Follow on Instagram: @ChaeliMycroft
Follow on Twitter: @Chaeli_Ability
Unapologetically Able: Chaeli’s Debut Book
by Kirsten Steenkamp
While international awards line the entrance hallway of The Chaeli Campaign headquarters in Cape Town, there is a young woman who comes into work every day – ready to take on global policies and significant happenings with headline-worthy debates! Wheeling ahead of current standards to show the world an inclusive way of living, Chaeli Mycroft and ability advocates are trying to get your attention!
In her autobiography, Chaeli shares tales of daily living and unashamedly gives voice to the lessons and quirks courtesy of her disability. She invites us into her astonishing, yet totally ordinary world, asking readers plainly at one point: “Are you ready for another important and confusing conversation?”
The lens through which she sees the world around her gives nuance to readers’ understanding of disability, a life experience that remains largely invisible in mainstream culture. Profound perspectives are revealed within these pages, such as Chaeli’s description of cerebral palsy as her “constant partner, like a person with their own ideas, abilities, fears and perspectives”.
Since her birth more than 26 years ago, Chaeli and the Mycroft family have been defying norms. What makes this family unique lies in their maverick disregard for society’s cultural expectations, which sees them rebelling against rules or ideas they believe to harm the development potential for disabled people and society as a whole.
Refusing to submit to conventional thinking means that Chaeli – as an ability activist – lives her work daily by “occupying unexpected spaces and challenging preconceived ideas of what disabled people ‘should’ be doing”. Illustrated best by her defiance to compete in the Comrades Marathon, in 2016 Chaeli became the first assisted athlete to complete this brutal event!
“Creating safe, supportive and accommodating spaces” is the goal of inclusion: a simple and profound vision for a world that embraces individual difference and celebrates common humanitarian goals. Always with a sense of humour, Chaeli adds: “I’m 100% fine with confusing people into a state of awareness.”
Generating conversation is where inclusion begins, followed by deeper understanding and renewed perspectives on how to enhance living for all.
The 15% of people who live with a disability – the world’s largest minority – are impacted to various degrees by their condition. Creativity and flexibility are key to adapting to their needs! Activists remain dedicated in their efforts to create meaningful social change, but the reality persists. Disabled people are consistently oppressed by systems which are not designed with their needs in mind – not even slightly…
Beyond social exclusion that is commonly experienced, disabled people are tasked with navigating spaces inhabited by unkind eyes, judgemental attitudes and by people with taken-for-granted value of the meaning of dignity. Living with a disability places disabled individuals at high risk of prejudice, discrimination, abuse and neglect. And when it comes to accessing quality education or reasonable accommodation in the workplace, the reality is disturbing… The constant battle for equitable treatment collides with personal insecurities, culminating into Chaeli’s introductory admission that “being disabled is hard”.
Making sure to educate readers on her daily challenges and perspectives, it is clear that Chaeli is certainly not deprived of adventures and interesting stories! On the contrary, her life has been enriched by international travel, engaging with advocates the world over and pioneering new heights (cue Mount Kilimanjaro). Chaeli lives boldly, saying “I choose to hold myself to a higher standard than society’s expectations of me. I have friends and family who have never treated me as being ‘less than’ because I’m disabled. My family have encouraged and taught those around me to see me as capable and for me that is an unbelievable gift.”
Friday, 3 December is the International Day of Persons with Disabilities, an annual celebration which encourages each of us to become engaged in the disability conversation. Whether you choose to read Chaeli’s book to support her inspiring role as an educator and activist; to promote a more inclusive world; or simply to learn more about a unique life experience of which you may know little, what matters is that you’re making space to start this conversation.