Words: Erica du Toit, Western Cape APD | Photos: Courtesy of Will Guillum-Scott
William Guillum-Scott is fulfilling his dream of raising awareness on disability by paragliding off Signal Hill in Cape Town on Saturday, 26 October 2013. This may sound fairly ordinary, but for Will this is a life-long dream that has been unreachable until now, as paragliding companies had been reluctant to help him due to their perception of the high risk.
Will was preparing for the 1990 Trampolining World Championship in Essen, Germany when he had an accident during training. “Many people don’t realise the incredible heights one reaches on a trampoline, which can be up to two storeys high. A mistake in judgement at that height can be disastrous,” he says. He was only 16 years old when he injured his spinal cord and became a quadriplegic with little or no mobility below the shoulders. Up until that point in his life, everything he did had been aimed at becoming a surgeon and following in his father’s footsteps. “In an instant, every plan I had ever made was turned on its head and I had to begin looking for the proverbial ‘plan B’.”
His road since then has not been an easy one. However, with a philosophical view on life, he points out that at some stage one has to decide; do you want to live or do you want to die? Will believes, as a Christian, that no one is tested beyond their capability to endure. Ultimately, the choice belongs to the individual and after the choice is made, one question remains; how badly do you want it?
In Will’s case, he wanted it very badly. The first hurdle was to complete Matric, which entailed having to relearn how to learn. In those days, there were no smartphones or tablets, so he developed the ability to remember things photographically. This stood him in good stead at university where he studied for six years toward a B.Econ in Business Economics / Political Science and, subsequently, a BA in Psychology / Sociology. Will completed the course, but unfortunately, due to a combination of bad advice, disillusionment and naiveté, never actually graduated.
Unfortunately, as with most people who find themselves with a disability later in life, nothing prepared Will for the way the world views persons with disabilities. Many times people are told that they will have to live in a protected environment, they won’t be able to marry and have a family, much less earn an independent living instead of relying on a disability grant. This attitude removes the freedom of choice from the person, a basic human right, and forces them to comply with how society thinks they should behave.
People’s attitude towards persons living with disabilities is the greatest barrier to their living an independent and fulfilling life. The truth is that we are all people with disabilities; we have just not had that trauma or incident yet. For the most part, many of us will not have that experience, but we will all age, and with that comes a measure of hearing loss, low vision, and difficulty in getting around.
These attitudes did not deter Will from reaching his dream: living independently and inspiring others while doing so. He took on the mantra ‘Impossible is Nothing’ and is using this to carry the message that you can do anything if you set your mind to it, no matter whether you have a disability or not. “Looking back, I would advise anyone with a disability to be cautious in whom they look to for guidance. Don't let anyone make your decisions for you,” he warns.
It took Will a long time to find a niche and career for himself. It is evident that Will is someone who lives with passion and purpose, and so any career path that he chose would have to incorporate that passion. As Will says, “So here I am, having just turned 40 years old, doing social media. I absolutely love it, and it allows me to promote and speak about issues that I believe in, including awareness around disability, sustainable living, conservation, and tourism.”
He currently works for two non-profit organisations, the Cape West Coast Biosphere Reserve and the Western Cape Association for Persons with Disabilities. The first holds a special place in his heart and he will always be grateful to them for giving him the opportunity to spread his wings in the social media industry. The second, the Western Cape APD, is, surprisingly enough, where Will first discovered his passion for corporate social media, having set up their Facebook page as a volunteer. At the time, he was simply looking for something to do as an outlet for his passion for people. Sadly, non-profit organisations struggle daily for funding and he saw this as a way of paying it forward.
Will is still studying marketing, albeit for his own benefit. He views himself as one of the trailblazers, finding new and innovative ways to do what he does every day. He finds it exciting, but also humbling to think that in some way he has the opportunity to define an industry. Will reads as much information as possible on social media and online communication, and looks forward to the opportunity of sharing his own experiences and observations with others.
Will has never let his body, and its lack of mobility, define him. He works from home, for the most part lying flat on his back. His mind is active and rational, and he can communicate as well as anyone else. With a few devices added to his already impressive home PC system, he is able to work productively and efficiently.
Will has brought so much to our team [Western Cape APD] in the short while he has been with us! He has extensive knowledge of how social media works and was the logical choice to help us optimise our online presence. The nature of his work made it easy for us to accommodate his needs, so he works from home and uses Skype and e-mail to stay in contact with us, while weekly reports from him keep us up to date with his progress.
There are many ways in which employers can accommodate people with disabilities in the workplace, if they are prepared to recognise the tremendous benefits that can be gained by employing people with disabilities and be creative in finding workable solutions.
Will is also hoping to raise funds for the Western Cape APD, a group of volunteers and staff of dedicated people who work to create better communities, lifestyles, and workplaces for persons with disabilities.
Will’s message to other persons with disabilities is to educate yourself using the internet, to the point where you are employable. In many instances, this is free of charge. “The time for excuses is over. Ultimately, it comes down to desire. I have pursued many avenues over the years, looking for that one thing that I could do to pay the bills, but more importantly, make a difference at the same time. By the grace of God, I have finally found it, but it took many years of struggle and determination. If this is where you find yourself, all I can do is quote 2 Chronicles 15:7, "Be strong and do not give up, for your work will be rewarded."
This is truly an inspiring man, so be sure to go along to Sea Point on 26 October and watch him live out his mantra ‘Impossible is Nothing!’
This event is heavily dependent on the weather, so connect with Will on Twitter @guillum or Western Cape APD @WC_APD to make sure you have the latest information.
Please support Will in this initiative and show persons with disabilities that you care by visiting his GivenGain profile and making a donation! Alternatively, you can contact Mrs Erica du Toit at the Western Cape Association for Persons with Disabilities on (021) 555-2881 or via email on