Nelson Mandela on “the long walk to equality”

In 2004 Scope ran a campaign called “Time to get equal” to raise awareness of the problems and barriers faced by disabled people in their everyday lives. In support of Scope and our campaign, Nelson Mandela sent us this special message:

Nelson Mandela

This is a very special month and period in South Africa. And because the international community contributed so much to bring about the special situation we are celebrating in our country we believe that this is also a special period for the world.

We in South Africa are celebrating a decade of non-racial, non-sexist, non-discriminatory democracy. We went to the polls in our third democratic election just this past week. All of this stood in celebration of our democracy, based on the values of human dignity, the achievement of human equality and the advancement of human rights and freedoms.

Under the equality clause in our constitution’s bill of rights we affirm that, and I quote:

“The state may not unfairly discriminate directly or indirectly against anyone on one or more grounds, including race, gender, sex, pregnancy, marital status, ethnic or social origin, colour, sexual orientation, age, disability, religion, conscience, belief, culture, language and birth.”

The constitution continues to affirm that no person may unfairly discriminate directly or indirectly against anyone on one or more of the grounds mentioned above.

We have striven to give legislative and regulatory content to these founding precepts in our nation-building constitution. We have in this past decade progressed, slow as it may have been, towards living together in the acknowledgement of the basic equality and right to dignity of all human beings.

We have tried to give special emphasis to the rights of people living with disability. It is so easy to think of equality demands with reference primarily to race, colour, religion and gender; and to forget, or to relegate to secondary importance, the vast discrimination against disabled persons.

We cannot claim to have reached anywhere near to where a society should be in terms of practical equality of the disabled. We continue to try. We realise that legislation and regulations are not sufficient or the end of the long walk to equality and non-discrimination. Education, raising of awareness, conscientisation, eradication of stigmatisation: these are key elements in achieving non-discrimination against the disabled in practice and in their everyday lives.

A democracy is an order of social equality and non-discrimination. Our compatriots who are disabled challenge us in a very special way to manifest in real life those values of democracy.

It is not a question of patronising philanthropy towards disabled people. They do not need the patronage of the non-disabled. It is not for them to adapt to the dominant and dominating world of the so-called non-disabled. It is for us to adapt our understanding of a common humanity; to learn of the richness of how human life is diverse; to recognise the presence of disability in our human midst as an enrichment of our diversity.

Organisations like Scope help us to that greater understanding and I ask you to support Scope in its fight to end discrimination and to sign the equality pledge.

I thank you.

You can prove anything with statistics….

George Bernard Shaw is the only person to have been awarded both a Nobel Prize and an Oscar. He once remarked “It is the mark of a truly intelligent person to be moved by statistics.”

Sadly this confirms that my intelligence is not what I might have hoped. It’s very rare that I find statistics anything other than dull.

But perhaps I need to think more about what lies behind the statistics.

As part of our monitoring the Our Generation project, we use questionnaires and look at numbers of people engaged with the project. Even though these tools give us a good overall picture of what we have achieved, for me they never really capture the personal impact our project has on the people who take part.

One of our volunteers was referred to us some time ago as someone who could potentially benefit from our service. She was matched to a mentor and together they worked on building up her confidence.

To begin with she was apprehensive about leaving her home. Initially we worked towards the goal of her being able to travel to our office for meetings and then progressed to meeting other service users and volunteers. Over time, her confidence increased to the point where she completed our volunteer training course and became a mentor for others.

Now she is now able to travel independently. She enjoys weekly aqua-aerobics, is a committee member with her local social club as well as volunteering for our project, supporting other people to improve their lives.

In an email she recently wrote to us, she wrote:

“I was at the eye clinic last week and unfortunately they have changed my status from partially sighted to severely sight impaired/blind. The doctor says there is nothing more they can do. I will gradually lose sight in both eyes due to cataracts and can’t be operated on due to the glaucoma but thanks to all at Scope I’m able to take each day as it comes because im now in a much better frame of mind and feel much stronger. I just wanted to say thank you so much for being there for me.”

So next time I see in a report that “service users expressed an improvement in Life Satisfaction from an average of 4.5/10 to 7.5/10” maybe I’ll be able to see past the numbers to the real stories that lie behind them. Those can be genuinely moving.