Wednesday, 19 June 2013


“For every disability you have, you are blessed with more than enough abilities to overcome your challenges.” - Nick Vujicic

I came across a mention of Nick Vujicic today and I remembered having read about this extraordinary person some time ago. Presently 30 years old Vujicic was born limbless in Australia in a Serbian immigrant family. He is now renowned for his work as an evangelist and motivational speaker. He also holds a degree in Financial Planning and Real Estate from Griffith University. He and his wife Kanae married in 2012 and have just shared the news of the birth of their son, Kiyoshi James.

Nick, who is mainly torso, still manages to play football and golf, he swims, and surfs, and has a normal life, enjoying what many of us have no inclination or willingness to try. He has a small foot on his left hip, which helps him balance and with which he can kick. He uses his one foot to type, write with a pen and pick things up between his toes. His father was a computer programmer and accountant and he taught his son how to type with his toe at just 6 years old. His mother invented a plastic device that enabled him to hold a pen and pencil.

Nevertheless it wasn’t easy. When he was born, his shocked father left the hospital room to vomit, while his distraught mother (herself a nurse) couldn’t get herself to hold him until he was four months old. Although his disability was a sporadic occurrence, an unexplained congenital malformation, due to unknown causes, his mother still blamed herself for it.  Despite the risk of bullying, his parents insisted Nick attend mainstream school. Nick, was teased and bullied, had an electric wheelchair for mobility, and a team of carers to help him. But understandably, he was deeply depressed and when he was eight years old he went to his mother crying and told her he wanted to kill himself. At ten he tried to drown himself, but fortunately, he did not succeed. Growing up, with the help of his family, friends and his faith, Nick managed to pull through to become an international symbol of triumph over adversity.

Some time ago I overheard a conversation on the train where two “normal” people were discussing someone with a “disability” and I was rather appalled by their assessment of his predicament. His physical “disability” was equated with a “mental deficiency” and his company was shunned because of this perceived physical and mental handicap. I was appalled by the insensitive, crass, prejudiced and short-sighted attitude that was based on ignorance.

The International Classification of Functioning (ICF) defines disability as “the outcome of the interaction between a person with an impairment and the environmental and attitudinal barriers he/she may face.” Personally I have always regarded someone with a disability as a “differently-abled” person. We all know the stories of blind people having much more acute senses of hearing and touch, we all know of people who have lost their arms or hands making a wonderful career as artists, handling the brush most ably with mouth or foot and producing stunning artworks.

I am humbled by people like Nick Vujicic. When I realise what can be achieved by people with severe physical handicaps, my own feeble efforts pale into insignificance although I am fit, able-bodied and healthy. The achievements of Helen Keller, Stephen Hawking, Christy Brown, John Nash, Jean-Dominique Bauby, Sudha Chandran and Nick Vujicic are towering monuments to enormous reserves of inner strength that resides in each and every one of us. How much we are capable of is revealed by these people who are differently abled, who have been empowered by their disability to achieve so much.

What better example of a different sort of ability than Stephen Hawking, who says: “It is a waste of time to be angry about my disability. One has to get on with life and I haven’t done badly. People won’t have time for you if you are always angry or complaining.” And this is how most people with a disability that I have met (and I have met with quite a few!) live with that disability. They get on with their lives and make the most of it, using their other (often super-abundant) abilities.

Whenever I discuss “therapeutic” abortions with people, a lively argument ensues. Most people find themselves in a bind when they consider the ethics of considering what constitutes an “acceptable” child and an “unacceptable” one. And yet, with some people the choice is easy: Any potential child will be accepted and given the ideal of unconditional love, whatever the disability or handicap it may carry. For these people, an abortion is simply not an option. Most others would prefer not to have that unconditional-love relationship with a certain subset of children. True enough, every person would prefer health over sickness, fully abled over partially abled, but the situation becomes extremely complex with what our definitions of “healthy” and “desirable” and “fully able” are.

Our world is enriched by people like Nick Vujicic and through his contribution to society, through his interaction with others, he makes the world a better place. La Rochefoucauld remarks that “It is a great ability to be able to conceal one’s ability.” I think that many “disabled” people do precisely that and live a balanced life. We the fully abled ones wish to flaunt our own ability so much, that instead we exhibit glaringly our own disabilities…


  1. This is touching, poignant and inspiring, Nick...

  2. And his disciples asked him, saying, Master, who did sin, this man, or his parents, that he was born blind? Jesus answered, Neither hath this man sinned, nor his parents: but that the works of God should be made manifest in him. (John 9:2-3)