The Simon Heng Column

As I became disabled, I met a boy of 13, who had suffered a spinal
injury. I thought how lucky I had been to have experienced life as
an adult without a disability. I imagined that people who have been
disabled all of their lives had grown up with limited expectations
about their future. Whatever measures are put in place to enhance
disabled people’s life opportunities, young disabled people look
forward to a more uncertain life than most.

I thought about my own childhood, particularly my adolescence, when
I was looking for a path through life, and, inevitably, looked for
role models. Apart from famous and historical figures, we look to
people around us – parents, teachers, family – for examples of how
to (or how not to) lead our lives. These are people like us, live
in the same places, the same cultural background, probably similar

But what about disabled children? They adopt role-models like other
children, but I feel that there is something missing. Disabled
children are, on the whole, surrounded by well-meaning
(non-disabled) adults doing their best to prepare them for life and
who are sometimes over-protective, which can lead them to have
lower expectations than non-disabled children. What carers and
teachers cannot communicate is how to lead a life as a disabled

By this, I mean how to deal with discrimination, either socially,
or in employment. How to deal with intimate relationships, where
what is normally implicit has to be explicit, and how to feel
comfortable with that.And how to cope with the fact that one’s life
will inevitably be more complicated than most people’s.

Whatever our disability, we claim that we are the experts in our
own conditions. As well as using this argument for more influence
in society, I’m wondering if we should take responsibility to use
this expertise to help the next generation. Should each of us act
as mentors to young people with a similar disability?

Does anyone know of a mentoring scheme like this? Does anyone else
think it’s a good idea to start one?

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