OPINION | International Day of Persons with Disabilities: We must all be part of the conversation

Thursday marks International Day of Persons with Disabilities. Nicole Vergos writes that we are all capable of encouraging inclusion, regardless of whether or not we have disabilities.

An estimated 4.2 million South Africans – about 8% of the population – are living with some form of disability.

Most of us go about our daily lives, trying to find new ways to strike a cohesive balance between ever-shifting environments and changeless disabilities. For someone living with a disability, ordinary tasks for able-bodied people, like reaching that top shelf, changing clothes or driving, become jigsaw puzzles to piece together at an early age.

While many cope through sheer determination and perseverance, many more people living with disabilities do not receive the support they need to reach their everyday goals.

Let me take a step back and tell you about myself.

DNA glitch

I was born at Johannesburg General Hospital via an emergency C-section which was necessitated, I’ve been told, by an umbilical cord that became wrapped around my neck. After the birth, my ceaseless crying baffled doctors, who ran a series of tests to identify the problem.  

They discovered fractures in both legs and an arm. I was diagnosed with osteogenesis imperfecta (OI), otherwise known as brittle bones. To put it simply, there is a glitch in my DNA that causes my body to produce too little type 1 collagen – the glue that binds our bone fibres together. Without it, my bones are fragile and prone to breaking.

I, like most people with disabilities, grew accustomed to standing out in the crowd.

The world around people with disabilities is largely inaccessible, but we have discovered ingenious ways of making environments, services and products more accessible. This innovative way of getting around, spills over into other areas of life and this is probably why I know of so many disabled entrepreneurs. I believe that some of the adversity and challenges that people with disabilities face can be alleviated through inclusion – and this is achieved by changing perspectives and conversations around disability, shifting away from the notion that people with disabilities need to be looked after, towards empowering them.


For example, I try to drive inclusion by tapping into my own skill set. I am the co-founder of Smergos, a company which has a mission is to empower people with disabilities by creating products specifically designed to improve their independence and mobility.

This International Day of Persons with Disabilities, we ought to remember that regardless of whether you have a disability or not, we are all capable of encouraging inclusion. Change often begins with communication, and support for people living with disabilities should be a two-way conversation that we can all be a part of.

– Nicole Vergos is the co-founder of Smergos.

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