In support of Shawn Mifsud’s cause

Why disability should not be a handicap.

I recently stayed glued to the TV to follow a short interview with Shawn Mifsud, a 37-year-old father of two, a bombardier with the Armed Forces of Malta, and his wife, Graziana. A few weeks ago, Shaw contracted a viral infection that left him a quadriplegic amputee, with both his arms and his legs amputated.  

I was full of admiration for Shawn who, despite the shock of an operation that turned him from a fit and healthy man into a disabled person in a wheelchair, has lost none of his enthusiasm for life. He and his wife, a lance bombardier with the Armed Forces, look forward to returning to their family routine.

Shawn has lost none of his positivity. He has accepted what life has thrown at him and is determined to overcome the handicap, lead an everyday life with his family and even return to his job with the Armed Forces. However, the only way he can manage it is by using bionic arms and legs technology, which at €200,000 is much too expensive to purchase and certainly is beyond his family’s means. 

Therefore, his wife has appealed for financial assistance from the community to make up the cost of buying these prosthetics by opening a fund. Shawn remains optimistic about the generosity of the Maltese public in contributing to this fundraiser.

We should commend Shawn for his optimism. His determination to not let his disability become a handicap has prompted me to dig deep into history to discover individuals who overcame significant obstacles and made lasting contributions to their respective fields, showcasing the power of resilience and determination.

The terminology and perspective around disability have evolved, and many people now prefer using terms like “differently-abled” or “people with disabilities” to emphasise abilities rather than limitations. The idea that disability should not be considered a handicap stems from the understanding that individuals with disabilities can lead fulfilling and successful lives, just like anyone else.

There are several reasons why disability should not be seen as a handicap. People with disabilities have a diverse range of abilities and talents. Focusing on their strengths rather than limitations allows society to benefit from the unique perspectives and contributions they bring. Recognising and respecting the rights of individuals with disabilities promotes inclusivity and equality. Access to education, employment, and other opportunities should be based on one’s abilities and qualifications rather than being hindered by preconceived notions about disabilities.

Many individuals with disabilities have demonstrated remarkable adaptability and resilience in navigating a world designed for those without disabilities. Highlighting these qualities helps challenge the perception that disability is a hindrance.

Learning about the experiences of disabled people in history can give us a complete understanding of society during a particular period. There are several people (some listed below) who made significant contributions to history, whose disabilities have often been omitted from their stories. They overcame substantial obstacles and made lasting contributions to their respective fields, showcasing the power of resilience and determination.

Tiberius Claudius Caesar Augustus (10 BC – 54 AD)

He was the fourth Roman Emperor, from 41 to 54 AD. He was best known for the successful expansion of Rome into Britain and parts of Africa and the Middle East. Claudius was an accomplished leader. He brought forth improvements to the empire’s judicial system. He was known to have a range of physical disabilities and illnesses throughout his life, including tremors in his hands, a limp, a stammer, a runny nose, and foaming at the mouth.

The Emperor’s family considered his condition a sign of weakness and a source of great public embarrassment, and his mother supposedly called him “a monstrosity of a human being”.

Franklin D. Roosevelt (1882-1945)

The 32nd President of the United States faced the challenge of polio, which left him paralysed from the waist down. Yet, despite his disability, he led the country through the Great Depression and World War II.

Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827)

One of the greatest composers in history began to lose his hearing in his late twenties, but despite becoming almost completely deaf, he continued to compose some of his most famous works, including the Ninth Symphony.

Helen Keller (1880-1968)

She was blind and deaf from a young age due to an illness. Despite these challenges, she became a renowned author, lecturer, and political activist. She was the first deaf-blind person to earn a Bachelor of Arts degree.

Stephen Hawking (1942-2018)

The theoretical physicist had amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), a neurodegenerative disease that gradually paralysed him. While living with his disability, Hawking significantly contributed to cosmology and theoretical physics.

Photo: Justin Tallis/AFP | AFP | Getty Images

Frida Kahlo (1907-1954)

She was a Mexican painter who faced several health issues throughout her life, primarily due to a bus accident in her youth. Despite enduring chronic pain and physical limitations, Kahlo created powerful and influential works of art.

Mary Temple Grandin (born 1947)

An American scientist and autism advocate, was diagnosed with autism at a young age. Grandin is one of the first autistic people to document the insights she gained from her personal experience of autism. Despite the challenges she faced, Grandin became a renowned animal science expert and a Colorado State University professor. She is the author of more than 60 scientific papers on animal behaviour.

Photo: Shutterstock

Rosa May Billinghurst (1875-1953)

British suffragette and women’s rights activist. She was known popularly as the “cripple suffragette” as she campaigned on a tricycle. She was born the second of nine children. As a child, she survived polio, which left her unable to walk. She wore leg irons and used either crutches or a modified tricycle. 

Dignity, respect, equal opportunities

Various international agreements, such as the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD), protect the rights of individuals with disabilities. Embracing these rights reinforces the principle that everyone deserves dignity, respect, and equal opportunities regardless of ability.

We should remember that a society that values diversity and inclusion benefits everyone. Creating environments that accommodate various abilities not only helps individuals with disabilities but also enhances overall accessibility and usability for everyone.

Empowering individuals with disabilities to live independently and participate actively in society promotes self-esteem and a sense of belonging. Therefore, Shawn Mifsud should keep in mind that this, in turn, contributes to their overall well-being.

It’s crucial to recognise and appreciate the strengths and capabilities of individuals with disabilities rather than defining them solely by their challenges. By fostering an inclusive mindset and creating environments that support diversity, society can move towards a more equitable and accessible future for everyone.

Those wishing to contribute to Shawn Mifsud’s cause to enable him to approach the future with hope should join Puttinu Cares in its support for him and donate through IBAN number MT13 VALL 2201 3000 0000 5001 1233 201 or on BOV mobile to mobile via 79327955.

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