I am very honored to be with you this evening: Rotary has a large and important tradition in the world and its objectives are understandable and important.
Here I want to mention your contribution aimed at eradicating polio, together with WHO and UNICEF: thanks to this commendable initiative in recent years the number of new cases of polio has fallen by more than 99 percent compared to the 80s , when the disease affected about 350,000 children a year.
Making available to others one’s own skills, own knowledge and own work defines a special way of life, open, welcoming, attentive to the difficulties and needs of the most diverse situations.
It is important that people like you, organized into structures so historically rooted, undertake initiatives in a society too often characterized by indifference and very little attention to relations with others.
Being able to share my project then becomes, tonight, all the more important and meaningful because I sense your true interest and deep involvement in issues that I have been involved with for some years now with determination and hope.
It is true that disability today, compared to the past, is no longer such a definitive limit so as to preclude the possibility of having a job, a house , a family, to travel , and why not, to dream even beyond.
This is because the scientific and technological progress, applied to transportation, the construction of buildings, prosthetic devices have achieved extraordinary results, such as to allow important steps in the direction of autonomy.
Moreover, if to all this a sport is added – even at an amateur level, the disability, while not being canceled can, however, no longer represent an insurmountable obstacle.
And this is especially true for children, for young people in an environment of this type can exercise not only the body but also the spirit, mind, emotions in an important social relationship, open-mindedness to the world.
However, it remains equally true that there are still many barriers to be removed: In addition to the architectural ones, explicit testimony of an inconceivable barbarity, it is important that our country reform the basic benefits package (livelli essenziali di assistenza – LEA), update the National Healthcare Fees and all those rules designed to safeguard the dignity of disabled persons.
It is crucial that you understand how necessary and vital it is to provide support to families who are caring for , often in desperate loneliness, a family member with difficulties and totally devoid of autonomy.
We must be able to build a country where no one will ever be left alone in pain and in need.
In the world there are over six hundred and fifty million people with disabilities, which represents more than 10% of the total population, and only in a few countries can these people enjoy a legislation which is adequate, fair and democratic, while in many others, they live in a state of marginalization and permanent disadvantage.
I have been swimming around the world for years, always meeting amazing people sensitive and attentive to the battle I’m leading : goodwill exists, even in the institutions.
Often, however, the person with a disability is forgotten, underestimated in his/her difficulty, supported and considered only from the health point of view, measured on the basis of the deficiencies and almost never based on the residual capabilities that could and should instead be the starting point for a journey that is both of recovery and full integration.
The principle that I will never get tired of repeating is that diversity is always, in any context, an enrichment, a resource. Let’s tear down the mental barriers, once this is done the rest will come by itself.
Every person has a story. A story that can be modified, changed, improved. Even in a difficult historical moment like this. Our biggest mistake, I think, is to try to awaken in each one qualities which one does not possess, neglecting to cultivate those qualities that one has: The future is already here, it’s just badly distributed.
In closing, together with you I would like to express my joy and my delight at the opportunity that the United Nations has offered me: on June 9 in New York, at the opening of the 7th Conference of the States Parties to the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, June 10 to 12, I will attend to bring my testimony and my hopes, to contribute what little I can to improve the lives of all those who – by themselves – are unable to do so. On June 28 instead I will participate in the New York Manhattan Island Marathon Swim, 28.5 miles of cold water and physical exertion: I hope that also in that circumstance my enthusiasm, my desire to live and to participate are able to kindle hope in the hearts of all those who are have given up.