According to the 2011 census, 610 000 children in South Africa, aged 5-14, are living with the daily challenge of disability – many of these are confined to wheelchairs. These kids often feel relegated to an alternate universe - one in which they don’t get the chance to play a superhero.
How often, during your day-to-day routines, do you notice, interact or engage with a child with a disability? If you are a parent, do your children have any contact with peers dependent on manual or electric wheelchairs? Are healthy and respectful awareness conversations taking place around your dinner table about children with disabilities?
These questions are not designed to leave you feeling guilty or embarrassed, but to open your eyes to the reality of a world where children who are confined to wheelchairs are living with the isolation and vulnerability of social stigmatization and stereotyping.
The slogan, ‘No child left behind,’ has been adopted by the Basic Education Department. Shoprider, in providing our customers with wheelchairs, aims to be part of this awareness campaign.
Unless you have lived with a physical or mobility disability, or have a close relationship with someone in a wheelchair, the public’s lack of awareness tends to view the individual as invisible and the disability as visible. This has many exaggerated repercussions when it comes to children confined to wheelchairs.
In 2010, Sara Hendren and Brian Glenney began a street art campaign to change the common international symbol for disability, with a version where the figure was leaning forward as if to push off in some direction. (Their symbol is part of the permanent collection at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City.)
The stigma associated with children in wheelchairs is often socially evidenced - avoidance, stereotyping, discrimination, condescension and curiosity.
We often forget that children in wheelchairs are first children – who want to play, laugh and interact ‘normally’ with friends and the world around them. The fact that these children have to live and accommodate life with a physical disability should not be the defining aspect of their existence.
Virali Modi, disability activist and campaigner, and herself confined to a wheelchair says, ‘This wheelchair doesn’t define who I am. Just like your legs are your mobility, my wheelchair is doing that for me.’
In South Africa, we have many resources at our disposable to support children with disabilities and transform the landscape so that they do not feel further challenged when engaging with their peers and adults at schools, parks, and shopping centres. Each of us has the ability to make a difference by reversing ignorant perceptions and breaking down social barriers.
Shoprider is intent on being part of creating awareness, empathy and respect, which will result in positive interactions. With us, it starts by the way we serve and interact with anyone who is in the market for a wheelchair. We believe we can be part of creating a world where the term ‘disability’ is redefined and where children in wheelchairs are an integral part of society. We are also determined that ‘No child should be left behind.’