My name is Alan Downey, I was born in Germiston in Gauteng in 1973 and my family and I moved to East London in the Eastern Cape when I was 5 years old. We were a family of 4 and my brother and I had a very active childhood growing up in East London.
I enjoyed sport while at School and did Swimming, Athletics, Cross Country, Rugby and played Golf, I also enjoyed drawing and painting. After matriculating from Selborne College, I completed my one year military service and the started an apprenticeship in Panel Beating. During my 3rd year as an apprentice on the 20th of November 1994, I broke my neck in a diving accident, while at the beach with some friends when I dived into a river and hit a sand bank. I was lucky to have some friends with me, who pulled me out the river, as I could not move and my head was submerged under the water. I was sent to Conradie Spinal Unit here in Cape Town for an operation and 5 months rehabilitation and was classified as a c5 quadriplegic which meant that I had had no feeling from the chest down and only limited use of my arms.
While in hospital and after returning back to East London, I had a lot of support from family and friends, my parents were amazing and not only looked after me, but also supported and encouraged me in everything I did.
How Did This Accident Change Your Life?
My whole life was turned upside down, I had lost my job and independence and couldn’t take care of myself, so had to rely on my parents for everything. I also could no longer take part in the sports and activities that I loved doing, which had become so important to me.
I sometimes asked myself “Why Me?” or think to myself “What If I Hadn’t Dived Into the River That Day?” or “If Only I Had an Undo Button, Like On My Computer!”
While in hospital, I was told by a friend, “The quicker you accept your disability, the quicker you can get on with your life.” After realizing that I had to accept my situation before I could move on, I started focusing on what I could do, rather than what I could not. I started drawing and painting again which was a great form of therapy, later I got introduced to computers by a good friend who was also in a wheelchair, and I started doing Graphic Design & Printing which led to me eventually getting involved in web design after moving to Cape Town.
Some people are offended when I tell them that “The quicker you accept your disability, the quicker you can get on with your life”, they think that I am telling them to give up, this is not the case. Some persons who can’t walk for example can lead a more fulfilling life than many people who can. My accident and injury pushed me onto a path to a life of different opportunities and experiences, if I had only focused on recovering from my injury, I would have lost out on all the positives that my injury has brought. I had a lot of health problems and negatives since being injured, but when I think back at them, many of them have led to very positive outcomes.
Shortly after my injury while still in East London, my Dad and I got involved with the Association for the Physically Disabled (APD) in East London and were put in charge of getting all the Sports stadiums in East London accessible. In 1997 we organized for a temporary wheelchair accessible stand to be built at Basil Kenyon Stadium in East London, so that we could watch Border play against the British and Irish Lions. About 10 other persons in wheelchairs joined us despite it pouring with rain, it was such a success that they we were eventually able to organize a permanent wheelchair accessible stand to be built. We also got the cricket, athletics and soccer stadiums in East London to become accessible.
In 2002, my Mom Dad and I moved to Cape Town after my Dad had a Stroke. We moved to Cape Town to be closer to my brother and his family and for the extra support. In 2004, I started a business course and in 2005 I completed the course and registered my Graphic Design and Printing Business and later in 2008, also started doing cartoons for a disability magazine called Rolling Inspiration. My cartoons dealt with issues that persons with disabilities faced on a daily basis, including problems with access. Later I also started doing various different caricatures on consignment.
In 2010 I started developing websites with a friend Shane Smith who had introduced me to computers and in 2015 I started researching and developing a website and free information service for persons with disabilities called “Disability Info South Africa” www.disabilityinfosa.co.za. In 2017 I officially launched ”Disability info South Africa” (DISA).
How Does “Disability info South Africa” (DiSA) Assist People?
”Disability info South Africa” (DISA) was developed as a “Free Information Service” for “Persons With Disabilities” in South Africa, who are looking for information that can help them. We provide a “One Stop Information Service “ which supplies information for and about the 4 main Disability groups in South Africa, which include Persons with: Mobility Impairments; Hearing Impairments; Visual Impairments & Intellectual Impairments.
By providing all this information in one place & linking all the service providers together, we hope to make the lives of persons with disabilities that much easier and encourage more companies who make a business from supplying products & services to persons with disabilities, to advertise with us and to contribute to providing this service, to make a better South Africa for everyone.
Why Did You Develop “Disability Info South Africa”
I believe that access to: Equipment, Information, Services, Education, Buildings, Transport, Health Care, and Sports & Activities is a basic human right and is essential to create an inclusive South Africa, where no person is excluded or discriminated against & everyone is aware of their rights & what services, organizations & products are available to assist them.
At the end of November 2019, I will have been in a wheelchair for 25 years and next year in 2020, I will have been working on this project for 5 years. The experience that I have gained from this and the people that I have met have all contributed in different ways to my life and made it better and have assisted me to be able to run this website and free service that I provide. I would not be where I am today without the support of my parents who have always been there to support and encourage me and many friends and other family who have assisted me along the way. The longer that I work on this project, the more I learn and realize how much it is needed and how lucky I am to have the support of my family and friends.
What Are Your Plans For The Future?
Earlier this year I met Igor Rix, who is an Access Consultant & has a daughter who is a Paraplegic and uses a scooter. Igor is passionate about creating an Accessible South Africa for his daughter and all persons with disabilities. He has reminded me that not only is access to information important, but also access to all aspects of life in South Africa, which is why we have been working on a new project for the last couple of months called “Yes To Access” which we are planning to launch at the end of November, beginning of December during Disability Rights Awareness Month (DRAM).
“Yes To Access” is one of our services that we will provide through Disability Info South Africa. Through “Yes To Access”, we hope to inform all persons with disabilities of their rights and to supply a platform for them to be able to lay a complaint, which we will then follow up on to make sure that it is dealt with and the companies who are Non-Compliant become accessible and compliant, therefore creating an accessible South Africa free of barriers. We are also in the process of registering an NGO, in the hope that we can get funding to grow this service to assist more people. You can visit “Disability Info South Africa” to find out more: www.disabilityinfosa.co.za
What Do You Need As A Website?
Companies can assist us & support “Persons with Disability” in South Africa, by “Advertising with us”, they will then receive a “certificate of membership” which indicates the level of their advertising that they have purchased. The purchase of this advert will also assist us to promote your company, club or organization on our website and facebook pages and develop this service further. We believe in supporting companies who support us, we often get enquiries from clients who contact us for different products or services, and so recommend them to members who have advertised with us.
How Can The Readers Get In Touch With You?
You can contact me via email at: email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org or phone me on: Tel: 021 761 4831 or cell: 084 504 9176 or visit our Disability Info South Africa Facebook Page: https://www.facebook.com/infodisabilitysouthafrica/?_rdc=1&_rdr
What Do You Do When Not Working On “Disability Info South Africa”?
I enjoy listening to Music, watching Movies and Sport and spending time with family and friends.
Do You Have Any Last Words?
Even though my disability has been difficult for both myself and my family and I sometimes feel that I have missed out, I have been very lucky in my life to have had the assistance and support of many people, especially my Mom. The path that my accident put me on assisted me in meeting and reconnecting to amazing people, who have taught me a lot and been very supportive caring and generous. I am also thankful to have found something I enjoy doing that makes a difference to other people’s lives.
If I can continue to make a difference in the lives of other persons with disabilities and their families, I believe that I have made a success of my life. People with disabilities have a lot to give to the world, if everyone treated others the way they would want be treated; you would be amazed how we could change the world.
- No more discrimination
- No more crime
- No more poverty
- Access for all
Thanks to my family and old and new friends who have stuck with me through good times and bad, as well as those carers that have assisted me over the years.