My name is Aglaia Katsigianni.
I’m a 42 years old woman with physical disability living in Drama, a city in the northern Greece.
I’m single, living with my – super! – mom, because independent living doesn’t exist in Greece.. My dad has passed away, several years ago.
My disability is Juvenile Rheumatoid Arthritis and it occurred to me when I was 2 years old. Back then, not many things were known about it and doctors were experimenting on me, as a result I got worse than I normally should.
In any case, that didn’t stop my parents, to get me the proper education by going in to a “normal” school. This wasn’t very easy, because first, schools at all level of education weren’t accessible, so they had to carry me in their arms and secondly, also because the social surrounding were pushing them to put me in an institution, leave me there and start over their lives with another, healthy (hopefully) child, something that my parents didn’t even consider to do.
I finished high school, having a normal life, with lots of fun, lots of friends and relatives (…to carry me!), dealing with my disability as a normal situation and learning, through my parents, to protect and defend my rights, because there were and still are people, looking at me strangely, saying something not…nice, or even seeing me as a beggar and trying to give me coins (which of course, I don’t accept, I only get checks! – that’s a joke!).
I’ve got my English and started teaching English occasionally at home to kids, which I love doing until now. Then, I’ve got by correspondence a degree in General Psychology and Fashion Design.
I decided to study at the University, at the age of 34, so I’ve got my Bachelor’s and Master’s Degree in International and European Studies – Politics and Diplomacy and became an …unemployed International Relations Consultant. My university is in Thessaloniki, a city 2 hours away from mine, so my mother had to drive me there during the examination period and later for my Master’s three evenings every week. That was kept going on for about two years, because the Chair of my studies department wasn’t very willing to find any other solution.
In 1994, me and some friends with disability, decided to start the Paraplegics Association of Drama, aiming to gather together people with physical disabilities in regional level and claim our rights. They voted for me as the president of the association, which I still am in the same position until today.
My priority became the accessibility of the city, because I wanted to make it easier for the young people to come and their families.
Today my city, is claimed to be the most accessible in my country and I hope that’s true, but still there’s a lot of work ahead us.
On annual basis, we organize several events with the participation of local people and authorities, when that’s possible. We’re supported financially just from the annual fees of our members but the amount is quite limited to support our needs and future plans. We’re all volunteers and do the best we can.
We don’t have the chance in my city to practice any sports or activities adapted to people with disabilities.
I love traveling, reading books, learning new things and spending time with my friends.
- What is your personal experience of disability?
I’m a woman with physical disability, quadriplegia, since the age of 2
- How did you discover the Independent Living movement?
Through disability newsletters from internet
- Is there an area of Independent Living that you are especially interested in?
Living alone, supported by a personal assistance
- Who has influenced you the most, and how?
My parents, by teaching me to be proud of who I am and never allow anybody to eliminate my rights
- What personal achievement are you most proud of?
Graduating from university, getting a BS in International European Political and Economic Studies and a MD in International and European Studies
- Do you have a favorite saying or proverb?
“MINDS ARE LIKE PARACHUTES, THEY WORK ONLY WHEN THEY’RE OPEN”
- What motivates you to get up in the morning?
The miracle of being alive, healthy and have people to love and love you back
- What do you like to do when you’re not working?
Reading books, traveling, spending time with my beloved ones.
- If you could invite anyone to a dinner party, who would be your ideal guests?
My Dutch friend Lydia la Riviere Zijdel, an amazing disabled woman
- What advice would you give to young adults with a disability?
God and our Guardian Angels are always with us, Never give up, always look at the bright side of life, things can always get better, there’s a reason for everything that’s happening in our lives…even if we don’t always realize it, have lots of humor and self sarcasm, give all the love and forgiveness you can, “when life gives you lemons…try to make lemonade”…THAT’S ALL FOLKS!