Story 34

Honour and privilege

Before my diagnosis with multiple sclerosis, I knew what ‘the disabled’ looked like and I'm sure I had the right instincts towards ‘them’.

Alastair Hignell

But I had no understanding of what it was like to be ‘disabled’ and no understanding of the myriad obstacles — born out of discrimination or disinclination, bureaucracy or bullying, ineptitude or ignorance, a failure of the imagination or a failure of the will — which disabled people have to face on an almost daily basis. In short I was not prepared for disability.

And I think I was totally unprepared for the reaction to my diagnosis. Family and friends were — and are — the foundation for everything. But it was the extraordinary warmth, generosity, encouragement and love from the world of sport in general and the world of rugby in particular that turned a life-changing event into a life-affirming one. I could not have become what I am today without the support of all these people.

So when there was a chance to ‘pay it forward’, first as patron of a small MS charity and more recently as a trustee of Leonard Cheshire Disability, I knew I wanted to help. As a schoolboy in the sixties, I had soaked up the stories of the war hero with the compassion of a saint. As the son of an RAF officer, I felt almost personally connected to the man who embodied all the principles I had been brought up to cherish.

I deeply share Leonard’s vision of a society in which each individual is equally valued and to aim for a world in which disabled people are not seen as problems to be solved but as valued and valuable contributors to the common good. And being a trustee to a charity which believes this is an honour and a privilege.

As the son of an RAF officer, I felt almost personally connected to the man who embodied all the principles I had been brought up to cherish.