transcribed from the recording of WikiStage & World Bank Group Lima Special Event - https://cdnapisec.kaltura.com/index.php/extwidget/preview/partner_id/619672/uiconf_id/26723411/entry_id/1_dzop4kke/embed/dynamic#t=54:10
I have travelled the world and been so blessed to go on a unique journey, I document the lives of people with disabilities. People who like me might have experienced a challenge in life, whether it’s difficulty seeing, hearing, or remembering. And people with disabilities are among us every day.
You see, my life changed in 1978, many years before this picture was taken. You see, this picture represents a spirit of adventure, and a spirit of discovery. A spirit that allowed me to travel the world, and try to uncover those factors that limit people’s potentials, and really challenge us to really fulfil our dreams. Now before this picture was taken, I basically was just a little kid, and an unlikely doctor’s visit resulted in me acquiring polio. You see in 1978, I received a polio vaccine that damaged my muscles. But it wasn’t so much the disease that changed my life but the way society responded to a child that was different. You see, society treated me like I was a dirty pair of shoes. Something to be thrown to the side and forgotten. But this response was more complicated because every school my mother took me to said, “I’m sorry. We can’t accept Victor. We can’t accept your child. He won’t be able to have an education." Society wanted to put me away because society was saying, “Don’t put this on us. Don’t put this condition, it’s not our responsibility." But this response was a clear violation of my human rights, and an experience that changed the course of my life in a way that I never previously expected.
Now all that changed thousands of miles away in an unlikely cafeteria… and it wasn’t so much the daily slop (the food) that was served there that was particularly delicious. It was the attitude of the children and the teachers. And I can give you an example, Miss Dearing in the first day of class when I showed up, she said to the students, “Students, meet Victor, he’s new. He’s gonna need help getting to the cafeteria. Whoever volunteers to push Victor is getting 15 minutes of extra playtime”. So all the hands went out and I became the most popular kid in the school. Everybody wanted to be my friend. Now that was a huge change and it didn’t cost anybody any money. It was an attitude. It was a spirit of inclusion that changed my life. Because from that day onward, the child that was not to receive an education completes degrees in Business Administration, Political Economy, a Masters in Regional Economic Development, and a PhD in Social Inclusion. Not bad for a kid that was not gonna learn much. Now I teach, and I teach in some of the most prestigious universities, and I teach urban planning. I teach people on how to think through making cities that really advance the rights and the dreams of all people.
I teach about what the cities of tomorrow should look like but I also teach some very important realities that many of us aren’t aware of. For instance, today 1 in 7 people in the world lives with some disability. Now, although strange life forms may exist on other planets, I can assure you that I did not come from Mars (laugher). Meaning that we've always been here, people with disabilities are your neighbours, they’re your friends, they're your relatives. People with disabilities are here to lend their creative spirit and a spirit of problem solving. People with disabilities have a lot to contribute and according to the International Labor Organization, the yearly cost of excluding people with disabilities from the workforce is close to two trillion dollars. That's a lot of money and that’s a lot of wasted potential.
You see what all this points to is political will. Political will to rethink through the structures of inequality and to actually start to document and address the systems that exclude people. People that may not be able to hear well, or see well, or move around without assistance are still people with dreams. You see, people with disabilities around the world are living full and productive lives. They’re financiers, they're entrepreneurs. You may see us when we go to restaurants. When we go to the theatres. We join our community events, and we don’t need pity nor do we need charity. I certainly don’t want to be seen as some kind of a medical abnormality because I'm not. I'm just Victor, and I have dreams, and desires, and ambitions to help make the world more fair.
Now that mission is inspired through what I've seen in the world. Now, I've seen children with dyslexia receive extra time to take their exams and they achieve great results. I've seen a young woman that is visually impaired check her bank statements by listening to the website reading her transactions out loud to her. I've seen a young man that is hard of hearing become a high-school teacher and another completely Deaf become a doctor and support the delivery of babies.
You see, we know that human potential should not be stopped but what we need to do is make decisions to ensure that it's not, that we identify those barriers that limit our potential. You see disability does not discriminate. Each and every one of us in this room could in any point fall into a disability. It's the only minority group that anybody can join, at any time. So it's in your self interest to think this through. Go back to your work, or your school, or your communities, or your homes and scratch your head and say, "Hey, what can we do to make this place more accessible? What can we do to make this place more inviting? How can we make sure that if somebody visits our store and maybe cannot speak, or cannot hear can still write down their orders or can access a menu in Braille? What can we do to make inclusion happen?"
You see, what we need here is for each one of you to join this fight, and what I'm wanting to do is to enlist you in working with me to promote equality and justice. Really, what I'm calling for is radical inclusion, and radical inclusion really is about dismantling those barriers - whether there's a couple of steps in front of your shop, whether there's attitudes that are negative in your family that you can challenge people to think differently, or whether it's just thinking though hiring somebody at your employment, and give them a real chance to show their potential. I'm thinking, I'm wanting, and counting on you to join me to promote radical inclusion. Because by doing so we're actively engaging in ending separation, and in ending distinction, and embracing acceptance. And by doing that not only are we opening the doors to a child wanting to achieve a more prosperous life but we're opening a world that allow us all to reach our dreams.