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Although Friday, June 1, the first day of winter in Canberra was very chilly, it became a day of warmth for me when I met six people with a disability, brought together at the Brassey Hotel to be presented with $1,500 each by ACTAADS Inc, aided by a generous donation from ACTTAB Ltd.
The warmth was generated by the feeling of humanity spread not only by the people with a disability but also by their mentors who daily help them participate in life. Hubris was noticeable by its absence. The only emotion on display was joy that the money would help the recipients acquire and/or develop skills that would help them participate more fully in the community. More than that, it would help make them role models and encourage other people with a disability to set new goals.
Of the many words spoken by Mahatma Ghandi none resonate more for me than: “A nation’s greatness is measured by how it treats its weakest members.” I doubt many people would argue that people with a disability are not Australia’s weakest members. With Ghandi’s words in mind, it saddens me to say that for too long many people with a disability have been forced to live on the edge of Australian society looking at people behind the plate glass window of life enjoying activities that they, too, would like to participate in and enjoy
In my opinion the more Australian industries and people become aware of this situation the likelier it is that the number of disadvantaged and disabled people living on the edge of society would decrease. No doubt many of them say that if times weren’t so difficult they would do more for them if they could. But think for a moment: if they are finding things difficult, how much more difficult are they for the disadvantaged and disabled?
Despite this, society at large owes much to people with a disability. While some people will disagree with me they would lose the argument that people with a disability have not made outstanding contributions to society as painters, writers and scientists as have many more in other areas of life.
Think of the following. Stephen Hawkings, world famous physicist/mathematician and author of ‘A Brief History of Time,’ who, despite being disabled by motor neurone disease is considered the greatest scientist of the twentieth century after Einstein. Some people think him even greater. And even though paralyzed, Hawkings still contributes using a computer supported by a machine that compiles his words.
Vincent Van Gogh’s reputation of being one of the greatest painters the world has never been doubted even though throughout his life he was disabled by depression, a disease receiving more recognition today than it did in his lifetime. However, despite his many years of treatment time, at the young age of 37 he committed suicide.
Christy Brown was talented in a different way. Few who have read the book My Left Foot and seen the film of the same name, will have forgotten this Irish author, painter and poet who combatted his severe cerebral palsy, by writing and painting with his feet. One of 22 children born in Crumlin, Dublin, to parents Bridget and Paddy, his doctors once considered Christy to be intellectually disabled.
As for athletes with a disability, they are many. Suffice to say Canberra has many autistic, blind, intellectually disabled and amputee athletes some of whom are famous and well known. Some are less well known while for some their time of fame is yet to come.
While I make no claim that any of the six recipients of the $1,500 grants will become well known it is more likely than not, that in Canberra at the moment, there is a person with a disability and a very high level of intelligence who, given the chance, could contribute much to society in the same way as either Hawkings, Van Gogh or Brown. However, their talents will go undiscovered unless programs for people with a disability are taken seriously.
That said, if other businesses and the Canberra community decide to follow ACTTAB’s lead the time will come when these people will be given the opportunity to use their talent.
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