This (the theaterhall of the Geert Groote College Amsterdam) is my second home for two reasons. First of all: the type of education. This is a Waldorf school, which means that it's not the grades that matter, but the whole person. Who are you? And who do you want to become? This comes together with a lot of artistic courses. And it comes together with a respectfull environment: in general, everyone is accepted by others for who he is. I have a physical disability: at my birth, I didn't really want to breath, which injured my brains in the part that conducts the physical movements. I have to bycicle with three wheels, I have shaky hands, I'm not capable of carrying a cup of drink or doing little things and I sometimes feel like a very old person.
I feel home at the Waldorf school, because the rythm is slightly lower than at a regular school, and I like the principles of it. Here, I'm accepted as a whole person, here I am not disabled, I have one: despite my disability, or maby because of my disability, I am capable of doing things.
That's what brings me to the second reason why this is my second home. Theatre is the centre of my life. When I was young, I was already standing in the living room pretending standing in front of a public. At the youth theater school, where I passed ten years from the age of 9 unwards, I noticed that at a stage, I have the power to entertain people. And this is what I still like to do. To share selfwritten poems. To participate in a theatre group which I have found together with other old student of this school. I like to tell stories to other people (although I don't really have the dream of becoming a comedian anymore. It's too much work, writing a whole program). Where the body doesn't really do what you want, the mind will become even stronger.
When I came to the University of Amsterdam, I very quickly was asked to participate in a platform that they wanted to find to become more accessible for students with a disability. In this platform, I advice together with two other students with a disability the university on policy and we answer questions from fellow students and employees. It is in this role where I for the first time really found out that in stead of a weakness, my disability can be a chance as well. Without my disability, I didn't have the experience that give me the right to take part in the platform and to earn money in that way. Earlier, I didn't want to emphasize my disability because of the fact that it's my weakest part. And I still find it hard sometimes to talk about it, but when I can use it to make the world a better place, I have learned to speak up with it.
So then I came to the realisation that I like to stand up for other people and that I want to do that on a higher level. And all of a sudden, there was a vacancy from a national broadcaster for a 'Minister of disability affairs'. In The Netherlands, we don't have a special minister for people with a disability, but some other countries do. A known presenter in The Netherlands came up with the idea, together with that broadcaster, to give the good exemple. For me, this was a very big opportunity. I always wanted to work as a presenter on television, but I somewhere thought that they would never give me the chance because of the fact that I talk slightly less understandable. Now I could bring two things together: standing up for other people and working in the spolight's. I never took so much time in applying for a job. I let others read my letter, I made a short film which was obligated, I went to a desk at the university to check my cv, this shouldn't go wrong. After three selection rounds, I was one of the six finalists. Now, things started to be very serious. I was expected to campaign. I settled up a campaign team, I showed that I had usefull contacts for the job and I told my story to journalists. Key message: we all have a disability in a way.
To illustrate this message, I used the image of getting a key into a lock. I have troubles doing that, because of my shaking hands. But if someone without a disability has a lot of things in his or her hands and is forced to open a door in a way he or she isn't used to, that person has a disability as well. I was presenting myself as the bridge that would translate the world of people with a disability to the world of people without a disability and vice versa. Because I do have a disability, but it's not that I'm always limited by my disability.
The finaly was a live show on national television. It was different from what I expected it to be. There was not so much debate and there was a lot of show. Also, the jury chose three candidates out of the six of whom one didn't have an official disability at all and one didn't have a lot of interesting statements. I wasn't one of those three.
Then you can feel disappointed, but it still brought me some things. And I've chosen to be involved in a project of that program with which they want to make the media more inclusive. I hope that they will really do that, not only on the guest side, but also on the presentation side
I'm here to tell you my story as a person with a disability, but I believe that everyone has a disability in a way. Maybe you're not so good in writing, or you're very shy, and that shouldn't matter. Because it means that your talents lie somewhere else. And you can still work on your weaker points. Like me. I do really like to be on stage, but I prefer to tell a sketch or a poem instead of about my disability. It is still my weakest point. But sometimes, you have to puss yourself to do things you find frightening to come further.
To illustrate that everyone has a disability, we've made a program for you in which acrobatics stand central. Because if you do something you didn't do before, like standing on eachother, you feel disabled in a way: you can't do it right away. The clinic clowns will show us that no matter who you are or what you are capable of, everybody is equal. Christian will tell you more about the program and I'm very curious about your experience at the end of this week!
Thijs de Lange