By João Correa, a Paralympic athlete from Brazil and supporter of Rotary’s End Polio Now campaign
My name is João Correa and I am 49 years old. Although I was not affected by poliomyelitis, I know the kind of suffering many polio victims have to endure.
When I was 19, I had an accident while working in construction. I was in the hospital for a year and a half, after which I could never walk again. Since then, I have used a wheelchair to get around.
The initial shock of no longer being able to use your legs is huge. I became dependent on other people for the simplest things, because I could not reach what I needed inside my own house, let alone outside it. The doors were too narrow, the closets and cabinets were too high, the bathroom was too small, my bed was too low, and the steps of the stairs were a hindrance.
After that came losses – financial, personal, and emotional. Old friends no longer hung around because it was not “practical” to be friends with a wheelchair user. My wife, a young and pretty woman, was the next to leave, because for her having a paraplegic husband was too heavy a burden to bear. After that I lost my job.
Living without my legs and reintegrating into society was an uphill struggle which included navigating poorly paved and potholed streets, and dealing with a lack of accessibility in schools, public buildings, and on public transportation.
However, what surprised me most was the reaction of people in general. The “different” look people used to give me as they stared at me. It was a mixture of prejudice, ignorance, and contempt. At the time of my accident, polio was claiming a lot of victims in Brazil, and people thought I had been affected by the disease as well. I was barred from restaurants by owners who used a thinly disguised excuse that “the wheelchair took up too much space.”
Today there are still those who shun the disabled, and confuse physical disability with mental disability. Those with special needs face many obstacles, not all physical. That is why I am a supporter of any effort that helps eliminate suffering and prejudice. Rotary’s work to end polio is one such effort.
Rotarians are committed to ridding the world of polio. Through their efforts, many children have been saved from this crippling disease. You can help support their work, by taking part in the World’s Biggest Commercial
Correa is training for an Ultra Marathon Challenge, an event sponsored by Rotary District 4670 (Brazil) to raise awarness of and support for those with disabilities. Watch a video of Correa training.