Life-changing doesn’t have to mean life-shattering.
It has been almost 13 years since I was involved in a horrific car accident that changed my life forever. People often ask me, “How are you feeling? How are you coping?” The reality is that unless you have experienced the loss of movement and the ripple effects of the injuries, you can’t really understand the implications.
Realising that you’ll be spending the rest of your life in a wheelchair is traumatic. But for me, the incident, in which I sustained a spinal cord injury on the T12 vertebrae, turned out to be a positive, enlightening experience. It motivated me to enrol in a three-year NQF6 Trauma Counselling course. In November 2015, I completed the Facilitator and Assessor course, which qualifies me as an Accredited Facilitator and Assessor.
I founded the Emilie Olifant Foundation in August 2013. Based in Craigavon in Gauteng, the Foundation addresses socio-economic issues experienced by people with disabilities through coaching, empowerment, mediation and integration of people with disabilities in the workplace and society. Our aim is for our clients to find meaning, improve their performance, strengthen their relationships and enhance their overall quality of life.
In general, women struggle for equality in the workplace. That struggle is doubled when you are a woman with a disability. Most companies hesitate to employ people with disabilities because they think it’s expensive to make changes to accommodate you; once employed, you have to work twice as hard to prove that you can work independently.
When I was injured, I was admitted to the Netcare Rehabilitation Hospital to learn how to adjust to my new life using a wheelchair. I’m happy to say I’m now independent and able to manoeuvre with little support. I am lucky to work in a place that is fairly accessible and enables me to do my work with very little support from colleagues. However, I ask for assistance where needed. Help is always welcome.
Discrimination is a phenomenon that cannot easily be removed from someone’s frame of reference. What we can do is show by example: the change has to begin with me – with you. So when you go to the hairdresser and she says to your companion: “How does she want her hair cut?” your response should be simply: “How about asking me?”
There is no need to be defensive or nasty. We are just different and we need to share that difference. I try to maintain a balance between work and life. I travel when possible and spend quality time with close friends and family to relax. I also ensure that I have some me-time. This year, I have set myself a few but constructive goals.
I trust that you too will meet 2016 with a hopeful outlook and focus on achieving your goals. Let’s do this!
Progress in society
In 2013, Cabinet approved the period November 3 to December 3 as National Disability Rights Awareness Month and that December 3 be observed as the National Day of Persons with Disabilities.
This provides the country with an opportunity to showcase and celebrate progress made in realising the political and socio-economic rights of persons with disabilities as guaranteed in the Bill of Rights, including the rights to equality, dignity and self-reliance. In December 2015 Cabinet also approved the White Paper on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.
Emilie Olifant is a disability activist, entrepreneur and motivational speaker. She is the director of the Emilie Olifant Foundation, an organisation that strives to address socio-economic issues experienced by people with disabilities. email: firstname.lastname@example.org