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Origins and Superpowers

12 October, 2017

On the last evening of my 23rd year, my girlfriend at the time lost control of our car and plunged down a ravine in the Tasmanian wilderness. As we flew off the road and over the edge, the headlights lit up the trunks of the trees in a scene of terrifying beauty, with the emphasis being on the terrifying! Ever since then, when I lay for hours in the pitch darkness in the middle of nowhere, waiting for my girlfriend to find help, unable to move most of my body, and unable to feel anything below my chest - I have been trying to work out the meaning of change in the relation to my body and the world. I have been trying to work out the meaning of my disability. I feel now that the car accident happened for a reason, in the sense of being destined in some way, but that there is a reason to be found in it. I think there is a right way and a wrong way to respond to life’s misadventures, and that we must find the right way, or one of the right ways.

"I feel now that the car accident happened for a reason, in the sense of being destined in some way, but that there is a reason to be found in it. I think there is a right way and a wrong way to respond to life’s misadventures, and that we must find the right way, or one of the right ways."

I knew that I was privileged. That as an educated white man, in a rich country, doing postgraduate study in philosophy of physics, I would not need to modify my goals as much as many others who had sustained a spinal cord injury similar to mine. My initial response, after rehabilitation, was to throw myself back into my postgraduate study. I eventually completed a PhD at Monash University on the nature of space, time and matter. Investigating the nature of reality is part of my purpose in life. Lately, in my thinking on humans and their relation to the world, I have been looking for a way we could recognise the intrinsic value or sacredness of both our bodies and nature.

I hope that my philosophical writing will somehow help improve the way we treat the world, and ourselves. However, I also feel the need for direct action against social injustices and environmental degradation. My experiences of my disability and discrimination have given me an outlet for my desire to act against injustice, into challenging the disabling structures and attitudes of our society.

"I also feel the need for direct action against social injustices and environmental degradation."

"After completing my PhD, I complained about two bus lines and a cinema, using the Disability Discrimination Act. These complaints were successful, in that the companies agreed to improve the accessibility of their services. It impressed me that such actions could potentially benefit a significant number of people..."

After completing my PhD, I complained about two bus lines and a cinema, using the Disability Discrimination Act. These complaints were successful, in that the companies agreed to improve the accessibility of their services. It impressed me that such actions could potentially benefit a significant number of people, which in turn, led me to put more effort into action for disability rights. Along with a colleague, I took up the job of running focus groups for those with disabilities on what the participants thought should be addressed by the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. I then travelled to New York with a disability organisation to assist with the negotiations on the text of the Convention. It felt momentous but nerve-wracking to speak at the UN about disability access in front of perhaps a thousand people from a hundred nations.

I now continue to work with a local disability rights organization; an advisory committee with the local council. I now choose to act locally rather than at a more global level, such as at the UN, partly because I believe that in order to be directly responsive to local conditions and individual needs, decisions should be made as locally as possible. We need to strengthen local communities everywhere! I also participate in two local environmental groups. It is important to me to find a balance between thought and action, so I make sure that I have time for my research in philosophy as well.

"It is important to me to find a balance between thought and action, so I make sure that I have time for my research in philosophy as well."

"My disability forms part of my identity. In many ways it adds richness to my life... For me, just like for others, a major part of meaning comes from what we do to help others, and leave the world a better place."

My disability forms part of my identity. In many ways it adds richness to my life, for example, dealings with my attendant carers. Personal relationships give meaning to every life, and the carer-client relationship is no exception to this. For me, just like for others, a major part of meaning comes from what we do to help others, and leave the world a better place. As I hinted at earlier, because our society still has a far way to travel to bring about justice for people with disability, it can be relatively easy for a person with a disability to help improve our society. 

Many of the changes required to meet a person’s needs will help many other people in similar positions. Ironically, this might give those of us with a disability an advantage in meaningfulness – it might give us a superpower, if you like. However, I would happily forgo this superpower, in exchange for living in a society of real inclusion and equality.

"...I would happily forgo this superpower, in exchange for living in a society of real inclusion and equality."

Currently, with both my philosophy writing and my political action going well, I feel a growing sense of integration, a growing unity between myself and the world, which makes me feel that I am finding one of those right ways of responding to that initial great misadventure.

Click below to see video footage of the event which I presented this.

Martin Lecky is an Associate in philosophy at the University of Melbourne. He has been actively involved in disability issues, travelled extensively, and following a diagnosis of bladder cancer, developed a keen interest in healthy living. He has lived with C4/5/6 spinal cord injury since 1985. Martin is one of our regular volunteer bloggers.

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