mainstreaming means and the need to go beyond the practical components, such as building structures and facilities. “Attitude is one of the biggest cornerstones in the move to mainstreaming disability,” she said.
Mycroft quoted playwright Neil Marcus: “Disability is an art. It’s an ingenious way to live”. She noted critically how we need to follow the nuanced perspective that the playwright provides on disability. “If disability is an art then it must be a talent,” she said. “Disability, much like any talent, must then be harnessed.” The ability activist stated that we have made it too easy to exclude and marginalise people living with disabilities.
Instead of focusing on her disability, Mycroft said, she focuses on her ability. When reflecting on what drives her to push boundaries and to chase her dreams, she said it comes down to "relentless optimism".
“I keep moving and creating more moments of faith than moments of doubt. It's about shaping your outlook,” she said. This was the basis of Mycroft becoming an ability activist.
It is important for people living with disabilities to have a strong and stable support structure. “Freedom is essential for growth and to realise what our capabilities are. Our abilities may be slightly challenged, but it is still possible for us to live life fully. Work towards assisted independence,” she said.
People facing those living with disabilities often don’t understand their need for privacy or independence, and will often make decisions on behalf of those living with disabilities. “The first step to awareness requires able-bodied people being brave enough to admit what they don’t know,” she said.
The move to mainstreaming disability in higher education will involve interrogating the housing policies to include and account for the needs of people living with disabilities.
Mycroft is currently busy with her PhD which involves research on young adults and activism.