Born in Antwerp, Belgium in 1971. Happily married and father of two princesses. Enjoyed a wide range of studies on bachelor level. Volunteer and active member of several associations of persons with a disability. Chairman or board member of several think tanks,organizations and associations in the protection of interests of people with a disability. Elected as ENIL board member on the GA 2010. Used to work for VGPH,the Flemish platform for people with a handicap and now as a staff worker for the Expertise Centre Independent Living in Gent.
What is your personal experience of disability?
Off course I’m an expert by experience on living with a disability. When I was a toddler they found out I had a serious muscular disease (later defined as SMA). The doctors immediately gave my parents lists of ‘special schools’ and institutes where I could be ‘placed’. Luckily for me my parents were a bit headstrong and decided to raise me themselves at home. I enjoyed inclusive schooling ‘avant la lettre’, got educated and could develop myself. I always stayed out of special (segregated) circuits for pwd. I’m a PA user for many years.
How did you discover the Independent Living movement?
I first learned about IL from Jan Jan Sabbe. He was a great role model for me. When he died a few years ago it was a great loss for the IL movement in Flanders and Belgium.
Is there an area of Independent Living that you are especially interested in?
For the Expertise Centre Independent Living I focused a lot on the financial and economical implications of direct payment schemes. Not only the effect on PA users, but on the whole of society. I believe that in our struggle for more and better PA, we will be more successful if we come with more scientific evidence based studies that clearly proof that PA is cheaper for society than care in kind and institutionalization.
Ethics and human right arguments should be enough to convince politicians, but in reality (sad but true) it’s money that makes the world go round.
On the other hand I’m very interested in the IL discourse because of it’s very strong potential to bring change in people’s lives. It opens eyes, it raises real awareness and it is the key to full emancipation for all pwd.
In our lobbying for IL, raising awareness amongst pwd is at least as important as trying to convince politicians. We have to work bottom up as well as top down.
Who has influenced you the most, and how?
Off course Jan Jan Sabbe. But also reading and listening to Adolf Ratzka had great impact on me. How did they influence me? Because of the wisdom in their words and simply by being a real role model for me.
What personal achievement are you most proud of?
Certainly my beautiful daughters Julie and Elise! But I’m also proud of the work that I do as a volunteer and as a professional. On a local level I’ve drastically changed the policy on accessibility and participation of pwd in my own village. Other achievements are often an ongoing process and much more a result of team work rather than a personal achievement.
I’m proud of changes I could bring in pwd lives in the peer counseling groups that I facilitate.
Do you have a favourite saying or proverb?
Being physically impaired, I try to compensate the weakness of my body with ‘mindpower’. I believe control over your own brain and emotions can be trained and developed, a bit like an athlete trains and controls his muscles and body. So that’s probably why I often say things like: ‘mind over matter’, or ‘free your mind, the rest will follow’, or ‘the sky is the limit’ …
On my skype account I got ‘proud to be a person with a disability’ as a oneliner.
What motivates you to get up in the morning?
My wife! I like to sleep late and to stay up late. I’m more of night person. But if it’s necessary for my job I can get out of bed very early. I’m very motivated by my work for the Expertise centre, and for IL in general.
What do you like to do when you’re not working?
Enjoy family things. I like to see my wife happy and my kids having fun. I think it’s important to regularly meet up with my brother and sisters and other family. I also have I few very good friends that I like to spend time withif we get the opportunity.I really appreciate good food with a nice wine. I also like reading, but hardly find time for it lately.
If you could invite anyone to a dinner party, who would be your ideal guests?
I would be tempted to invite U2. I’ve seen them perform for 5 times now and for me Bono is the closest a man of flesh and blood can get to becoming a god. But probably I would invite the politicians responsible for ‘disability policy’ to discuss and change their views in favor of PA and IL.
What advice would you give to young adults with a disability?
No matter what they tell you, your disability does not make you weak, but it can make you stronger. You are not alone and you don’t need to suffer or to settle for the second best. Think about your personal goals, wishes and dreams and go for them 100%.
Don’t be afraid, fear is a sneaky poison and all human beings are born with limitless courage when it comes to really important things.
Important also… find out what you really like to do and develop your talents so you can use them to benefit other people. Being a person with a disability forces you more than others to be socially oriented. If you have special skills and talents that you use to help people around you, you have better chances to prevent being or feeling dependent.
And remember … the sky is the limit