At the moment, Romania has more than 800 thousand disabled people, while the current Europe-wide number of 80 million people is expected to reach around 120 million in the next couple of years. Less than a third of these people are born with a certain disability, while about 60% of them have disabilities that have occurred during their lifetime, due to various reasons such as illnesses or accidents. This growing number of people posts a new challenge for urban communities, a challenge that is mostly a social integration matter.
Mihăiță Paparǎ is a legal consultant, translator and athlete. He worked as a Lawyer-linguist at the Directorate for Legislative Acts in the European Parliament, and as an Audit liaison officer for the Directorate-General for Research and Innovation in the European Commission.
He believes that personal example is the best way to motivate and inspire others to change, improve or simply challenge their own limitations.
He became disabled in 2005, having his leg amputated due to a car accident. Being totally aware of how a disability can mean a big transformation and can change one’s life fundamentally, he founded AsocPM. This is a non-profit NGO focused on advocating and informing the public on the topic of disabilities, along with the importance of practicing sports in physical recovery and social reintegration.
Mihǎiţǎ is currently a member of the Romanian Winter Paralympic National Team and is preparing to be the first disabled snowboarder to represent Romania at the Winter Paralympic Games 2018 in PyongChang, South Korea.
This ambition was sparked as early as his time in the hospital, after surgery, when he was troubled by the idea of becoming a burden to his family. He soon realized that “you don’t need both legs” to be able to live and enjoy living. He was convinced that a perfect body is not a precondition for being part of society.
The example of disabled people practicing sports was extremely encouraging to him, and that is how he started snowboarding, in search of strength and hope, meeting inspiring people and getting to know real role models. Consequently, raising awareness about the capacities and potential of disabled people soon became a goal for him and his NGO.
He was encouraged by organizing events in this sense and receiving consistent and positive feedback from people. Moreover, including both adults and children is essential, he argues, as engaging with open-minded children is a beneficial way to change a future society for the better.
Finally, we have to be able to be aware of the difference between prosthetics made for form (appeal, aesthetics) and those made for function.
The shift from form to function represents the way to transform the disabled into active members of society and that is precisely why innovation is thought to have a crucial role in the life of any community. Ultimately, we have to be open-minded, to be aware of the role of innovation and to work towards the goal of social inclusion.
See his full speech at our Urban Talks event here:
Video & Photo by Heavy Designers