I’m celebrating Easter in the south of Spain, as I normally do. The sun is shining as usual. And I am enjoying a walk on the beach with the help of my assistant. It’s a holiday and families are out strolling together. People from all generations are walking and stopping to chat with friends along the way. Small children are playing with their toys – doll buggies, bikes and small electric cars and motorcycles on the sidewalks – the same toys you can buy in Sweden. The youngest drivers aren’t more than two years old. And the parents seem to be having just as much fun as they cheer their children on.
But where are the small children with disabilities? Sitting in bigger versions of baby buggies, unable to play or move. Just like in Sweden. There are differences between children and children. This is how it was when I was a child 45 years ago. I only got to watch. And I was lucky to watch at that, since I was normally reclining in my chair with only the sky to look at.
Why is it like this? Everyone wants to investigate his or her surroundings. And everyone can move in some way. Regardless of ability. The real hindrance is often learned helplessness, as it was for me.
Imagine if I could have driven similar motorcycles or cars when I was two. With the same type of support for my torso that I have in my wheelchair today, I also could have driven myself with a joystick instead of using the gas pedal and steering wheel.
Society did not help me become more mobile because I had an intellectual handicap. It did, and still thinks, that if you are stupid, you don’t want to move. But no living creature is too stupid to move. Even a worm will inch its way through an opening rather than into an obstacle. If you can just see or feel your way forward, you can go through the door instead of the wall. But naturally, no one thinks this applies to me.
Small children need regular stimulation to develop their abilities. Because I wasn’t stimulated, I did not develop to my full potential. Society only offered a storage solution for me. Specialists told my parents that I was a hopeless case, and that it would be best to abandon me as soon as possible.
If I had instead been offered mobility aids at the age when children normally start toddling about and discovering the world, I would certainly have learned more. I could have learned to communicate better. I might have improved my vision like everyone else through movement. I could have developed completely differently than I did. Of course, I would have needed to use my mobility aids all the time – just as other children make use of their abilities to move around. Not just during training sessions at school or rehab, but all the time.
Why don’t I see any children with disabilities playing with remote control cars or motorcycles in Spain, or in Sweden? Is there no imagination or ambition when it comes to technical aids? Think of the technology we have developed for toys, cars and other technical devices. Why is this technology applied only to luxury and leisure, and not to developing aids for people whose lives are actually dependent on technology?
Sadly, there seems to be a lack of good will. Human rights for everyone sounds great, but in practice, people and society are discriminatory. As long as we do not speak up, society will think that we are content. All of us, who rely on technical aids to live like everyone else, make your voice heard!