This black, bold, queer activist wants us to invest in people with disabilities

One of the first disabled Africans to be accepted into Oxford University, EDWARD NDOPU plans to use the opportunity to close the access gaps and challenges faced by people with disabilities. He told The Daily Vox about his plans for Oxford and the crowdfunding campaign set up to get him there.

Edward Ndopu1I am a 25-year-old black, bold, queer activist and I am currently the head of the Youth Program for Africa at Amnesty International. I have just been named one of the world’s 30 Top Thinkers Under 30. I have spoken at the world Economic Forum three times; the first time was when I was 19 years old. I am also a graduate of the African Leadership Academy and I did my undergraduate studies at Carleton University. I am someone that is deeply committed to social justice, I am a thinker, a writer, and a public speaker. I have a particular interest in issues concerning the lived experiences of people that live with disabilities.

I myself have a physical disability. I was diagnosed at the age of two with a condition called spinal muscular atrophy. It’s a motoneuron condition that affects the muscle and it results in progressive weakness – the older I get, the weaker I become. It was predicted that I would not survive beyond the age of five, and indeed, my life is miraculously incredible.

At Oxford University, I will be studying a Masters in Public Policy. The reason why I chose this institution was because this particular programme is the only programme in the entire world that looks at public policy through a global lens. It tries to make sense of public policy in a changing world, taking into account politics, history and the impact of science and technology. This programme will make me understand my role of influencing discourses around the world, particularly for disability. I want to be at the forefront of policymaking and I can accord young people across the globe with disabilities with greater access.

As a disabled person, I think Oxford is going to be friendly and receive me well. However, there might be challenges that I will face. Issues like getting a visa as an international student with a disability, with a caregiver. There is no category that exists for a caregiver so it will be quite challenging for me to take my personal nurse with me.

The crowdfunding campaign that has been launched is to raise R500,000 to cover the outstanding costs associated with my admission to the university. I have a two-pronged strategy, I have been trying to raise money through the public and the other strategy is to approach corporates hoping they can give in more. The R250, 000 is for having my personal nurse come with me to Oxford. I received a full scholarship from Oxford but it does not cover some of the costs associated with my disability.

The other R250, 000 is for an automated wheelchair. Living with a disability has been incredibly expensive, yet people with disabilities are among the poorest. The disabled face so many challenges, you can imagine some of them do not even have access to education and other basic services. So this, for me, is a deep irony for disability, and we do not talk about these contradictions.

I have been receiving tremendous support through social media. People have seen my story, however I am still appealing to people to give what they can. This is not about just about me; I am not going to Oxford to get a good education but I am going there to get education to allow me to be a changemaker. This is an investment in people with disabilities across the globe because I want countries to rethink their disability policies.