‘First you dream, then you fly’

2010-08-10 00:00

“I AM a 49-year-old woman, who is gonna be 50 this year,” said Mandy Latimore with great enthusiasm. Latimore became a paraplegic when she was 19 years old during a climbing accident. She was training as a nurse at the time and was able to understand the impact that her broken spine would have on her life.

“My mum was a great support. In those days, paraplegics were less prevalent than they are today and everyone around me was worried about how we were going to cope. My mum said: ‘Just because she lost her legs doesn’t mean that her personality­ has changed’.”

Latimore was always very sporty and, after the accident, this didn’t change. She is involved in numerous activities — wing walking, scuba diving, motorbike riding and is currently­ part of the team for the national squad in adaptive rowing (which almost qualified for the world championships in New Zealand­). She has even spent three and a half months in the United States in a wheel chair.

“My motto is: ‘First you dream and then you fly.’ Nothing is impossible.”

Finding it difficult to enter real life due to a lack of facilities and access in those days, Latimore joined Disabled­ People South Africa (DPSA­) and helped to make people aware of people with disabilities. She was also part of the team involved in the 1986 Disabled Persons Act.

“All I wanted to do was lead as normal a life as possible, but society kept cutting me out. I felt that there was nothing I couldn’t do except walk up stairs. The biggest challenge was breaking through the huge barriers that society put up and changing people’s perceptions [about disabled people]... and I think I have.”

She moved into the disability arena­ as an independent consultant working with the National Council for People with Disabilities of South Africa, the QuadPara Association of South Africa and the Gauteng Association­ for Persons with Disabilities (APD) in the various areas of sensitisation and awareness, access assessment and work placement for people with disabilities.

She also does leisure travel for people with disabilities and is part of the Amaglubglub team (that train people with various disabilities to scuba dive) and she is on the executive­ board of the magazine Rolling Inspiration, to which she contributes a regular travel column.

“We need to look at people differently and not prejudge them. [Regardless of my wheelchair] I am still a woman.

“Men often shy away from women with disabilities and many [women with disabilities] do not seem to find partners.

“People need to be more open and accepting; after all, we are all human­ underneath.” • This article is part of a series that The Witness is publishing as part of its Women’s Month contributions. It will be talking to disabled women each day of this week.

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