A man from Accrington who defied the odds to recover from a late diagnosis of HIV and go on to fight for disability rights has been nominated for a national award.
Roland Chesters, who was given just two weeks to live at the time of his diagnosis, has suffered long term effects on his brain and motor skills because the virus was picked up and treated at a late stage.
He has overcome post-traumatic stress disorder, chronic ill health and discrimination to bring greater disability rights to the workplace and tackle the stigma surrounding HIV and AIDS.
Now Roland’s work has been recognised by The National Diversity Awards, whose supporters include Graham Norton, Katie Piper and Adam Hills.
Roland, who works as a disability development consultant at Luminate, said: “I am delighted to be nominated for such a prestigious award and hope it will raise awareness of the hidden disability that is HIV and AIDs.
“There is still a fear and ignorance about HIV, which puts people off getting tested. I want to spread the message that those on medication are undetectable and cannot pass it on.”
The NDA is the UK’s largest diversity awards, which recognises inspirational people in fields of diversity including age, disability, gender, race, faith, religion and sexual orientation.
Sir Lenny Henry CBE, previous shortlisted nominee for the Celebrity of the Year gong said; “Diversity to me means involving everybody without any discrimination; its means having integrated groups in society, it means fairness and total inclusion and that’s what the National Diversity Awards are about. Congratulations to everyone who has been nominated, you’re all doing a fantastic job, rock on!”
Roland, 59, became a chair for the disabled staff network at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, where he previously worked as a language-testing specialist. He introduced a change of policy - enabling disabled staff to no longer have to regularly change jobs.
The Royal Holloway University of London graduate helps employers in various industries to create an inclusive workforce and for their employees to develop confidence in their role.
Roland supports a number of charities and community projects, such as the Terrence Higgins’ Trust Positive Voices, where he speaks about HIV at schools, colleges and workplaces in order to tackle existing stereotypes.
He has volunteered as a mentor with Positively UK, a charity which offers peer-led support. During this time, he has supported people who have been ostracised and attacked after they ‘came out’ with their diagnosis
One man, who was sexually assaulted and cannot be named for legal reasons, was afraid to leave his home until he worked with Roland.
The man has nominated Roland for the award, saying: “Roland took me under his wing and helped me to conquer my fears as I use to lock myself indoors. Roland helps me say ‘I have HIV.”’
Roland, who was diagnosed in 2006, has also sat on a number of boards, including the National Long Term Survivors Group (NLTSG), which supports HIV Positive people, and the London AIDS Memorial Campaign and Disability Rights UK – where at the time he was the only gay, disabled person on the board.
Roland has bravely and widely shared his own story in order to break-down barriers. In 2018 he published Ripples from the Edge of Life, which is both a memoir and self-help book.
Roland, who continues to speak out at events and in the press, said: “I will not live in fear. I want to stand up for other people who may be more vulnerable or with less of a support network”.
“Until there are enough people living with the condition saying ‘this is who I am and I cannot pass on the infection the stigma will not go away.”
The NDA receives over 25,000 nominations and votes each year. Founder and CEO Paul Sesay said: “We look to those who represent progress, spirit and resilience and I cannot wait to learn about the wonderful work being carried out this year.”
· People can vote for Roland until May 31 at: https://nationaldiversityawards.co.uk/nominate/22526/
"I am delighted to be nominated for such a prestigious award and hope it will raise awareness of the hidden disability that is HIV and AIDs."
Roland Chesters, who has released a book