Bernadette Rigney, Transformation and Disability Awareness Officer, City of Johannesburg, is a Casual Day ambassador. The programme she serves is to provide inspiration and motivation to participants and beneficiaries, thereby driving sticker donations.
Ambassadors create awareness by telling their own stories and their quest is for respect and acknowledgement for persons with disabilities who the hope to offer a little magic. South Africa’s most successful fundraising project for people who fall into this category, Casual Day raised R24.8 million. Sponsored by the Edcon Group, it is the flagship project of the National Council for Persons with Physical Disabilities, which this year falls on 5 September and celebrates 75 years of service to the community.
The funds are raised through a R10 donation for a sticker and this year’s theme is Bring out the Bling. “Casual Day,” Bernadette says, “provides the country with the opportunity to show their solidarity with persons with disabilities, at the same time enjoying teambuilding and camaraderie with their fellow participants. It gives South Africans the opportunity to be creative and have fun while contributing to the betterment of society. It is community spirit in action.”
She and all employees of Joburg Municipality will participate in Casual Day, and they challenge all other metros in the country to join in the fun. Participants need to take photos of their Casual Day campaign activities and post them on social networks. “The idea is to get Casual Day trending,” she explains. “So let’s see who can bring out the most bling. Add your photos to Twitter and Facebook with the hashtag #CasualDay2014 #BringOutTheBling. The winning city will be announced on the Casual Day website.”
Project Leader Celeste Vinassa says: “We have chosen Bernadette as an ambassador because she is a rolemodel and has the ability to generate enthusiasm about a project wherever she goes. The campaign relies on volunteers and people who use their celebrity status to bring about greater awareness of the mission. They are happy to speak about their own experiences to give their followers a deeper understanding of what Casual Day is and how it benefits persons with disabilities. They assist participants and beneficiaries to raise donations, appearing on TV and radio shows as advocates for the project.”
Over the past eight years the 34-year-old Bernadette has proved that determination and courage can both inspire and catapult change. The Sandton-based powerhouse has been involved in numerous activities and projects to bring about positive change in the lives of those living with a disability.
“As an employee of the City of Johannesburg I am in a unique position to bring attention to the issues and challenges. This has not only opened up opportunities for me but for other disabled people. It has also created opportunities for Joburg to evolve into a World Class City for all,” says Bernadette. She is the founder and director of Ability, a company that shares innovative ideas and technology to assist and improve the lifestyles of persons with physical disabilities.
Bernadette was born in 1980 with a rare condition called arthrogryposis, which affects the joints and limits the range of motion in her hands and legs. The condition in no way affected her intellectually, so she initially attended the mainstream Dominican Convent School in Johannesburg.
“But in Standard 1 (Grade 3) it became apparent that getting from class to class – up flights of stairs – was getting more and more difficult,” she says. “My parents reluctantly placed me in the Astra School for the Physically Disabled in Montana, Cape Town.”
Returning to Johannesburg in 1995, she completed Matric at Hope School in Parkhurst. Then she had the opportunity to travel to the United States and lived in North Carolina. “While I was in the States, I realised how much technology there is out there to make daily living easier. I returned to South Africa in 2000 and went to work for a cosmetic company in Sandton. In 2006 I applied for a position at the City of Johannesburg and I have been involved in several projects where I made an impact on the lives of persons with disabilities. I was recently appointed to my current position as Transformation and Disability Officer for the City,” she elaborates.
Bernadette is also a motivational speaker and she stays positive by surrounding herself with amazing friends who don’t see her as disabled. “I don’t see life as a challenge, it’s more of an adventure,” she says. “Dreams have this li’l habit of coming true!”
She urges NGOs, government departments, municipalities and companies to start planning a year-long campaign because “it is a project that we work on all year”.
The national beneficiaries of the funds raised this Casual Day are:
National Council for Persons with Physical Disabilities in SA
South African National Council for the Blind
South African Federation for Mental Health
Deaf Federation of South Africa
Autism South Africa
Down Syndrome South Africa
National Association for Persons with Cerebral Palsy
South African National Deaf Association
National Institute for the Deaf
Alzheimer’s South Africa
South African Disability Alliance
QuadPara Association of South Africa.
Stickers can be bought from participating schools and centres that provide services to persons with disabilities. See www.casualday.co.za for a participant in your area. Many companies participate and stickers can be bought at the workplace. They are also available at all Edcon stores, which include the following brands: Edgars, Jet, JetMart, Boardmans, CNA, Red Square and LEGIT. Stickers will also be available at Absa, Game and DionWired stores, Checkers, Checkers Hyper and Shoprite.