When I was about three years old, my family moved into a new house. One summer day a few months after we settled in, my brother and sister were playing at the end of the driveway. I wanted to see what they were doing, and so with shorts on and no socks or shoes, I crawled down the concrete and gravel to see what was going on. Apparently, by the time my mom got to me, the lower half of my body was a bloody mess, but I wasn’t crying. My being included had been more important than the pain. I was determined to do what I thought I had to do, and that day I fought hard for it. Several adults in my life have told me that I was a tough little girl. Hopefully, that grit followed me as I grew.
Because of certain circumstances I have been dealing with in the past few months, I have been thinking often lately about how I define myself, as well as how other people see me. Some ways people see me are obvious. What I hope most people see is that I am compassionate. Although I am by no means perfect, I try to offer a specific kindness to at least one person every day. And I am happy that I can say that because of how much I care for other people.
But if I were to define myself in more specific terms, one of the first words I would come up with is that I am a writer. For the past 814 days, I have written at least 750 words. That streak is still going strong, with no end in sight. Finding people to profile for the Hometown Heroes column at Lawrence Magazine has been one of the joys of my last few years. Seeking out others who do good just for the sake of doing good reminds me that there are people who are making a positive impact on the world, and that fact helps tremendously on the days that are less than stellar. Over the past few years, Chicken Soup for the Soul has accepted several of my stories for publication, thousands of people have read my blog and in the past eighteen months working on my book has fuelled my passion to break down barriers between those with disabilities and those without disabilities. That desire gets a little bit stronger with each passing day. It is my belief that people with disabilities are the most underutilized resource that this society has. There is only good that can come out of more people being empowered.
I am also an advocate. It wasn’t until I was working on my Master’s degree in Rehabilitation Counseling that I understood in my soul that, as an individual with a disability, I have a unique voice. And it is my responsibility to let people in power know what I need and to protest when my rights are not being respected. I will never forget being part of the group that was protesting the Greyhound Bus Company decades ago when they had a policy that people with disabilities were not permitted to ride the bus alone. Me, along with many others with disabilities chanted “We Will Ride!” thousands of times outside the bus terminal. I was interviewed on the evening news holding a sign that said: “Wheelchairs Can Only Take Us So Far.”
These days calling senators and representatives is something I do on a weekly basis, as well as routinely having conversations with local elected officials about how some policies of government programs are negatively affecting my life. I give testimony to Lawrence City commissioners asking for accessible sidewalks in my hometown so that one day I will be able to go downtown and get a cheeseburger, without having to ask for help from anyone. And it has only been recently that I have made a habit of asking people to sit down when we talk so that we are at eye level. That always makes me feel like more of an equal.
But on this International Woman’s Day, I celebrate that I am a woman. Although I will always feel more comfortable in sweats than fancy dresses both physically and emotionally, I support equal rights and equal pay and I am proud of the potential changes that will come as a result of the #Me Too and #Time’s up movements. Woman have had to be silent for far too long. I’ve had a guy tell me once that I was only going to get a job because I was “disabled and female so [this man] was sure somebody would feel sorry for me.”
Last January I went to the Women’s March in Topeka. I saw thousands of woman (and the men who supported them) stand in solidarity for all kinds of issues. And what I witnessed gave me strength because it made me see that there were many people around me who were concerned about the same kinds of issues that I was. It all meant that I was not alone.
So as issues continue to come up with me I will do all I can to use my voice, both verbally and in written form to increase awareness and advocate for equality and inclusion.
Because that tough little girl grew into a woman who is not afraid to fight when I have to.