I MET a patient named Tony. He had asked to see the chaplain and so I obliged. He was intelligent and had a wicked sense of humour.

I tend, like many of you, to see the person, and this is someone, with whom, I would gladly have had an enjoyable coffee and a conversation where we put the world to rights.

His ideas were creative and full of common sense and I think things would be better if we put some of his suggestions in place.

My fear is, however, that few will take time to listen to Tony. Why? Because Tony has cerebral palsy. This is a condition with a range of symptoms which include differences in speech and communication, muscle spasms, and balance and mobility problems.

These are not insurmountable issues, but the fact is, that so many people see the disability and not the ability. So Tony explained to me how, on numerous occasions, people have asked him if he is drunk because of his unsteady gait. In fact, when walking with his stick, someone asked him if he was carrying a sword!

Tony does a lot of valuable work for local charities because he wants to make a difference to people, but he has found the job market difficult, not because of his ability but because of discrimination.

And he has faced insults shouted at him in the streets. In spite of all this, he remains optimistic. Now, some of this abuse is just down to evil people in our society who take pleasure in hurting those who are different.

I heard of a young man with cerebral palsy whose so-called friends thought it would be funny if they tied his shoelaces together and watch him fall over. Not funny, just cruel and subhuman and a reflection of their depravity.

However, some of the difficulties Tony faces are just caused by thoughtlessness and ignorance. So here’s my advice: Before you see the label, see the person.

If not, then it is highly unlikely that you will get the pleasure of spending time with people who can enhance your life. And you will be the one missing out.