The same, but different…

Emilie Olifant
By Emilie Olifant
5 Min Read

It’s worth remembering that even the most independent person has a limitation or two

It’s funny how people sitting next to you on airplanes sometimes like to talk. This happened to me last week on my way back to Johannesburg from a business trip: the guy in the seat next to mine looked at me and decided I was a good person to talk to. He told me his whole financial life story: being retrenched, divorced after 15 years of marriage with all the resulting expenses, and remarrying, in his 60s, a younger woman with significant debts of her own.

Listening to him, I reflected upon my own life and had this Technicolor vision in my mind of a movie about my life since my injury. I don’t have the same life’s experiences as he does but it reminded me just how interesting and humbling life can be.

During our one-sided “conversation”, one thing became very clear. He had been dealt some financial blows and had worked very hard to overcome them, but the experiences had left him financially apprehensive.

I have a disability. I have had complete paraplegia for almost 13 years now. And even though I have been through a rehabilitation hospital to adjust to life using a wheelchair, and I’m now independent, I find that most people still don’t grasp that I have a disability and limitations.

Having a disability is expensive. Along with the same monthly expenses that everyone has to deal with, I have to add medical-care necessities to the list. And even though I am employed and can afford to buy most of what I need for care, it still leaves me with a big expense list to cater for every month. Having and maintaining the look that is suitable for everyday living doesn’t come cheap. And this is just one of many examples I could give.

I go about my everyday living independently. I love travelling. In 2005, two years after my injury, I embarked on a trip to the rural areas of Brazil for two weeks, alone. Preparing for this trip didn’t just include packing clothes and making sure my yellow-fever card was updated. I had to make sure I had all I’d need medically for the duration. I went on a spiritual journey and, yes, I enjoyed it thoroughly. Many places were bumpy and not easily accessible to me but with the support from the people I visited, I was able to get around with ease.

Sometimes you’ll find people who are willing to listen to you and learn from your experiences and limitations so that they become well informed and can be sensitive to the next person’s issues. On the other hand, there are people who forget that I too have challenges – which most people with disabilities experience. Ignorance is the worst discriminatory tool anyone can ever exercise in regard to someone else.

My passenger friend had many questions and some unwelcome answers were facing him. Life’s twists and turns sometimes take us in directions we would rather not go in, but still have to deal with. There are issues behind issues that create situations, and often we see what people did but we don’t see what made them do it. Experiences may be good or less good, but either way they will show us who we truly are!

Treat other people with the respect you would like to receive. How you treat other people, ultimately, is the biggest test of your integrity and your humanity.


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: emilie.olifant@gmail.com

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Emilie Olifant
By Emilie Olifant Disability Activist and motivational speaker
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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.
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