This is
Juanrie's story

Living with a physical disability

I was diagnosed with cerebral palsy spastic quadriplegia when I was 18 months old, this was due to my brain being damaged when I was born. But this didn't stop me being a top achiever at school, going on to university and learning to accept myself.

What challenge does this story focus on?

I had many operations between the ages of 7 to 14 and as a child was in a wheelchair which was hard. Having operations was quite isolating as I had to stay in bed and couldn't go to many places. I'm someone who refuses to stay in bed for too long so I asked my mum if I could go to school. I had to have a special wheelchair so I could sit at a desk, my mum said I was the happiest child! I then kept challenging myself and moved away to university, growing in self-confidence.

How has this challenge affected you?

I decided at the age of 7 that I wanted to work, that I wanted to go to university one day and this was my point of focus that got me out and got me to school. I felt that when I was a kid because I was in a wheelchair people thought I was a bit weird and didn't want to be my friend. This resulted in me feeling isolated. But despite this I was a high achiever! It was mine and my mum's proudest moment when I stood on the stage receiving certificates at school.

What has or is helping you to move forward with this challenge?

When I moved from South Africa to England I managed to catch-up on two years of work to pass my GCSE's in english which is my second language. In Sixth Form I discovered the beauty of photography and used to go outside, but it was hard to move around and the cerebral palsy spread to my wrists. I had to find special ways to hold the camera. I realised I could photograph the world from my perspective. It gave me loads of confidence and I started photographing people which I'd never done before.

What have you learnt as a result of this challenge?

I came to Southampton to study photography at university which was difficult. There were many challenges and it was very difficult as it was the first time I was away from home without my parents supporting me. I had to live on my own, cook for myself and do everything myself. I had friends but sometimes people didn't know how to approach me or talk to me. Then my parents left the country and I realised I was going to be on my own. A lovely lady called Maggie came to support me and she has been like family to me. Now I still have personal challenges and I can be hard on myself, but I have people who support me and I give myself pep talks. If I have problems I know I have a great support network and I'm never on my own.

How do you use this learning in your life now?

I had to do a lot of stuff I'd never done myself and learn a lot of new things. I've learned from that that I can look after myself! My mum thought I would live with her forever, but she said she was proud of me because I took something and did the unbelievable. Now I want to live on my own. Also my stepdad said to me - just be who you are, stuff what other people think about you, if they don't like who you are that's their problem, you're a cool person! So I realised I was going to be myself and I became confident at approaching people. I challenged myself to photograph people I didn't know and get to know them when I photograph them by talking. I became a student ambassador, got a job and joined lots of groups.

What positive message would you like the reader to go away with?

I've learned that whatever challenges happen in life there are always ways to get over the steps. If you climb those steps you can achieve something great. I think everything that happened to me had to happen for me to realise there is potential, to use my disability, even in my work, to try and raise awareness that disability isn't a bad thing. It is how you use it. It's a normal thing and it's about being who you are and accepting who you are. You can't do these things if you don't accept yourself.

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