Guest Author - Monica J. Foster
As an individual with a disability, or even the parent of a special needs child, it is still important to make and keep resolutions. Why not make stronger awareness of your Self and create means of awareness of disability for others your resolution for 2010? Teach others about your own or your child's disability and abilities!
It’s become a normal way of life trying hard to understand why employers and teachers do not recognize the great value of people with great abilities – the largest minority group crossing all minority groups in the world. We, people with all disabilities, are the largest group unemployed in the United States today. It is so frustrating, but we must press on!
In addition, we wonder when medical and school systems will stop labeling children with disabilities and telling parents “don't expect too much from your little Suzie. Just sit them in a corner and love them.” I have met many young adults in my life who were told they could not and would never, ever work, but they became independent, have someone to love them beyond their families and are leading lives beyond limits. Yet, they are thriving.
I wonder why some parents themselves lower expectations and dreams for their own children. My parents didn’t lower expectations for me. Why the opposite for so many others? There are times when limits imposed on a child or a young adult with a disability come from the mentality passed to parents by “professionals” supposedly in the know. But, each child is as different as the twinkle of stars above us. No two children with spina bifida, cerebral palsy or any other disability is quite the same. Is that disconcerting? Of course! Parents want the manual on their child with special needs in black-and-white so they know each step before it’s taken. But, it’s hard for parents of children without disabilities to know how to compare development. Those weight, height and developmental percentiles only tell us so much. Beyond that, every child is individual and every limitation or milestone is unique.
I wish I could snap my fingers and all misconceptions, exclusion and stereotypes would stop, but it takes time. After all, the Civil Rights Act passed in 1964, but my friends of color still face racism in the 21st Century in the workplace, in school and among general society. Ignorance and fear are deeply rooted, but that is no excuse. It takes time, work and conscious effort to dig it out and let acceptance take root.
For this New Year's resolutions in 2010, we as people with disabilities should recognize the world can't change overnight and not without our hands on the wheel. We must drive the change together! We can no longer sit back and wait for change to be handed to us. We must create the change, be the change, as Mohandas Gandhi said of his people’s movement. One by one, we have the power to create great change. For far too long, we have waited for the veil of discrimination to fall on its own. That will not happen. We must rip the veil away ourselves. We must take our place in the community as active citizens of the world, not just wait to be invited to the table.
I choose to focus this year on five ways we, as individuals with disabilities can begin to work on becoming agents of change and growth. Focus with me. Don't wait for others to change. Begin with you!
Our first resolution for 2010 must be about our self image. So much can happen if we turn off then negative self-talk, mute out the pitying comments and negative “burden speak” we hear from others who don’t understand our lives. We have a multitude of strengths and dreams to bring into being. We have far much to give and to gain to allow others to make us feel inferior. Pity, like racism, (also called ableism) is the kiss of death for people with disabilities. We are not inferior in any way; we are just people with disabilities. We can and do participate in the same gainful life activities as anyone else, just in different ways. We are mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, wives and husbands, lovers and friends. We are just as capable of care-giving as well as receiving love and care. We are volunteers and charity providers, not just receivers in need. Find your role models, or in my case as a wheelchair user, “roll” models. Look to people like Marlee Maitlin, John Hockenberry, Ed Roberts, Mark Zupan, Justin Dart, Wilma Mankiller, Judy Heumann, Bree Daniels, Chris Burke and others who are doing great things regardless—and because--of their disabilities
Second, we’ve got to continue improving our skills. I don’t care if it means taking on new hobbies, taking classes, volunteering. We must find out what employers are seeking and if there are skills we do not have, get them. If you do not have the right skill set, you will never be employed competitively. Take that computer class at the library. Read voraciously. Learn another language. Volunteer. Get to know people out in the community and learn what they do for a living; ask to shadow them at work or intern.
From simple key strokes in an office or cash register to taking the machines apart, computers continue to be the wave of the future. Learn them inside and out. In addition, you need good communication skills. In today’s world, writing and speaking are so very important. It doesn’t matter if you have a speech difficulty. Can you string words together intelligently in a sentence? Can you greet people in person or over the phone? Practice throughout your day and this will also help you make new friends!
Next, network. Get out there and meet people. We won’t change how people perceive us if we continue to hide under rocks or stay locked up in our homes. Sure, some of us need to spend some time at home because of transportation barriers or health reasons make it necessary to lie in bed, but stay in touch with family and friends. Encourage visitors and ask friends if you can go with them places. Get active on the internet. Join online social networks that share your interests and skills for work opportunities. And there are plenty for classe that can be taken online as well.
If you can attend college, meet employers and others there. Still in high school? Many areas observe a Disability Mentoring Day that allow high school students on the third Wednesday of every October to job shadow at a company and meet business people or people working in Federal agencies. You need to get out and meet people to be known. No such thing in your area? Start one! Have a skill you want to teach others? Become a tutor and become known for that skill! Teach others and pass it on.
Fourth, never underestimate the opportunity to volunteer. To build character, you must volunteer and give back to the community that has done at least something for you. When you get involved and do volunteer work in your community, you will shatter the stereotype that people with disabilities not only receive help but also give it. Check out your local Civitan, Kiwanis, Lions Club and other civic organization chapters. You’ll also meet people in high places connected in the working world.
Last, but not least, be a better advocate for yourself and others. We can’t wait for change to happen around us, we’ve got to make it happen. To create change, become an advocate for equality for Americans with disabilities, in the areas of employment, education, transportation, housing, services and social arenas. Join your community’s advocacy groups. Attend town and county board meetings when an accessibility issue is on the agenda or put it on the agenda and ask to speak! Volunteer to speak at your school, college, or house of worship. Take the opportunity to volunteer with non-profit organizations in your community such as the Easter Seals United Cerebral Palsy or volunteer as a surviving example of your disability at civilian and veteran hospitals to serve as a resource for survivors and parents with children facing your challenges.
Every little move you make, every word you speak and every thought you have means volumes to making yourself and others feel good about your value.. Make it speak loud and clear where you want your place to be in this world.