The meaning of “achievement”
A lot has been made about Fu Yuanhui’s adorable personality and the way she completely embraced and owned “merely” getting a bronze medal in the Olympics. Well, that’s a bronze medal. At the Olympics. The summit of international elite sports.
I was forced to rethink the meaning of achievement when I attended my niece’s graduation ceremony in London this summer.
You see, my niece is disabled, she has complex medical needs and severe learning difficulties. Her school struck me as more than a purpose built special needs school – it was a real community. A community of children, families and the most supportive, positive teachers and carers I’ve ever met.
During the ceremony, teachers listed the achievements of each child who was graduating. As the kids had such a wide range of abilities, their achievements also ranged widely. For some it learning to tolerate trying different kinds of food, for others being able to greet teachers with a sign, being able to use their voice to indicate ‘yes’ or ‘no’, being able to express the distinction between different colours, or even being able to express simple wishes through eye gaze.
Each of these achievements was not just acknowledged, it was celebrated. This was not patronising, it was a recognition that each milestone was achieved through a journey the children took with their community. It was the most humbling aspect of a truly moving graduation experience that made me think about how we define achievement.
It is very hard to imagine what it is like to be a severely disabled person or to care for a severely disabled person – the daily trials and hard-won achievements – unless and until there is a severely disabled member in your family.
I think how a society cares for its weakest members is the true measure of that society.
We need to have people in public life who understand their needs and are willing to truly fight for their rights.