Is There Someone More Active in the Parking Lot?

You tell me, what’s the change here?

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Yes, finally – movement!

Who would have thought, people with disabilities move?! Okay, I know that was a snarky comment, but really. the evolution to the most accurate depiction of people with disabilities can just take forever.

Last month I noticed this new symbol painted on the freshly paved parking lot of a facility I go to a few times a week for work. I remember glancing at it as I hurried into a meeting and thinking, “Well, that’s cool. We’re now in motion.”

A week later I was in a meeting, discussing the celebration for the 25th anniversary of the American with Disabilities Act, when someone mentioned the well-recognized symbol for people with disabilities was changing to promote the reality that having a disability involves an active life.

The more appropriate and empowering depiction is part of the Accessible Icon Project, founded by Sara Hendren and Brian Glenney. Hendren was quoted in
Washington Post article as saying,

… Our symbol speaks to the general primacy of personhood, and to the notion that the person first decides how and why s/he will navigate the world, in the broadest literal and metaphorical terms.

New York State was the first to officially approve the update of the symbol and removing of the dreaded word “handicapped” on signs. The latter is significant since it was derived from the 1800s when people with disabilities were forced by lack of services to put their “hand in their cap” and beg for money.

You can promote the more empowering change in the symbol by asking places you patronize if one, they are aware of the change, and two, if they would consider making updates on their property. At least in New York, you can tell them it’s now the law.

You can download the new icon here or find out more about the project.

Posted in Changing Attitudes | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Preparing for My Homily?

So this week is certainly a different kind of post…..
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For those who know me quite well, you know that although I am a rather spiritual person, I am very private about that part of my life.

This coming weekend, my church will “out” me on that, as they have ask me to co-present the homily in honor of the 25th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) this Sunday. Our church, All Saints in Syracuse, is also having its groundbreaking this weekend on an elevator in its new parish center to make it accessible for all. Last Fall over $500,000 was pledged in just three weeks for this project.

Keep on reading to find out how I connect the story of Jesus feeding a mob of people with five loaves of bread and two fishes with the ADA.

Even today when I hear this reading, I go back to those thoughts of amazement I had as a little girl, sitting in church and hearing about “The Five Loaves of Bread and Two Dried Fish.” I think, “Now really, how did he make that happen?” As a little girl, I would sit in church and try to visualize exactly how each one of those people got fed.

Eventually, my mind grew tired of trying to figure it out and I gave in to it just being one of those weird mysteries the nuns at my Catholic school always spoke about.

It was until well into adulthood that I realized the “mystery” of all these mysteries is the mind shift that occurs, a transformation of our own beliefs from what can’t be done to focusing on what’s possible.

Think about a situation in your own life. A circumstance that felt impossible, too hard, too challenging, and maybe too expensive. Did it feel like a huge barrier? Did you brood on it, keep letting it roll around in your mind? Perhaps even allowed it to keep you awake at night?

And then, one day out of what seems like the blue, the solution to your dilemma suddenly seems more reachable, more doable, and maybe within the stretch of your wallet. What happened? What changed?

Your mind. Your beliefs. Your willingness to be open to possibilities.

That, my friends, is a mind shift.

You begin to believe and put your energy into what can happen, rather than hopelessly face the limits presented by the situation.

This is what Jesus did with the loaves and fish…and so many other things. Rather than accept “No,” or “This can’t be done,” he said, “Well, let’s think about this differently. Let’s think about what we can give ALL people, rather than try to ration to a few.”

Jesus’ mysteries weren’t in some woo-woo magic as much as they were in teaching us that the magic is in us when we embrace all and reach for what’s possible.

Hard to believe, but in 1990, Congress displayed that it even had this sense of magic by finally legalizing for people of all abilities physical access, public accommodations, and fair employment. Twenty-five years ago this Sunday, our nation demonstrated that if we don’t begin embracing ALL, reaching for the possibilities, and making it happen, then we might as well be throng of people grappling over a couple of fish and loaves of bread.

Last Fall, this parish also displayed the magic of this mind shift and over $500,000 was pledged in just a few weeks to place an elevator in our new center and make it accessible for ALL. Whether you were conscious of it or not, you were engaging in the core of Jesus’ “loaves and fishes” teaching – believe in what’s possible and make it happen. It’s not a mystery; it’s the miracle of life.

Posted in Reach for the Possibilities | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

“What’s Wrong with You?” The Perfect Answer

Don’t you just hate this question?
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I can certainly understand a five-year old asking it of someone with a disability. I always use it as a teachable moment with kids and begin by saying, “I walk and talk differently because I have cerebral palsy.” Depending on their age, they may be satisfied with that or if they have a heightened sense of curiosity, it may lead to a discussion about what cerebral palsy is. Either way, it’s all good.

It’s when adults ask me this, is when I have difficulty. We won’t even discuss here about the need to back to Sensitivity and Manners 101. Let’s talk about the myth people are perpetuating when they ask this question.

“What’s wrong with you” implies that there’s an inherent flaw that needs to be corrected in someone. This is not the case with people with disabilities. A disabling condition is just a facet of who we are, among all our other attributes. When people use the word wrong and we all know they mean our disability, they are implying it is bad, faulty, mistaken, out of line, rotten, etc. (just check out Thesaurus.com for all the lovely synonyms) to have a disability.

I think not.

Now, I don’t want to be wrong by saying having a disability is all fun and roses. My gosh, it’s hard work and can be so frustrating at nearly every turn, but there is NOTHING faulty or bad about it. That’s merely in how we perceive it.

Years ago I was buying new living room furniture. I stopped in at a store and met this lovely saleswoman, who gave me a handful of fabric samples to take home to hold up to my freshly painted walls. I probably spent 45 minutes with her looking at furniture and fabric. The next week I dutifully returned the samples. She thanked me and said, “Now, tell me, what’s wrong with you?”

I quickly covered up the shocked look on my face. The shock came not from her asking that of me. I know people are always thinking that. The shock was more insensitivity of how she phrased her question. This was just a social skill my mother taught me from early on.

So I looked her in the eye, smiled, and said, “Nothing.” I also let the silence of her speechlessness hang there for a bit. Really wished those were the days when our cell phones had cameras.

After I let her sit in a little discomfort, I explained how I have cerebral palsy. Did she get the lesson of nothing being wrong with me? Probably not, but I got the perfect answer to an awful question.

What ways have you responded to similar questions? Please share in the comments below.

And if you’re reading this and thinking, “Oh no, I have asked that before,” no worries. Life is all about learning. Try one of these questions:

1. I see you________________ (i.e. use a wheelchair), can you tell me why?
2. May I ask about your disability?
3. I am curious about ________________ (whatever your observation is), can you tell me a bit about it.

Just for the record, I always appreciate people wanting to learn more because that’s how we expand our thoughts and beliefs. Just think out how you phrase your question.

Posted in Empowering Language, How Others React | Tagged , | Leave a comment

What Does the Americans with Disabillities Act Have to do with Same Sex Marriage?

Access, privilege, kindness, respect.

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The American with Disabilities Act (ADA), when passed 25 years ago this month, opened up, not to mention, legalized access for the 26 million Americans who live with a disability. People finally had the legal right to access public transportation. It was at last legal to take someone to court over employment discrimination. Public places, like restaurants and stores, had to become ADA compliant and provide accommodations for people.

Now granted, there’s still a lot of work and complying to do to create universal access, but the ADA has been a monumental act. I believe it helped catapult the recognition and value of people with disabilities.

I believe it also invoked something else – kindness and respect. The ADA essentially said, “Okay, we get it now. You need a curb cut, so as a nation that prides ourselves on equality for all, we’re going to make that happen. We’re doing it because we finally get that it’s our duty to make access easier for you (kindness) and we respect that you’re entitled to the same privileges (being able to use a sidewalk) as anyone else.”

Two weeks ago, the US Supreme Court legalize same sex marriage throughout the country. I realize this is a hot button issue and you may disagree with me, but take a moment to hear how this heterosexual woman with a disability sees it and how to me, it’s very akin to what the ADA did for people with disabilities.

Many people are born with disabilities, something that is innate to our being. I have always believed that our sexual orientation is something we’re born with. Can you explain why you’re heterosexual, homosexual, or bisexual? If you can, please share in the comments below, because I can’t. I just know that beginning early on, I was attracted to men beginning with Shaun Cassidy (yes, those of you born after 1980 won’t even know who that is).

So like people with disabilities, why should gay people not have the access and privilege of marriage just because of something inherent to their being?

While my husband and I view our marriage as sacred, as this same sex marriage issue has been duked out, we see how legally marriage is more a privilege. As a self-employed person, I got a huge “raise” when I married because I could go on my husband’s insurance and stop paying $500 a month for health insurance. That was just a privilege at the time because I entered into an opposite sex marriage (how come we don’t say that more?).

When we adopted our son, we could easily submit a copy of our marriage license and no further questions we asked. We BOTH became his legal parents. That’s a privilege.

I could go on, but I think you get my point. The ADA granted the PRIVILEGE of ACCESS that so many assume is a right because they’re Americans. Legalizing same sex marriage grants the ACCESS to the PRIVILEGE of marriage that so many assume is their right as human beings.

At the core of passing these two significant laws is, whether or not people are aware of it, the crucial elements of kindness and respect for people different than ourselves. Isn’t that what our world needs more of?

Posted in All We Need is Love | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Inspiring Words for Daring Greatly

It’s finally summer and the living should be easy, right? Or at least…easier?

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This year I’m not quite feeling that summer breeze yet. You have been reading for most of a year now about the massive transition I am doing with Radiant Abilities as I wind down my counseling practice and launch online personal development trainings.

Like most things in life, I did not realize just how massive this was going to be. My web developer and all-around right-hand man, Chris Casey of Techtonic Media, has done a phenomenal job with the new site. It’s fresh, bright, and appealing. It will grab you. You’re going to love it!

And Eden Nguyen of Minimummeans.com has come in as the graphic designer to create outstanding visuals, guide sheets, and PDFs for you that accompany each video.

But we’re still working on finalizing everything before we launch.

Which brings me back to the lack of a summer breeze. I have often ask myself in this last year, why I decided to take this leap of faith at this time in my life when life is already filled with so many blessings. I am in the privileged position in my family life of being “sandwiched” a little boy who needs a lot from him mommy right now and spending precious time with my wonderful parents (who have really given me everything) who are in their upper 80s.

I could have easily kept plugging along with my counseling and consulting business, with the exception of one little thing…..I have such a passion to help people with disabilities to LIVE GREAT AND DARING LIVES!

For me, counseling was no longer quite hitting that professional need in me and I am a strong proponent of stepping out of your comfort zone when our comfort begins to dull us.

Just when I needed them, I came across some words to jumpstart me with some inspiration for this hard work. As you read them, think about the hard work in your life now. Whether it’s living with a disability, caring for a loved one with a disability, or just adjusting to your kids being home for the summer, allow the words to remind you why you do the hard work and dare greatly.

It is not the critic that counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.

Quote is from Teddy Roosevelt’s 1910 “Citizenship in a Republic” speech, excerpt found in Scrum: The Art of Doing Twice the Work in Half the Time by Jeff Sutherland.

Posted in Believe in Yourself, Confidence Builders, LIVE your life, Taking Risks | Tagged , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Who Needs an Amusement Ride When You Have a Disability?

I had another firewalk moment last week.

For those of you that are familiar with my book, Firewalk: Embracing Different Abilities, you know that I refer to a firewalk as those moments in life when you take the fear of doing something along with you as you take a risk, rather than allowing the fear to stop you.
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Last week my firewalk involved Slimey’s Chutes at Sesame Place.

Are you laughing or just perplexed by the last sentence?

Last week my husband and I took our three-year old to Sesame Place, a wonderful little amusement park outside of Philadelphia, based of course on Sesame Street. I have been living in the world of Sesame Street for the past three years. My son cannot get enough of Elmo and Abby, so our journey to Sesame Place has become a summer ritual.

This year Jaden is old enough to go on a few more of the rides. Now, I have to say, I am not an amusement ride person. I’m the kind of person who has to take motion sickness pills for long car rides and I get seasick on cruises. I usually leave the riding part of parenthood to Scott, my roller coaster-loving husband.

However, I love the water! So a ride involving me being in water tempts my otherwise queasy self. And there was another factor at work here. Jaden is already beginning to understand there are many physical things I can’t do (run for more than 20 feet, carry him home from a walk when he’s tired, button his shirts, etc). I want him to see me do some physically fun things.

So, using my mantra of “breathing through fear,” I stood in the long, hot line with my family, coaching myself that I could do this. By the way, being a water ride, we were of course barefoot and had to stand on the hot cement for twenty minutes, so it did feel like a firewalk!

Scott took Jaden in his inner tube and I followed in my own tube. I swear the ride was not even thirty seconds, but I uncontrollably let out petrified gasps the entire way down. When Scott greeted me at the end of the “chute” I said, “That was a little scary.” He replied, “Are you serious?”

It wasn’t until a couple days after we got home, that I got the lesson:

When you live with a disability, when you can’t always control your muscle movements, when you never know when you will fall or drool, who needs an amusement ride? You have built-in excitement. Our children will learn far more from how we handle that, than whether or not we go down a water slide.

What’s your take on amusement rides? Love them or hate them? Tell me why in just one word.

Posted in Lessons Learned, Parenting with a disability, The Power of Disability | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Four Strategies to Successfully Handle Discomfort…

And How They Paid Off BIG for Me! This would have been the rest of the title but I would had definitely ran out of room.

You always know when someone is uncomfortable with your disability or your child’s disability, right? I’ll be honest, many times my first inclination is to dismiss these people, telling myself I don’t have time to wait around for their comfort level to rise.

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Like all great lessons in life, I learned by doing this I may be passing up significant opportunities to connect with people. Sometimes you may need to allow some room for discomfort and learning about your disability.

The people who may ultimately connect deeply with you may not have experience or knowledge about disabilities – and that’s okay. This creates tremendous growth for both of you.

When this discomfort arises, it’s crucial to not take it personally. Whenever people, whether you’re dating them, working with them, or they’re in your family, have discomfort with your disability, it’s not about you. ,Discomfort with a disability has to do with the people having the discomfort; not you.

Although I had known this all in my head for years, I was able to really get it in my heart several years ago, while out on a first date.

I had “met” this guy online and had been emailing with him for a few weeks before we decided to meet. We had discussed my disability beforehand since I was always pretty upfront about it. He warned me he was quiet and shy and I might be doing the majority of the talking. No problem there for me.

Over dinner he was quiet and reserved, but I knew immediately I liked him. As we got into dessert, I decided to check with him about how he was doing with my disability.

Big tears instantly welled up in his eyes and began to roll down his cheeks. “I don’t know if I can do this.”

My heart sank and I thought, I am never going on another date. I was wise enough to let go of that thinking, knowing it would just keep me at home eating tubs of Ben & Jerry’s.

Instead, I used these four strategies:

1. Take a deep breath.
2. Remind yourself this is not about you.
3. Let go of any expectations you may have and support people as they process their thoughts and feelings.
4. Be courageous and let someone know if you’re interested, despite the discomfort.

My date and I talked for quite a while that night about his discomfort. I let him know I was interested in him and would like to get to know him, despite his discomfort with me. I left the ball in his court, though.

The next evening I received an email that went along these lines, “I’m still very unsure about your disability, but you are beautiful and so confident in yourself, I have to get to know you.”

Two years later we were married. You never know what might come of working through the discomfort.

Posted in Believe in Yourself, Confidence Builders, Dating Resources, How Others React, Lessons Learned | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

What Does Lady Gaga Has To Do With Disabilities?

Yes, I am writing another post on Lady Gaga. I know, I can’t believe it myself! I would not certainly not identify myself as a fan. I’m not sure if I would be able to identify any of her songs on the radio. Let’s also say that she and I definitely have different fashion tastes.

Nevertheless, I knew I had to write about her message again, after I watched this video last week.

From the Anti-Defamation League website, adl.org

From the Anti-Defamation League website, adl.org

Before I share the video link, let me explain why I believe Gaga’s message resonates with people with disabilities. In a nutshell, her message about acceptance of one’s uniqueness and acceptance of others.

Whether you’re gay, overweight, live with a disability, believe you don’t have the “right” looks, use a wheelchair, or have another difference which sets you apart, Gaga is speaking to you.

She’s telling YOU (yes, you!) to embrace yourself, your difference, and live your life! Ummm…sounds a bit familiar?

Lady G is also saying everyone matters and we just need to invoke tolerance and kindness. Very fundamental lessons we first hear from our parents which really do change lives and the world.

Check out Lady Gaga Accepting ADL’s Making a Difference Award for yourself. The video is on the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) website as part of their No Place For Hate campaign.

ADL is historically known for stopping the denigration of Jewish people, but has become a leading advocate of civil rights for all. Their message and mission also fits well for creating a world that is more embracing of all abilities. To watch the video, you’ll have to provide your name and email address. Hearing a message about the inclusion of all people is worth sharing your info.

If you’re new to my blog in the last couple years, or just want a retread, check out Born This Way, my first Gaga post.

Share with me below what you think about Gaga’s message and if you think it’s applicable to people with disabilities in the comments below. Or join the discussion, like some people did last week, on Facebook.

Posted in Believe in Yourself, Confidence Builders, LIVE your life | Tagged , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

The Most Damaging Word for Empowerment

Confession time….and this is an embarrassing one.

I sometimes listen to one of those sappy (and I do mean sappy) dedication shows that are on the radio in the evening. There, I said it. I’m not proud of it, but when I’m driving seems to be the rare time these days when I listen to music versus my typical podcasts or the news.

Last week I listened as a guy called in and dedicated a song to his wife. He explained how they met in Columbia, although they’re both from the States. He was there on a work assignment for the State Department. They began to date and then she thought about returning home, but decided to stay and see if the relationship would work out. They have been married five years.

The guy ended the call with, “I’m thankful she has stayed with me despite the fact I am blind.”

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Ugh! That was a disappointing end to a relatively sweet story. Not the fact that he is blind, of course, but that by using the word despite that conveys that his blindness somehow makes him unloveable.

When we use the word despite in association with disabilities, we are negating all the strengths and assets that having a disability can bring to who we are. Despite by definition is a negating word. According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, despite indicates a “detriment and disadvantage.”

A disability definitely makes things more difficult and challenging at times. In order to fully step into empowerment, though, it is important that we stop using language that diminishes personal wealth the difficulty and challenge of living with disability gives to us.

If the guy dedicating the song to his wife wanted to mention his blindness, what’s a more empowering way he could had framed it? See my suggestion below in the comment area.

Posted in Confidence Builders, Empowering Language | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

Three Ways to Remember Your Why

Do you ever have times when you’re working hard on a project or goal and lose sight of why you’re doing it?

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I certainly have! I often admit I get tunnel vision. I have a tendency to get over-focused. In writing, developing, and producing a training video, I can get caught up in the thousand minute details that it takes to bring my idea to a finished piece.

In working on say a video on sexuality and relationships, I’ll spend hours writing content, checking for typos, and if the video will upload in the format it’s in. While this focus is needed, I can lose sight of why I am making the video to begin with – to provide resources and guidance in helping other people with disabilities be successful in dating and enjoy fulfilling relationships.

In our pursuit for professional and personal goals, it’s so helpful to step back and remember YOUR why. Last week while on vacation, I had a great opportunity that reminded me of my why.

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En route to Virginia Beach, I met a teenager with cerebral palsy who clearly has a great deal of determination. She has participated in 5K runs, is about to attempt a 10K run, and the day before we met, she did a triathlon. She has a specially made bike, which gave me bike envy, to help her participate. To me, that’s brilliant problem solving and that creativity will take her far.

In addition to talking about her athletic feats, we discussed some of the harder issues that come with living with a disability and in a body that’s different. In talking to this spirited young woman, I was reminded of my why: to acknowledge and support people in what is hard about living with a disability while offering encouragement to reach for dreams and get the life you want.

I need to remember my why every day. Here are three strategies I use to remember my why:

1. Stop whatever I am doing for three minutes to consciously breathe, step back and look at the forest through the woods.
2. I literally ask myself why I am doing what I’m doing AND make myself answer the question.
3. As evidenced from last week, get out and meet people. Connecting with others most profoundly connects you with your why.

Your turn now. Take two minutes to comment below on what helps you get connected to your why. You’ll see an additional strategy from me down there.

Posted in Family Support, Parenting Children with Disabilities, Professional Support, Strategies/Techniques | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment
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