The Power of Image

Nadia Ibrahim, MA, LGSW

By Guest Blogger Nadia Ibrahim, MA, LGSW

Until the age of 12, I always had this idea that I would wake up one day and my disability would be gone. It’s funny how a young mind works. My family never really talked about the fact that cerebral palsy (CP), usually caused by a lack of oxygen to the brain at birth, would have a lifelong impact on me. We viewed CP as a normal part of life: an additional consideration, not a limitation.

One day in high school, a realization stared back at me as I looked in the mirror: my body and life are not average. Even in the most relaxed state, my arms and legs were stiff, so fitted clothes were difficult to put on. Scoliosis gave my body extra curves, meaning clothes off-the-rack didn’t always fit. Muscle tightness in my feet made wearing most shoes impossible. The only shoes that fit often looked like they had been borrowed from a child.   As a result, I spent most of my teenage years hiding in turtlenecks and baggy clothes.

When I entered the workforce, I came to two additional realizations: I had to be a self-advocate, and I had to make some difficult decisions about my personal care and beauty routine. Relying on others for assistance with daily activities meant that I did not have the luxury of spending a lot of time or effort on my appearance. Even though I wasn’t entirely comfortable with how I looked, I had a strong drive to be as independent as possible. Instead of being concerned with how someone else would fix my hair or apply my make-up, it was easier to do as little as possible, and trust that my work ethic and skills were most important in achieving independence and success. I received my first service dog, Tullis, at the age of 27, and quickly learned the importance of self-advocacy.   Even though Tullis gave me greater self-confidence when interacting with others, I continued to struggle with my self-image into my 30s.

Read More about The Power of Image


My Job Search: A Story of Solidarity in the Disability Community

Lindsey Teel, Policy Advisor, Office of Disability Employment Policy at the U.S. Department of Labor

By Guest Blogger Lindsey Teel, Policy Advisor, Office of Disability Employment Policy at the U.S. Department of Labor

If you asked me about my future career plans when I was younger, I would have told you I wanted to be a sociology professor. This was my goal because as a person with a disability, albeit a disability that may be hard to detect, I often felt like an outsider and found it easier to analyze social dynamics rather than actually participate in social life. Thus, I majored in the study of human interaction. Following college, I applied to graduate schools to continue my career pursuits, submitting a personal statement that described how I had overcome a visual impairment and become a better person because of it. However, since I graduated in December and had to wait to begin graduate school the next fall, I followed my best friend to Washington, D.C. to intern for our hometown Congressman in the interim.

Even though my Capitol Hill intern coordinator didn’t know what to do with me (I struggled to complete visual-centric tasks such as preparing binders for Members of Congress), I still felt like Cinderella walking through the marble hallways of the House of Representatives amidst such well-known, powerful people. I enjoyed it so much that after returning home to Texas and beginning my graduate program, I often dreamed of returning to the Nation’s Capital and assuming my destiny as a person who would change the world, making it a more equitable place for people with disabilities and other marginalized groups. Upon completion of my Master’s degree, I took off to D.C. for a second internship in my Congressman’s office and began my search for a “real job.”

One day during my first week back in D.C., I went to a restaurant after work with my friends and had the opportunity to talk with a staffer who worked in a different Member’s office. He said he would be leaving his job soon and that I should apply for it, so I did. A month later, I started the entry-level Hill staffer job, quickly learning that I would either sink or swim. I essentially had to wear three hats: performing constituent services duties like flag and tour requests, managing and responding to all of the Congressman’s mail, and supervising student interns. These were no easy tasks; the pay was low and the hours were long. But, I developed several transferrable skill sets during the course of my time on the Hill, and felt ready to transition to a more complex role, hopefully in the field of disability advocacy.

Read More about My Job Search: A Story of Solidarity in the Disability Community


Doing It All: Meet Adeline, 2015 “No Boundaries” Participant

Adeline, a 2015 No Boundaries participant, sits in her wheelchair in front of a chalkboard with "Blast off to Empowerment" written on it, along with a doodled rocketship.

By Carolyn VanBrocklin, Communications Specialist, Disability.gov

The Girl Scouts’ slogan is “do a good turn daily,” reminding scouts of the many ways they can contribute positively to the lives of others. “No Boundaries” participant Adeline has done her fair share of good turns in her life. She joined the Girl Scouts as a cadet in middle school, then started a troop in her high school and remained a member through her senior year. Adeline attributes the experience to much of her personal growth. Through the Girl Scouts she learned leadership, empowerment and confidence.

Those basics provided a solid foundation for Adeline today. She has cerebral palsy and uses a motorized wheelchair to get around. Her personal experience informed her final Girl Scout project as a senior in high school. Looking ahead to her upcoming departure for college, Adeline wanted ways to stay healthy and include exercise in her life, so she worked with an occupational therapist to create exercise programs that she and her peers with disabilities could do independently. She won the Girl Scout Gold Award for her efforts.

A Brooklyn native, Adeline left New York City for Washington, D.C., to attend Georgetown University’s Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service where she received her degree in International Affairs. In college she was heavily interested in women’s and gender studies, as well as marginalized populations. Her first internship, through the Workforce Recruitment Program, found her at the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission’s Disability Program Officer where she helped to vet job applicants with disabilities for possible employment. She is currently in her third year as a government information analyst, where she processes information from the U.S. Department of State under the Freedom of Information Act. This is the first step in a long career Adeline has planned – she has a real passion for human rights policy and eventually she wants to promote U.S. policy on international human and disability rights.

Read More about Doing It All: Meet Adeline, 2015 “No Boundaries” Participant


Self-Propelling: Meet Angela, “No Boundaries” 2015 Participant

Angela, a rower, athlete and No Boundaries participant, poses in her wheelchair next to the C&O Canal
 By Rebecca Skipper, Team Member, Disability.gov

As the old saying goes, “It’s not the destination, but the journey that counts.” If anyone characterizes this spirit, it is Angela, who has traveled great distances in her life, both literally and figuratively. And each time, she has arrived stronger for the experience.

We certainly appreciated that Angela was willing to travel a long way to meet with us, on a sunny day along the C&O Canal in Washington, D.C. She had flown in the previous day from Los Angeles, but had there been 3,000 miles of water between us instead of land, she likely would have chosen a different mode of transportation.

A championship rower, Angela has self-propelled across three oceans — the Indian, Atlantic and Pacific — and circumnavigated the coast of Great Britain. For these and other feats, she has earned more awards than our word limit permits us to share in full, but the list is long. The short version is six Guinness World Records, participation in the 2008 Paralympics in Beijing, and gold and silver medals at the Rowing National and World Championships, where she has competed multiple years, in both the women’s and men’s categories. Angela also competes on terra firma — and has a bronze medal in track and field (shot put) from the 2012 Paralympics in London, as well as recent gold and silver medals from the ParaPanAmerican games, to show for it. She’s currently on track to compete in the 2016 Paralympics in Rio.

Read More about Self-Propelling: Meet Angela, “No Boundaries” 2015 Participant


Invisible Disabilities Week 2015

Invisible Disabilities Week 2015 Oct 18 - 24, 2015

By Guest Blogger Wayne Connell, Founder and President, Invisible Disabilities Association (IDA)

The number one question people ask of our organization, the Invisible Disabilities Association is “What is an invisible disability?” The term invisible disabilities refers to the invisible symptoms such as debilitating pain, fatigue, dizziness, cognitive dysfunctions, brain injuries, learning differences and mental health disorders, as well as hearing and vision impairments. These are not always obvious to the onlooker, but are very real to the person living with them as they may impact daily activities and range from mild challenges to severe limitations and vary from person to person.

Someone who has a visible impairment or uses an assistive device such as a wheelchair, walker or cane can also have invisible disabilities. A wheelchair or hearing aids do not necessarily limit a person’s ability to participate in life’s activities. What if they have chronic pain or PTSD or brain fog or other invisible symptoms? These invisible symptoms can create a great strain on their daily ability and functionality.

Unfortunately, people often judge others by what they see and often conclude a person can or cannot do something by the way they look. This can be equally frustrating for those who may appear unable, but are perfectly capable, as well as those who appear able, but are not.

Read More about Invisible Disabilities Week 2015