Featured Voices: Edward Ndopu
Edward Ndopu was diagnosed with Spinal Muscular Atrophy at the age of two. Doctors told his mother that Edward’s life expectancy was a short five years. Today, at 29, Edward has accomplished more than most people will in their lifetime. He describes his life as a “living manifestation of possibilities,“ and told the journal Space in Africa that he is “unapologetically brilliant, black, queer and disabled.” Despite inclusion laws, growing up in Cape Town, South Africa, didn’t automatically mean that students with disabilities were included in mainstream education. A 2017 report by the United Nations uncovered that 90% of children with disabilities in developing countries never attend school. When Edward was 7 years old, he professed a desire to go to school. His powerhouse mother approached every school in the area until one on the outskirts of town accepted him. This tenacity later helped Edward as an undergraduate majoring in Critical Pedagogies at Carleton University in Canada. As a member of the African Leadership Academy (ALA), he founded a student-led coalition called the Global Strategy for Inclusive Education to improve education rights for students with disabilities in emerging market economies.
During college, he was a research analyst for the World Economic Forum, focusing on the connections between business and education. He was also a program associate for the Clinton Global Initiative’s Global Minimum InLabs project. Continuing his education at Oxford University, he earned a Master’s degree in business and became the first African student with a severe degenerative disability to graduate.
Edward credits the ALA for preparing him for his variety of roles, including an appointment by the United Nations’ Secretary General to serve as 1 of 17 advocates for the Sustainable Development Goals. As the youngest and only member with a visible disability, he uses this platform to address “the toughest issues facing humanity” with heads of states and global leaders. The issue he’s most passionate about is inclusive education. Edward learned self-advocacy from childhood; he now uses this skill to help others by promoting equal access to education, and by serving as a role model for children with disabilities.
In 2017, Pacific Standard magazine featured Edward as one of its 30 Top Thinkers Under 30. That same year, he was a guest on the Centre for Public Impacts Podcast. NBC News covered him in 2018, and this year he was interviewed by The World Economic Forum.
Earth has not provided Edward with a large enough platform. His latest goal is to be the first person who uses a wheelchair in outer space. “I defied the odds and challenges that faced me at birth, and now it’s time to defy gravity,” he told Time. He believes that if he can speak to people from space, he will grab their attention and help them understand the necessity of creating a more accessible world.
Stay up to date on Edward’s space travel plans and other projects by following him on Twitter and Instagram.