“Disability is not contagious; ignorance is” – In a brave new world, brave young girls
By David E. Kaplan
When USA Baltimore native Becca Meyers, a three-time Paralympic gold medallist swimmer – eight Paralympic medallists in total – withdrew from the Tokyo games after being told she couldn’t bring to the competition her Personal Care Assistant (PCA) – “my own mother” – she was angry and understandably disappointed.
She took a stand – to withdraw!
With only one PCA unreasonably tasked with serving all 34 Paralympic swimmers, nine who were visually impaired, Becca, who has been deaf since birth due to Usher syndrome and has been gradually losing her vision, said her “gut-wrenching decision” to withdraw was necessary to advocate “for future generations of Paralympic athletes.”
Although approved in having “my trusted PCA – my mom – at all international meets since 2017,” at the Tokyo Paralympics, due to Covid, new safety measures were introduced limiting “non-essential staff”.
For Becca however, her trusted PCA mother was definitely not “non-essential staff”.
Her defiance found traction.
“Individuals who experience disabilities should not be forced to navigate the Tokyo Paralympics without the support that they need,” expressed Sen. Maggie Hassan, D-New Hampshire, who called Becca’s position a “preventable situation.”
The U.S. lawmaker was not a lone voice.
At the other end of the world in Australia, support for the deaf-blind Becca came from a young kindred spirit, a Jewish girl with cerebral palsy born in South Africa. Her name is Milla Wolman, who was inspired by Becca to compose an ode that she aired on YouTube.
Every now and again, poets emerge that capture the mood of an era and the crying issue of their time. They call out and talk back to injustices and unfair treatment and crystallize a collective conscience towards a cause. Young Milla Wolman has joined this elite cadre of revolutionary poets with her poem DIFability, reaching a global audience with her message:
“We are not disabled, we are different”.
When she repeats the word “tremor” over and over between stanzas, she is shaking an indifferent world to wake up from a selfish slumber.
So who is Milla Wolman?
Milla was born at the Linksfield Clinic in Johannesburg, South Africa, where the pediatrician had said she would neither be able to walk or talk. When Milla was nine months old, the Wolman family, Jonathan, Romy and Milla, left for Sydney and a shortly after a year, was diagnosed with cerebral palsy.
Fast forward to the present and “You should see and hear her now!” and “Unbelievable and unforgettable!” are some of the comments on social media to this extraordinary girl.
Watch Milla here:
Through her powerful poetry, Milla asks:
“Why was Becca Meyers forced to withdraw?
It should be against the law,
For someone we adore to leave,
solely because of her disability.”
“An ironic sick joke
Which makes me want to choke
For a swimmer with a masterstroke
Becca Meyers is blind but we are the ones who cannot see.”
Describing the attitudes of the Paralympic authorities as:
“This humungous assault to our own humanity
What a calamity to not get to see her victory!”
And then poses the further question:
“It is your choice
Do you see Becca Meyers, the deaf-blind disabled person?
Or do you see Becca Meyers, the courageous and strong Paralympian?”
It is your choice.”
What is so captivating is Milla’s inspirational leadership:
“Our revolution has just begun, we will not stop
Until we have won,
We have voices,
So why do you disable our voice?
We are not disabled, we are different,
It is not a disability
It is a DIFability.
And whoever said it is wrong to be different
That person is insignificant.
Disability is not contagious; ignorance is”
Preferring to characterise herself as DIFabled rather than disabled, her grandfather, Allan Wolman, today a resident of Tel Aviv, and a contributor to Lay of the land, describes the day Milla was born in Johannesburg, on 26 August 2007:
“It’s a day I will never forget. As you can imagine the anticipation of awaiting our first grandchild’s birth with much excitement and joy.
That joy quickly turned into awful anxiety with doctors and nurses frantically running in and out of the delivery room and seeing little Milla being carried into the neo-natal care unit looking very blue! A heart stopping moment. After her birth, she had oxygen deprivation for eight minutes! There was no diagnosis at birth other than brain damage, and not knowing how severe at the time.
Lying in a little incubator with tubes protruding and monitors beeping was traumatic for her parents and grandparents. She lay in the unit for two weeks without uttering a cry – which was more than concerning as the specialist pediatrician had advised that she would neither walk nor talk again. After an agonizing number of days, she eventually let out a little cry, which was cause for such relief and happiness – can you imagine that a faint cry can give so much joy and hope.”
That baby cry from the past is today a megaphone as teenager Milla cries out to a global audience.
Allan recounts Milla’s ‘journey’ as seen through their own journeys as grandparents “visiting the kids” in Sydney.
“When Milla was a few months older, we remember her just starting to sit up on her own, which again was cause for much celebration, and on subsequent visits celebrated her development albeit later than most children, but began walking with the help of a ‘walker’ and also her talking was difficult to understand due to her weak muscles and drooling. But naturally her mom and dad could understand everything – words just cannot describe those two incredible people – who created an atmosphere of normality.”
Milla attended a mainstream nursery school and “on our visits to Sydney, we – my wife Jocelyn and I – derived so much pleasure in taking and fetching her from school.”
At some stage, Allan recalls:
“Milla began to have epileptic seizures which were terribly traumatic and started to increase in frequency over a period of time. Naturally, the doctors gave her medication which was a worry because while calming it also had a slowdown effect. After struggling with the seizures for some time, her parents put her on cannabis oil – a wonder drug – and from having multiple seizures a day, the cannabis virtually stopped the seizures, and Milla has hardly suffered a seizure these past few years.”
Milla attended a mainstream primary and is presently at a regular high school and “Three years ago, participated in a six week programme at the Feuerstein Institute in Jerusalem. It was immensely beneficial to her learning as well as her confidence.”
Attesting to this confidence was “a terrific speech she made at her Bat Mitzvah,” affirms the proud grandfather followed by last month addressing the world on YouTube in her support for Paralympian Becca Meyers.
If once little Milla had no voice, today there is no silencing her as her message resonates beyond Australia to the world.
She ends her poem:
“Tremor, tremor, tremor,
Here they come again,
But this time
They won’t stop me…
I will never give up.”
We believe you Milla and we believe in you.
While the mission of Lay of the Land (LotL) is to provide a wide and diverse perspective of affairs in Israel, the Middle East and the Jewish world, the opinions, beliefs and viewpoints expressed by its various writers are not necessarily ones of the owners and management of LOTL but of the writers themselves. LotL endeavours to the best of its ability to credit the use of all known photographs to the photographer and/or owner of such photographs (0&EO).