July 23, 2024

Chaeli Mycroft, a young South African ability activist and co-founder of the Chaeli Campaign speaks at the opening of the Commonwealth Youth Forum in Kigali on June 19. Photo by Olivier Mugwiza


By Alice Kagina

Close to a billion people have a disability and some people see disability as a burden. Worldwide, less than 50% of children with a disability will finish their primary education, preventing them from ever reaching their full potential or allowing them to become independent members of their communities.

However, others see disability as a gift and find opportunities based on their disabilities. Chaeli Mycroft,  a young South African ability activist and co-founder of the Chaeli Campaign, is one of them.

Diagnosed with cerebral palsy at 11 months old, she has been a wheelchair user her whole life. She made the decision to use her disability as a way to leave a positive footprint on this world as an “ability activist”.

Her activism has enabled her to reach out to the world including a vast audience in the commonwealth.

Speaking during the Commonwealth Youth Forum plenary on ‘Taking Charge of the Future’ held on June 19, Mycroft inspired people with disabilities to step out and tap in the vast opportunities available and also campaigned for creating a space for vulnerable people to speak for themselves.

“It’s important for people to acknowledge that we know what we are talking about,” she said while highlighting her abilities of seeing options and finding possible logistic plans.

“I cannot deny that I am a person with a disability and how it inevitably impacts my life and how I experience the world. I think it’s important to remember that persons with disability are globally the largest minority and that is a given.”

Mycroft is a phenomenal lady. She has challenged herself to conquer some of the world’s toughest adventures to encourage other disabled children and their families to focus on the possible—not the impossible.

In 2015, she became the first female with quadriplegia to summit Mount Kilimanjaro, celebrating her 21st birthday on Mount Kilimanjaro.

In 2016, she ran the Comrades Marathon, an 89-kilometer race that originally discriminated against participation of wheelchair users. They altered their rules as a result of Mycroft’s activism and persistence, and she has run the marathon every year since.

In 2018, she started an initiative called “Bet Chaeli Can’t” where she swapped out her wheelchair for a horse and rode for five consecutive days. She endured five hours in the saddle each day (the natural elements around her and the voices inside her telling her to quit) in order to raise funds for children with disabilities.

She dreams of being able to walk into a room and not be surprised that it is accessible and to occupy space loudly and for it to not be a pheno2menal thing.

She stressed that; “It should be normalised and standardized that persons with disabilities are included in all conversations that are happening anywhere.”

Minister of Youth and Culture, Rosemary Mbabazi, who was also a panellist during the plenary said that Rwanda has put up mechanisms to provide space to hear from young people and allow them to contribute to what is needed and engage concerned parties.

According to the World Bank, 15 per cent of the world’s population experience some form of disability. Persons with disabilities (PWDs), on average as a group, are more likely to experience adverse socioeconomic outcomes than persons without disabilities.

Barriers to full social and economic inclusion of persons with disabilities include; inaccessible physical environments and transportation, the unavailability of assistive devices and technologies, non-adapted means of communication, gaps in service delivery, and discriminatory prejudice and stigma in society.

Mycroft said that to address some of these challenges, people need to start from the beginning and remember that persons with disabilities exist as children and as they grow, needs evolve as well.

“We need to focus on education at early childhood development level, preschool, and have three-year-olds figure out inclusion without having conferences.”

She added that there should be investments in educating children with disabilities alongside those who don’t have disabilities so that “when they later go to work, they will question why we are not there because we are supposed to be there.”

The Chaeli Campaign started 18 years ago when Mycroft and peers aged between six and twelve decided to raise funds for her motorized chair

The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development clearly states that disability cannot be a reason or criteria for lack of access to development programming and the realization of human rights.

In June 2021, Rwanda approved a policy that sets clear guidelines for ten ministries, all civil society organizations, the media and the National Institute of Statistics Rwanda (NISR) and calls for at least one focal person for disability in each of the institutions to liaise with the National Council for People with Disabilities (NCPD) on disability mainstreaming.

This is part of efforts aimed at promoting full inclusion and participation of People with Disability in all sectors of the Rwandan society.

According to the Fourth Rwanda Population and Housing Census (2012 RPHC) report, there are 446,453 persons with disabilities in Rwanda. Of these, 221,150 are male and 225,303 are female.

Approximately 20 percent (87,900) of the population of persons with disabilities are children between the ages of five and 18.


Source: The New Times (Rwanda)


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