Being Proud at 40

On Sunday I celebrated my 40th Birthday, and this has given me an opportunity to reflect on my life and what could have been. As someone with cerebral palsy, I have achieved a great deal and certainly far more than what was expected of me, and more than the average person. I always had high goals and while I do not have the amount of money or the mansion I had wanted, I have a voice and a network of friends and colleagues I have worked hard to build that makes me ‘powerful’. I wanted to be the next Bill Gates, but I have become the first Simon Stevens.

While anyone could reflect on their achievements at 40 in this way, I think it is important to understand where I could have been if I had turned 40 in 1974, 40 years ago. I know anyone can argue that without the technology of today, their lives would have been different, my life would have been affected by a profound difference in the way disabled people were treated and managed in that period.

The first question to consider is would I have been alive at 40? With less developed medicine and poor levels of social care, I could have easily died from pneumonia or another type of infection, something people with cerebral palsy can be prone to, long before I reached my 40th birthday. If I had reached it, it would be almost certain that I would be living in some form of residential care, or even a long-stay mental hospital.

With possibly a typewriter as my main method of written communication, where there is no delete button when I frequently accidently press the wrong key, I would certainly not be employable, or have any kind of meaningful voice, not in the way I have now. My drive and determination may have made me the king of my environment, but in terms of the general public, I would have remained a lost soul, just another bundle of potential born at the wrong time.

It is the knowledge of how things were in the past for people similar to myself that drives me forward with an appreciation for the amazing opportunities I have, and I believe this is why I have seized every opportunity I can. My life has not always been easy, and I have made plenty of mistakes, but I have appreciated the fact I have been empowered to make my own mistakes and take responsibility for my own actions, something that is still not afforded to many disabled people by their families and others.

I have witnessed the liberation of myself and other disabled people during my lifetime, a period of change central to disabled people’s history. The new opportunities and improvements to my quality of life over the last 40 years have been absolutely amazing and I very much appreciate what I have. This is why I get frustrated at disabled people, newcomers and old timers, who complain about the situation we have today in terms of transport, accessibility and other issues, without showing their appreciation for what has been achieved.

Of course the current situation for disabled people is not perfect, and I have made it my life’s work to play my part in improving matters in any way I can. But if we forget to celebrate our achievements and the sheer wonders that now exist for many disabled people, then we can not move forward, remaining stuck in our own resentment.

I enter my 40s in a far more stable and happy situation than when I entered my 30s. I remain proud of what I have achieved, who I am and most importantly, where I am heading. I have overcome my difficulties with drive and determination, and with a commitment to assist other disabled people to achieve their ambitions and take advantage of the many opportunities available to them in the way I have.

from Simon Stevens


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