January 20th was International Day of Acceptance. It got me thinking about what I first learned at the age of four, the person I am and where I want to be in the future.
When I was growing up, my family didn’t treat me any different than anyone else. I had more doctor’s appointments than others, but I didn’t realize that at the time. I never really even knew that I was different until I started going to nursery school (at the age of four) and the other children in school pointed it out to me. My grandmother then taught me the simple, and yet the most important, lesson in my life. I could do anything I set my mind to. I may do it differently, and that is okay. I can still do it. Teaching me that mind set at the age of four has lead me to be the motivated, determined and sometimes stubborn woman I am now.
I also have been thinking about vocabulary and attitudes. Vocabulary has continued to change regarding people with disabilities and that is encouraging. Changing vocabulary is a good start but we still have to change attitudes. Unfortunately, attitudes seem to be harder to change. We have to teach acceptance. So we are all different and do things differently. It doesn’t mean we can’t get there. I learned this from my family at the age of four.
I did gymnastics in elementary school. I had an amazing teacher who worked with me and helped me to do all the cartwheels and back flips the other girls were doing.
I went to my school dance in my wheelchair after a surgery and I danced. Not the way everyone was dancing, but my own way, using my arms and twirling around in a chair…and guess what? I had a blast!
Somewhere through middle school, I became more withdrawn and more concerned with what others thought of me. I started to lose some of that determination. I didn’t want to walk with crutches because I wanted to be like everyone else. I stopped gymnastics. I stopped dancing. I wanted to fit in. If I couldn’t be like everyone else, I didn’t want to try.
Thank god I have grown out of that phase of my life. It took me a few years, but I got my mindset back to where it had been at the age of four.
It started to come back in college. I wasn’t the smartest person in college. I struggled with the standardized tests, SATs, GREs, etc. I was put into a required summer program they said was “for the average student”. However, I found that determination and motivation that I was taught at the age of four. I studied my ass off and I made it through both college and graduate school. As I got older, I started taking a Tae Kwon Do class for people with disabilities and I earned my yellow belt. The first belt you can earn… But I was back! It did wonders for my confidence.
In my professional life, I have been an advocate for people with disabilities, an educator and a counselor. My goals today are to put all those experiences to use and advocate for sexual health education for women with disabilities. I know it will be a struggle. There will be the naysayers who say it can’t be done. As a person with a disability, I say it can be done and it needs to be done. We have fought (and we continue to fight) for healthcare, education, Social Security, housing, etc. Sexual health education is the next area of our lives we need to advocate for.
Thank God as I have gotten older, I’ve learned to take back some of the lessons of my childhood and I’ve learn to enjoy being me, no matter what others may think. I am a work in progress and I am continuing to grow. The things my family taught me at the age of four have become my best qualities… Determination, motivation and perseverance. I am moving forward, I am excited about my new goals and I am confident!