For Raven Benny, the Transport Officer at Groote Schuur Hospital, supporting people with disabilities, and their families, inspires him every day. He chooses to use his social networks, communication skills and can-do attitude to support the disability sector and achieve equal opportunities in our society.
Raven was in a car accident in 2000 that left him with limited use of his arms and legs. The life changes he had to accept opened up new opportunities: from being a peer mentor at the Spinal Unit at Groote Schuur Hospital to becoming a Springbok for the South African wheelchair rugby team to taking on the role as National Chairperson of the QuadPara Association of South Africa (QASA).
Through these opportunities, Raven remains active and passionate about assisting fellow peers and the community and he believes it starts with having the right attitude.
Many people see the problems, difficulties and hardships that affect the lives of others but not many people actually get around to doing something about it. What motivated you to start something?
The motivation for me was that I saw and experienced the challenges and problems for myself. But I had some means for overcoming them. Firstly, I was able to return to my place of employment and was given the opportunity to learn to drive a car. My peers who don’t have employment, struggle terribly with transport and live off their disability grant. Secondly, I approach challenges and problems differently to others. Now that I’m a person with a disability myself, I can assist others who may not be able to see what I see or who do not have the courage, tact or ability to speak up. I believe communication is very important and the first step to creating change, so I use my communication skills to communicate for us.
Of the many things that you could do, how did you come to work with QuadPara Association?
All of this – becoming a person with a disability – was very new to me and I immediately found myself within the disability sector. I could see that there are different needs for different disabilities. For example, I have poor use of my hands and no use of my legs which makes me a quadriplegic. So any initiative that I work on, will not only benefit me and other quadriplegics but also future quadriplegics. And I say this because I work in the hospital and live in the Western Cape. I see injuries coming in to the hospital due to gang violence and motor vehicle accidents. There are a lot of new cases that need to be accommodated within government programmes, the business sector and civil society organisations like QuadPara Association. I play the connecting role between people coming in to ICU at the hospital and the services available out there for people with disabilities. I am most excited about the Self Help Centre model we have developed at the QuadPara Association. QuadPara Association is a strong advocacy and lobbying group, supporting the recognition of the rights of people with disabilities. These Self Help Centres offer quadriplegics a chance to live in an accessible home and with other quadriplegics who then collectively employ people to cook, clean and drive for them as needed. For young guys this is very exciting opportunity to realise their potential to live an independent life.
Can you give some realistic insight into the process of doing something for the greater good – how people reacted, how you got people involved, how it impacted you and what made you keep going at it?
Having gone through this process myself, I had a life changing experience and my eyes were opened to a new way of doing things. I soon realised that there is a big need for education and awareness for both the person with the disability regarding their rights and opportunities but also for society to be educated on including people with disability. I learnt that I have a role in influencing people’s reactions – people react to my response. I was motivated to educate others on how to manage this.
When groups of people with disabilities are seen as being proactive in their lives (like playing rugby, working, making their own decisions), the group identity changes and the way people relate to them changes. Then people start looking beyond the disability and they see the person and their potential. This is what I stand for – the integration of people with disabilities in all areas of life. I don’t necessarily believe that we can all be INDEPENDENT but we are all interdependent. Once people could see why I was doing what I was doing, they soon came on board and supported me. My workplace has given me great opportunities to be an advocate within this context while also allowing me to work with larger structures like the QuadPara Association.
What has QuadPara Association meant to you personally and what do you think it has meant for the people who work with you?
I get to see the “re-emergence” of people. By this I mean that I see people trapped in the disability mindset who are then exposed to opportunities that allow their personality, abilities and confidence to appear. Most of these guys are younger than me and I assist them to learn to drive, find opportunities to study or work, link them with the association and, for those who are interested, I introduce them to wheelchair rugby. The people I work with will tell you that before they were part of a group or the association, they were very lonely, shy and depressed. They also did not know how to talk about their disability with others and could never see themselves in a job, with a family or travelling the country. I always tell them “Attitude is everything, so be positive. You don’t know yet what you are still capable of.”