The power of perception

In a world fuelled by news flashes, Twitter feeds, and ‘byte’-sized information, little time and opportunity are left to create your own point of view without the full picture. Social media and other streaming services are driven by algorithms that identify your likes and push content to you that is in line with these. In an age of information, overload systems like this are important but at what cost.

Did you know - more than 500 hours of video were uploaded to YouTube every minute (YouTube)

The Oxford Dictionary defines perception as “the ability to see, hear, or become aware of something through the senses.” Or “the way in which something is regarded, understood, or interpreted.”

It is with these definitions in mind that we should be taking a step back and wondering if we are living our lives with blinkers on. Are we living in a society that is molded by artificial or algorithmic perceptions?

In the past, the topics of disability the like were spoken of in whispered conversation or as a superficial attempt at inclusion by those in power.

When I decided to study teaching, my mother was against it as she thought that I would be putting myself in a position of vulnerability and this would lead to teasing and humiliation. However, I saw a different side of the coin. I was good at teaching concepts, had great amounts of patience, and had an opportunity to change the perception of People With Disabilities (PWD).

Years later I can say that I have done this not only for children but with adults as well. Teaching does not have to be restricted to the classroom and I believe PWD have the power to break the norm, shake society and re-shape the perceptions of disability in general.

I know I am not the only one with these thoughts and feelings as organisations, movements, and government initiatives are doing their part to forge a path ahead.

The seventeen Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) that were drawn up by the United Nations (UN) in 2015 are interlinked global goals to ensure a better future for everyone. PWD are mentioned eleven times!

The Valuable 500 is a global initiative established in January of 2019 that aims to engage with multi-national companies and make disability a focus on their leadership agenda. In May of this year (2021) they reached their target but announced that this was only the beginning as they are now ready to enter phase 2 of their strategy: co-creating ideas with these companies that will initiate large-scale and fundamental system changes.

Did you know – Brands Google, Apple and Virgin pledged their support to The Valuable 500. (The Valuable 500)

WeThe15 is a global publicity campaign that was launched on 19 August this year, five days before this year’s Paralympics. The purpose of the campaign is to increase the visibility of disabilities to promote accessibility and inclusion and to decrease the stigma attached to disability in general.

Did you know – The very first ‘paralympic’ games were called the Stoke Mandeville Games, were held in 1948 and were created for the Word War Two veterans with spinal cord injuries. (

Yes, our perceptions are influenced by artificial intelligence, but we have to be aware of this and create our own perceptions. Disability does not have to be a topic to be discussed with hushed tones but rather one that we speak out and move society forward together.

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Wheels in a world of stairs

by KmotivationSA

I have been in a wheelchair since I was five so I don’t know anything else other than being in a wheelchair. For so many people they’ve never had to experience the trials of accessibility. Accessibility can be defined in many ways. To different people, it means different things. To me, accessibility means the basic needs of getting around and feeling comfortable with an environment within my wheelchair. With being in a wheelchair comes a lot of extra questions both from people asking questions because they are curious and me needing to ask questions for accessibility purposes. Before we ever go anywhere we need to call the venue and check that it is accessible. This sounds easier said than done because it is often not understood what we are asking or they just respond with, “yes we are accessible.” Only to arrive at a couple of stairs, which is often followed up with, ” we can just lift a wheelchair.” When it comes to wheelchairs there are some that you can lift but big electric ones are extremely heavy.

Unfortunately, when it comes to dealing with accessibility it doesn’t only affect me but all my friends and family. It’s extremely difficult to have to check with a friend if their birthday venue is accessible for example. I don’t want to make them feel guilty or have to say I can’t make it sorry. Being in a wheelchair often involves being in the limelight but so often I really don’t want it to be about me!

No one fully understands barriers like accessibility until it becomes a part of their daily life. I’ve seen the change in how helping me and noticing accessibility becomes second nature to the people close to me. A memory that sticks out is my matric dance when mine and my sister’s dates were very gracious about having a ramp each as their accessory for the evening. With accessibility being so close to my heart, I am determined to be a part of creating change so that everyone has a fair opportunity in life for success. We as a society need to create a new normal where accessibility is a given not a plus!

Nicole vergos, co-founder of Smergos

Why accessibility matters

I was born with a rare condition called Osteogenesis Imperfecta, also commonly known as Brittle Bones. As a result, I’ve never been able to stand and have always used a wheelchair.

It's an interesting experience moving around in the world in a wheelchair, a bit like navigating a labyrinth. You can see where you need to go but more often than not, you need to take a more roundabout way to reach your destination. There is always a degree of pre-planning involved, even if it’s just to get fresh milk, I can’t go to the store around the corner because the ramp there is too steep to manage on my own, so I’d rather drive 3km up the road to another store that I know I can manage more easily.

Travelling, going to client meetings and social events (when we still used to do these things) aren’t straightforward either and involve me needing to call in advance to check if the venue is accessible. You quickly realise that accessibility is relative. I’ll be assured over the phone that the building is accessible and when I arrive there is indeed allocated parking and a ramp but once inside, I learn that the meeting is on the second floor and there’s no lift… or disabled loo to boot. In situations like this people will quickly offer to carry me up the stairs or move the meeting downstairs, and even help me into the loo. While I recognize their intentions are good, it is incredibly awkward being that person that has now disrupted things. People with disabilities are accustomed to standing out but the truth is, it’s the last thing we want.

To me, that’s what accessibility stands for – being able to move around freely and independently. It’s not about being too proud to ask for help, I’m the first person to ask for help when I need it. It more has to do with the fact that we want to move as seamlessly as possible in the world with no or very little fuss. If there is one message, I’d want people to take away about the importance of accessibility is that it directly leads to inclusivity.

By building that ramp and disabled bathroom, you’ve just made mothers with babies' lives that much easier. Or by designing an innovative way that a person with one hand can open a packet of chips, you’ve just made that packet easier to open for elderly people with arthritis and anyone who’s in a rush and multitasking. Improved accessibility begins with greater awareness – a two-way conversation is needed between people with and without disabilities to better understand what is needed to create physical and technological access for all.