Follow the great ones

I don’t remember how old I was, which is rare for me because I have a great memory. I couldn’t have been more than eight when I learned of Helen Keller. Helen’s out of control behavior seemed logical to me as she was separated from the world. This was not an UN-intelligent child but rather a child without a connection. As a young girl reading her story I got that. Then she made the connection and her world changed. She thrived and became a hero to so many: including me.

Throughout the period of time there have been those with disabilities that have transcended the stigma of being disabled. They have risen to great heights, accomplished much and stand as beacons of what can happen. They had an idea, a skill or talent, they told themselves to do what they could.

Society still lacks understanding of those with less than average bodies or minds. People still shun what they don’t understand. On the other hand if the disabled aren’t shunned many cope with the persons disability by placing the person on a pedestal and viewing them as “special” and “innocent” or “they teach me so much.” We should learn from each other but these terms get combined with disability as a way for many who are uncomfortable to cope with the disability itself. STOP IT. People with disabilities are no different from you.
I want to make a dent in society and its understanding of the disabled. I’ve been challenging others beliefs my entire life and I will continue to do so until the fight is won. I have a feeling this will be an ongoing process.

One of the most well-known current events of a woman with a disability is that of Susan Boyle. With a simple audition on “Britain’s Got Talent” she broke major ground. Stepping out on the stage in travel clothes she was judged harshly. When she spoke her age she was “too old” and when she showed her nervousness and stated that she wanted to be as big as Elaine Page she was thought to be just another misguided person with no talent. THEN she opened her mouth and sung with beauty and passion. She was great!!! She had this incredible voice and a power to interpret the song. In the space of minutes the world saw the power of the person within. They heard a person who happened to have a disability as she truly was: herself. Oh and yes she just happens to have to deal with Asperger’s.

Why is it that as humans we are leery of anything and anyone that seems different from ourselves? This brings me to Stevie Wonder. I’m not bringing him up because he is a talented man who happens to be blind but because of his song “Black Man” The song is on “Songs in the Key of Life” It wasn’t a top 40 and is long but well worth the listening to. When I first heard it the lyrics said it all. Then I got thinking why wasn’t there a song about all of the disabled people who have influenced the world? Someone needs to state the facts of accomplishment of those who are disabled.

I Googled this subject and the hit list is pretty amazing. When you get past the list of souls with learning disabilities and start into folks who are disabled from mental illness or physical disabilities the reading becomes thought provoking. It rocks. The sports list blew my mind. Those who achieved academically have gone far. Stephen Hawking is on that list so is John Nash. They made a movie about a guy named Christy Brown. “My Left Foot” An Irish author, painter and poet his life is an example of his determination to do what he could. I wasn’t familiar with French author Jean-Dominique Bauby. Reading about who he was before disability struck and what he did after set me into a state of humility.

My childhood Heroin and one of the best known disabled women of all time is Helen Keller. I relate to her activism, intelligence and her ability to do everything she could for the human condition. I wish I could have met her. I was nine years old when she left this earth.

The fact is that those of us with a disability are more than the sum of that disability. We are whole, strong and vibrant. We can and do contribute to society in great ways. The only thing stopping us is ingenuity and sometimes lack of resources.
Then why is it that society places barriers of brick in our paths? Why when someone who could be harboring the seeds of success and greatness, deep within, do we question their abilities when they might be challenged in ways you are not? When it comes to the workplace why is it difficult for the disabled to get hired?

The fact is that hiring someone with a disability is a good thing. It is ironic that we, as a disabled population, must beg to work. We have to educate employers, the public, other disabled people, governments, and even those who claim to work with and advocate for those with disabilities. Yikes: as if starting our days can’t be challenging enough.

Most disabled people who can want to work and contribute to society. Whether it be specialized technical or trade school training or an advanced degree in a professional area. Part of what gives us dignity is to be able to provide for ourselves and stand independently.

As someone who has lived in a variety or places and cultures I have seen the “dilemma of the disabled in the workplace” through the lens of various cultures, values and eras. Time has changed some things but not all things. Laws have given the disabled “rights” but not understanding which is what many most need in life.

I believe that a society is humane based on how it treats its children, the aging and the disabled. We as humans are survivalist at the least and humanitarians at our best. As individuals we may choose to leave our mark via posterity or by doing good in the world in which we live. Despite our individual circumstances we are driven to achieve the very best we can. We hope to do so with grace and dignity. In a previous posting I began to discuss this subject. I want to look at the insanity of becoming employed. This is the first in a series. How many? Don’t quite know yet so stay plugged in. In the next posting I will focus on environments. Get some tranquilizers folks this will send your mind into a contorted jungle of insanity. Maybe we can pull each other out of that jungle. Stay tuned because I have hope.

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About Gail Nicolaysen-Shurtleff

I am an American who is living in The Netherlands. I am a Marriage and Family Therapist with a license to practice in California. Music has been a huge part of my life. Singing is something you can find me doing at any time and anywhere. I have to admit that I try to not sing while out in public though. You can also find me in the kitchen cooking up wonderful things. cooking is something that I have just recently (in the last ten years) discovered that I'm talented at doing, and it is really fun. The best way to know me is to read my blog.
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One Response to Follow the great ones

  1. Denise says:

    There should be much more access to work for disabled people. Lacking ability in one area is no reason to write off all the other abilities that a person has.

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