Opinionista Ari Seirlis 8 July 2014

With disability comes vulnerability – or is or vulnerability a new disability?

Does having a disability make Oscar Pistorius a law unto himself? Certainly not – and allowing it could be devastating to others with disabilities, too.

This week’s Oscar Pistorius trial – and tribulation – has prompted me to form an opinion on the matter of vulnerabilityand its benefits or curses.

Defence witness, physician Wayne Derman, is in my understanding suggesting that disability creates vulnerability and thus a softer approach to crime and reaction. He has established this, not from his interactions with many people with disabilities broadly, but rather his interaction with Oscar Pistorius.

If these statements and observations of Pistorius were accepted by the court, then one of my questions would be: Why is “vulnerability”, its effects and consequences, not dealt with in our formal rehabilitation programmes? Some 900 people per annum in South Africa become spinal cord injured, and this constituency of paraplegics and quadriplegics are far more limited in their agility speed, height and self-defence, yet we don’t promote the brand of vulnerability. We are vulnerable in many ways, by our inaccessible environments and society’s attitude and misunderstanding of our lifestyle needs, attributes and abilities.

Another outcome would be that medical aid insurance companies would have to fund psychological and psychiatric support for “vulnerability”, as a prescribed minimum benefit.

Furthermore, would employers rebuke the Employment Equity Act requirements for fear of the safety of their staff as a result of our vulnerability and perceived risk in the workplace? Would reasonable accommodation for staff without disabilities be “bullet-proof” workstations? Will we be situated in isolated areas so we are no risk to colleagues? Will we still get jobs?

Are we now allowed to shoot “to nullify any threat”? If it ever happened that the law changed to suit vulnerable disabled people, then there might even be a notion of getting away with blasting people with lead who abuse wheelchair parking bays. That would be interesting. Shopping centres would become killing fields.

Will there be a new and increased speed limit for us drivers with disabilities? Maybe 160kph?

We don’t want our own laws. We are happy with the Equality Act (PEPUDA).

Pray the court does not accept this argument that disability causes vulnerability, so that we can shoot ourselves out of arguments, threats and confrontations. We would be totally isolated from society.

Perhaps it’s better to consider that it was and is just Pistorius who has such a strong “fright and flight” response – who opts for gun slinging and speeding as he feels he is vulnerable. You cannot hold up multiple gold medals for being one of the fastest men in the world in one hand and a pistol in the other, and then declare “vulnerability”.

My opinion is that Oscar has an unusual condition, and there are a few more South Africans with the same. “AAAAA” is the acronym for “Anger Arrogance Athleticism Accelerator Attitude”. Throw in bad company, an untouchable uncle, beautiful women, guns, fast cars, alcohol, fame, fortune and somewhere along the line, shit is going to happen.

Other people with disabilities don’t want to be painted by the same brush.

My Lady, please don’t accept this argument. We will be cursed if we are perceived as vulnerable and unpredictable. DM

Ari Seirlis is the CEO of the QuadPara Association of South Africa (QASA) and has been a quadriplegic as a result of a diving accident in 1985.


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