I’m just like anyone else who has a burning desire to live life to the fullest and with purpose. I want to leave a mark on this planet with my work; connect meaningfully with others; be in love. These are all standard things for a 38-year old single successful guy to want. It’s common to want to explore a life that reaches all the edges of human emotion from frustration to wild elation depending on the day and to be free to express myself without fear of other people’s limiting beliefs, or what that should look like.
I have severe cerebral palsy, a condition that does not define me, but does confine me to an electric wheelchair and this creates a story in many people’s minds. A story that is not true.
Hear a story enough times though, have enough people afraid to meet your eye or shake your hand and you can make that mean something about your value. Not for me. I have spent a lifetime creating my own story. It would have been easy for me to sit back as a passenger to life and blame unchangeable factors about my circumstances and just accept my lot. It would have been easier to have continued to throw all my energy into being a workaholic and find all my value there. But being someone who has spent a lifetime smashing people’s misconceptions of what disability means, I could see that if I wanted people to understand that despite noticeable, purely physical disabilities, people are people and are pretty freaking amazing under that – I would have to keep pushing the boundaries of what I could achieve and educate as many as I could along the way.
Humans feel uncomfortable connecting with people or experiences that take them outside their knowledge or comfort zone. While I accept that, I also think that in today’s more welcoming landscape, evolving past that kind of prejudice and embracing all human beings makes us better people and makes for a more enjoyable, interesting life for all of us.
Growing up in the late 1980s, I was one of the first students with a disability to be integrated into mainstream schooling in New South Wales. My parents knew that despite my physical difficulties I had a sharp mind and should be educated the same way as everyone else. They advocated for me to go to a mainstream school but it was a tough battle as they were met by fierce resistance from people who didn’t want kids who were outside the expected usual at the school.
The Principal felt sure I would be hard work and I was only allowed to attend if I had an aide with me at all times. I didn’t need one and it was incredibly frustrating on days when the aide was sick or couldn’t make it, as I couldn’t go to school, which was a burden to my parents who worked full-time.
Turning up into a school environment that had never dealt with someone like me at a time when inclusion policies did not exist, meant that I faced a tough time. Back in those days, teachers and parents didn’t understand about helping kids accept someone who was obviously different and exclusion was rife, not just of me, but for any kid who was different in some way. There were many days when I didn’t want to continue going to school, but through supportive parents and an innate, fierce desire to show people another way, it drove me in the classroom and in every challenge I have met in life since.
I wanted to follow an Arts path but there was a lot of pressure on me to follow a career that would be potentially more financially successful so I was led towards computer science. After one semester I found that I hated it and left, transferring into a Business degree majoring in Marketing. I made a lot of good friends and didn’t get a lot of study done!
Leaving university, my next battle of determination was in finding work. I secured great interviews based on my resume, but turning up in a wheelchair always meant that I wouldn’t get a second one. After doing that for a year, I made a vow to myself that I would never work for anyone and I would always be my own boss.
Not long after this, I started my own graphic design and web design business and got a contract working with kids’ entertainment phenomenon, The Wiggles. That contract turned into a seven-year journey, where I managed their digital content, building interactive games reaching 10,000 kids a day.
Sometime later, I started looking to my future and the lights turned on when someone gave me a book called ‘The Last Lecture- Really Achieving your Childhood Dreams.’ This book resonated a deep lost chord within me. The book was the transcript of a lecture given by computer science professor Randy Pausch, sharing raw truths of how to live authentically. The poignant wisdom he shared in his last months of life suffering from terminal pancreatic cancer made me ask myself questions about how I was living, what I loved to do and what I was going to do next. Something he kept coming back to was – ‘What childhood dreams have you not followed up that need to be experienced?’ I realized that what had excited me most as a kid was telling stories, being highly creative, leading creative projects and watching them become something.
I went back to school and studied Animation and Visual Effects and I loved it. I didn’t have any idea how I would use the diploma but I just trusted that something would come of it. At the end of the two years I recognized that digital artists in feature films work physically taxing 10-hour plus days and I wondered how I could use what I had learned and make it work for me. In conversation with friends graduating alongside me, they were discussing how hard it was going to be to get a foot in the door of the industry, so I decided to build my own studio. This meant that I could create a producing role for myself and my friends could get the experience they needed to give them a body of work to set them on their path.
We decided we would make a fully CG animated, near Pixar quality, five minute music video as a flagship project. It was meant to take us six months but it ended up taking two years employing 16 people; most of whom I had graduated with. This was a great opportunity for all of the team who had been struggling to find employment to work on a polished product. Most days I felt like I was jumping off a cliff without a parachute, having no idea what I was doing, but had to trust that we would get there, and we did.
The music video called “Little Darling” won five international awards including Best Music Video at the Los Angeles Movie Awards and the Los Angeles Spotlight Film Festival 2015. It was an immensely rewarding experience. Artists on that project now work all over the world. On the back of that I have worked on other major projects and now have moved my focus towards the new and exciting world of Virtual Reality.
The potential for VR is enormous. We are only scraping the surface and it feels a beginning of things, like it was at the birth of mobile phone technology.
People tend to be closed to the infinite possibilities that are out there and I have learned that I can’t be like that. Many find it easier and more comfortable to take the path most travelled. I haven’t had that choice in my life and it has led me to explore the reaches of creativity. When you start kicking against closed doors it becomes tiring so sometimes you need a bulldozer!
It is only through having answers to the silently thought questions and through connection with people with differing abilities that able-bodied people can be bestowed a heightened level of awareness and acceptance. In living my truth I hope to cultivate deeper connections with people as they realize my feelings, dreams and desires are the same as their own. Being vulnerable and sharing with people about how I feel, even when it makes them uncomfortable is important. Understanding the power of vulnerability has given me a whole new freedom. Real, deep connection can only manifest when both people are in a position to let down their guard and be vulnerable with each other. This was a complete 180-degree turn from the way I had been previously interacting with the world. I had spent years giving off a resolute persona where I gave the impression that I was in total control and my feelings didn’t exist, just my intellect and a certain wry wit.
I did this because I felt it would somehow kick back at the standard view that people with disabilities are powerless, defenseless, naive and in constant danger of being taken advantage of. I believed that for me, relationships were completely out of my control and although feelings of hopelessness around that brought me considerable frustration, it was far easier to shut down this aspect of natural human experience, rather than face the mindf*&k that this kept presenting me.
Sexuality and disability remains a taboo subject and is an area that is important to talk about. Often people with disabilities are either stereotyped as being non-sexual, sexually dysfunctional or as having an infantile connection with sex; unable to navigate the complexities of a nuanced sexual relationship. The truth is far from this in my case and whilst my repertoire may not consist of 100 Karma Sutra positions, I am more than able to give and receive pleasure in equal measure. I was brought up to believe that my disability was merely a barrier to overcome and with confidence, sheer will and determination, anything was possible. This certainly led to my intellectual and business success and meant that I didn’t think twice about traveling the globe or doing a variety of things many wouldn’t have expected.
The only time I would find myself identifying as someone with a disability was in navigating unexpected physical barriers, so paradoxically this led to some trouble in my dating life as I was completely blind to talking about the ‘elephant in the room.’ I didn’t have the courage to address what was going on in my date’s head. These days I acknowledge any questions they might have and tackle that elephant straight on! For me to have a date that no longer feels like an awkward job interview, it requires me to be very open and connected.
In my life’s journey so far, I have traveled past being ‘smart’ or needing to prove myself to others. I see who I am and what I offer and am comfortable knowing that I am a loving, kind, gentle, quick-witted and thoughtful man among many other great and not-so-great traits. I’m enjoying showing some of those parts of myself to the world and seeing how the world responds in equal measure!
This has been an excerpt of Oliver's story, interviewed by Veronica Farmer, author of the new Amazon best seller 'Made Beautiful by Scars- Transformation stories" Book One. Oliver's story will appear in Book Two out 2018. To hear when Book Two is available sign up to our Story Tribe HERE
ABOUT OLIVER MORTON-EVANS
Oliver Morton-Evans has advocated for the rights for people with physical disabilities for most of his life. Having served as a board member of the Physical Disability Council of New South Wales for a number of years, Oliver was nominated for Young Australian of the Year in 1997 for founding a support group for students with disabilities. Oliver now runs a successful digital media company, pic4, and runs cuddle parties in his spare time.
Veronica Farmer, Author and Therapist, Brisbane, Australia. Passionate about sharing raw human stories that matter!