Eddie Ndopu, a 25 year old South African, is set to become the first disabled African to attend the prestigious Oxford University.
Eddie has his eyes set on Oxford where he plans to revolutionize the lives of disabled people around the world.
I had the privilege of interviewing this out-of-the-box thinker on his journey so far and his plans to revolutionize the world for disabled people.
RISE NEWS: A lot of people see you as the first disabled African to go to Oxford, so how do you feel about being labelled as that person?
Eddie: First, I think it is a symbolic victory for a young, disabled African as well as disabled people throughout the world.
It’s symbolic because statistically there is about 90 ninety percent of children with disabilities across the developing world who have no access to basic education.
So it’s an amazing personal achievement as well as an achievement for disabled people all over the world.
The second perspective I don’t like to subscribe to labels. I choose to move through the world as a dynamic and fluid individual so that I am not tied to any stereotypes or preconceptions that the world may have about me.
RISE: What will you be studying when you go to Oxford?
I will be doing a Master’s degree in Public Policy.
RISE: So what are you looking to gain from your Oxford experience?
I am trying to lay the foundation for an ambitious organization that I have founded with a friend. We are calling it the Evolve Initiative we are trying to help people with disabilities live their best lives. In short, we are trying to provide the institutional support to disabled people so that they can have the same opportunities as able-bodied individuals.
RISE: What are your plans for after you graduate from Oxford?
After Oxford I’ll spend two years trying to get people to understand what the Evolve Initiative is about. That will take the form of this kind of “Beyonce-esque” feature length presentation.
At the end of the presentation I hope to be launching into space as the first disabled person to ever be in space. I also want to address the United Nations from space about the rights of disabled people globally.
RISE: How has the public supported you in achieving this goal of going to Oxford?
The public has been quite amazing and very supportive. People have been very generous giving whatever they had whether it was R500 or R2000 rand. I did expect more support from Corporate South Africa but a lot of the time people want to be associated with you because you making headlines. Yet they aren’t prepared to put their money where their mouth is.
RISE: Are there any things that worry you about leaving South Africa and going to study at Oxford?
No, not really because it’s not my first time abroad. I did my undergraduate in Canada and so I left for four years and it was an incredible experience. I see myself as a global citizen. I am an African of the world. I like to keep moving so I am not anxious at all.
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RISE: How do you deal with being disabled and queer? Are there challenges?
For me I always say that there is no contradiction in embodying all of these identities. I cannot compartmentalize my identity. When I am doing disability activism I am also doing queer activism and antiracist work. Everybody is not just one thing we embody so many identities at once. I make sure that I am able to always speak about my identities in a nuanced way.
RISE: Could you talk to me a bit more about your ideas surrounding independence versus dependence as well as what it means to be a abled-bodied adult in our society?
For me as a young 25 year-old man I find that people will forever treat you like a child. People always talk down to you when you are disabled. I have realized that with the experience of disability, adulthood becomes hard to navigate.
When we think about what it means to be an adult its always about doing things for yourself. So the societal conception of being an adult does not fit with the experience of a disabled adult who relies on other adults for their survival. People only see a basic surface level of what it means to be independent.
I reject independence because I don’t think it’s real.
Able-bodied people get help all the time, but as I said in the my YouTube video the help that they get disappears into the background and it makes it look like independence. The world is constructed around the needs of your able-bodied experience and because of that you are being helped on an institutional level.
RISE: I heard you say that you want people to see disabled people as gifts to humanity. Could you explain that a bit more?
It comes from the deep recognition that changes happen on the margins of society. Marginalized people are the most innovative people because they need to figure out creative ways of surviving.
So because disabled people are one of the most marginalized groups in society we are able to challenge the status quo and reimagine a world that opens up equal opportunities for all people. If you can address the needs of people with disabilities you can change the world because every part of society will be different from the way we design our environments to the way we relate to each other as human beings.
Eddie is set to begin his Masters in September of 2016.
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Photo Credits: Eddie Ndopu/ Submitted