A Rough Beginning that Eroded a Smooth Course.
Hi my name is Oliver Johnson and I'm from England. I have a form of Spina Bifida caused by a Lipomyelomeningocele (a tumor that tethered my spinal cord until I had it removed when I was 3 years old). I used to walk, then as time went by, I realized I would need to use a wheelchair as my legs weren’t up to the job.
Like any child in this situation, I was confused, afraid and frustrated. However, whenever my chin started to dip I always had good support from those around me to keep my head held high; to focus on all the positive things in my life and to see how I am still so fortunate and blessed. I live every day looking forwards, onwards and upwards knowing that it doesn’t end here, it’s just the beginning should I choose to make the most of the life I have been given and fulfill my potential. I encourage everyone to do the same.
One way I do this is by being a positive role model to the disabled children I work with in a school environment and also educating adults and businesses through my disability equality and awareness training services. We can’t cure every disability with therapy or a scalpel, but we can cure a sad face with love and a smile.
Attitude is Everything
I have always believed that in order to get something done, we must first look at ourselves to see what we can do to achieve our goal. The world around us is adapting, it is improving. But it's still not there yet. Improvements in accessibility, equality laws and people's attitides are improving and that's great. Fantastic. They are not what's going to fundamentally carry us through to where we want to be however. Disabled people have achieved great things without the support systems we have today. And disabled people will continue to do so without fair and equal oppurtunites. But why should they?...How will they?
For one good reason. The lack of equality, the unfairness in life and its trials and tribulations for disabled people are exaclty what spurs us on to succeed. To triumph despite difficulty, is far more impressive than being handed victories on a plate. In the sporting world, when the underdog defeats the superior opponent, people love it. It get's more attention, news coverage and praise. This is because as people, we experience difficulty and appreciate our achievements more so when the odds are against us. This is especially true for people with disabilites. However, every day we succeed. Every day we triumph. Every day we are victorious.
The world will continue to get better, but that hunger for success and proving our doubters wrong will never go away. There will always be people who doubt us and will say we cannot fulfil our dreams. But we must take that negativity and turn it into our focus, our driving force to show to everyone that we can achieve whatever we wish for ourselves.
It took me a long time to have this attitude. I was a happy child. I was loved, protected, cared for. It was only as I got older as a teenager, that I started taking more responsibility, fighting my own battles and began coming to terms with how my life would be, that I realised my battles had been fought for me up until now, and it was up to me to decide how I was going to view my future after having a taste of what the real world was like.
It was never easy, it's never meant to be. There were times I would scream into my pillow, throw my wheelchair across the room out of frustration knowing I depended on it. Or even just cry. But was that getting me anywhere towards where I wanted to be? No. My problem was, as many teenagers are, I was too self-absorbed in my own life, my own problems and feeling sorry for myself.
The key to this changing was realising that in the world, there were people who's lives were far more difficult than mine. Maybe not physically, but mentally and emotionally I came to see how people were far more disabled than I actually was. They didn't have access to the same experiences, love, joy and oppurtunites that I had.
Therefore, I decided that if there are people out there who's lives are more difficult than mine, what do I have to moan about really? If they were in my situation compared to their own, how grateful would they be just to have a roof over their heads at night, food on the table and people that love them. It turned out with the right perspective, I wasn't that disabled after all.
It was more the world around me. So, I decided to take on the world.
Dreams Fulfilled by Actions
From that moment, I set out my goals, and I started to make things happen for myself, knowing that it is up to me to fulfil my dreams and I cannot expect others to do things for me. Yes, I have had assistance. But who hasn't had someone to thank for helping them along their way?
The way we should view assistance as disabled people is like a crutch, not a self-driving car. It's there to take some of the weight off of our shoulders to allow us to independantly move forward in the direction we were already going, not to do all of the work for us.
There is much more pride to be had in doing something for yourself than having someone else do it all for you.
But it's all very well saying things like this, anybody could. The proof is in the pudding as I practice what I preach and endorse this mentality:
To date I have:
Visited 25 countries and counting
Been scouted for Paralympic level wheelchair basketball and swimming
Gained a qualification as a Teaching Assistant and worked in a school
Learned to drive a car using push pull hand controls
Set up my own Disability Consultancy business
Professionally performed in front of audiences as a singer
These are just a few of the achievements I have made in my life so far. They have been far from easy to accomplish, some have already been adapted for me, others I have had to adapt myself. But I have done them and will continue to do so knowing that it's not easy as this is what makes me happy. I do not intend to give up any time soon as I know the possibilities that are in store for me are endless. They are for each and every one of us should we choose to think the right way, and act upon it.
My Mission Statement
If there's one thing that I have learned about me and my life so far, it's that I am very stubborn. Sometimes for the worse, but most of the time for the better. I have been encouraged to make the most of my situation and I therefore make it my goal to share my perspective and experiences with others, because I believe my purpose is not to be the one always asking for help, but to be the one to provide it.
We can only work with the cards we've been dealt with... that's only until you play the game and pick up another card. Except in this game, you get to choose how you win.