Clifford Portelli – Video Interview

Date of Birth: 23/9/1978

Where do you live? Paola

Status: In a relationship

Star Sign: Libra

Occupation: Helpdesk Officer at KNPD


Can you give us a brief outline of your life so far? 

My name is Clifford and I am thirty five years old. When I was around thirteen years old, I was pretty active and loved skateboarding and break dancing or as they call it today ‘B-Boying.’

Back then, I always pushed my limits and tried to understand and discover more about life. As a boy, I loved growing up.

When I was sixteen, I had an accident while diving which resulted in a spinal cord injury at C5/C6 in my neck. As a result, I am a tetraplegic, which means that I am paralysed from the neck down.

After my accident, there were many moments when I felt really alone. Times when I felt that I did not really fit into society and felt useless. But it then occurred to me that, as a teenager, I had already experienced these feelings and fitting in with my peers was difficult, even before the accident. I then realised that I needed to go through these experiences again but this time, from a different aspect. I then took on a different approach to known situations and this helped me grow.

I tried to fit in once again. I tried to get back to my life with friends and family. This was not easy as initially everyone looks at you as if you have just been born and are a baby again. So I had to push to change these attitudes and I showed everyone that I wanted to get back to my groups and that I was still that same Clifford.

Today, I have a big family and many friends … a bigger family, in fact. Many people have helped me get through so many different obstacles. They recognise my perseverance and encourage me. Today, I regard these difficulties as goals that I have achieved for myself.

So far, I have lived my life with all its ups and downs, as everyone does. I have never wanted to get stuck in one place. I don’t like to say that’s enough and am always striving to do more. If I can do more, then I am surely not going to sleep on it.

Sixteen years ago, I met Josianne and as my partner, she has been very understanding and supportive every step of the way. She has been instrumental in my achieving what I have achieved so far.

I’d like to say to everyone that it is important to approach life with the philosophy of an explorer, ‘to always seek to go forward, discover, learn and live.’ If you stop and look back, you’ll proudly say that you’ve been there and in turn, can help others move forward, too.

You are an inspiration to a lot of people, but what inspires you?

I don’t think that I am an inspiration for other people. What inspires me is meeting other people with a disability who are still active, living in society, people who fight for their rights and struggle to better their own lives. Those people are really inspirational to me.

Where did you find the strength to move on after the accident? Was it an internal or external motivation?

I had little motivation left after my accident, but thankfully, I am an active person and it did not take me long to get back in touch with my friends again. Many of my friends at the time were very welcoming and helped me feel included once again in their group. However, since this was eighteen years ago, I did struggle since the services for people with disability in Malta were very limited when compared to what they are today. My motivation was also inspired by my rebellious nature, which helped me to fight against all the challenges I had to face. I found that the more I fought back and the more I achieved my goals, the more I was motivated to persuade other people to join the cause.

You are an activist with ‘Breaking Limits’. Can you tell us more about this NGO?

Breaking Limits –

Breaking Limits is an NGO that was founded around two years ago and supports activism for people with a disability, aiming to help them live independent lives within society. We support any kind of inclusion and we also collaborate with many other NGOs towards various causes. When I was first approached to join Breaking Limits, I was very sceptical about joining an NGO since many of them only focus on organising activities for leisure. Breaking Limits is different in that way. It promotes activism and has worked on various policies with governmental officials, as well as getting involved in talks, discussions and seminars.

I am also involved in another NGO, which I founded back in 2011 which supports people with spinal cord injuries. Many accidents happen during the summer months, due to diving incidents. However, spinal cord injuries are not just limited to them. Unfortunately there isn’t much awareness about the topic and services for this condition are lacking and do not cater much for inclusion. Spinal cord injuries, unlike other conditions, require more professionalism, awareness and knowledge to treat. There are many problems that have to be addressed, such as segregation at home and in bed, which makes it impossible to go to work.

What do you say to people who are negative about life in general?

I understand how people can get into that kind of mind-set. I have been working in the sector helping people with disability for the past twelve years now and I come across many cases where people’s attitudes vary. My message to people who are struggling in life and want to give up, is to not lose faith and to always try again and again to make themselves heard and get their message across. I believe that their opinions matter and they are not unheard. Every method of communication is essential to make yourself heard and to bring about change.

Can you tell us more about the Accessibility Icon?

The Accessibility Icon is a project that started a couple of years in America and is now being introduced in Malta by the National Commission of Persons with Disability. Oliver Scicluna is the key person behind this initiative which portrays an icon which highlights the activism of people with disability. The icon depicts the head and shoulders of the person leaning forward, pushing the chair, meaning that the person is active in society and is pushing himself forward. It signifies that the person is trying to make a difference, even though he faces obstacles and it gives a positive message with regard to this topic.


Any message to the Maltese public?

I work in the sector for people with disability and I can say that I really hate abuse with regards to disability in Malta. We abuse many systems but when it concerns disability, abusing the system can really negatively affect the people who are truly in need. To mention one, parking spaces for disabled people are limited and the number of people that apply for this benefit are not always honest about their condition. This kind of abuse needs to be reported either to the National Commission of Persons with Disability or to the police. If you don’t need them now, you might need them in the future, so don’t abuse them as they are very valuable for people with disabilities.