The Voice of Encouragement

Katie Maskey Mrs Ohio United States 2015 Invisible Disabilities Ambassador

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

“I can’t believe how strong you are!” “I can’t believe how hard you keep fighting!” “You are so courageous!” “You amaze me!”

Believe it or not, it is all too common for a person living with a continuing illness or pain to be treated as if they are not positive enough, do not try hard enough, do not want to get better and do not have anything to complain about.

Then again, most people cannot imagine how difficult it is to be inside a body that will not cooperate with their desires. If we would take a moment to realize how much our loved one has been through, what they go through daily, how many tests they have had, how many doctors they have seen, how many medications they have tried, how much research they have done and how much money they have spent to battle the symptoms, we would recognize our loved one’s amazing courage.

In any case, don’t most people become crabby and whiny when they get sick, even though they know they will be better in a few days? Imagine having symptoms much or all of the time. According to Pauline Boss in the Journal of Clinical Psychology, “…an ambiguous loss of long duration becomes physically and psychologically exhausting for even the strongest of individuals, couples and families.” Think of how amazing this person is for having such persistence to find a way to remove or at least alleviate their symptoms and to find ways to cope. Consequently, isn’t it time to voice our admiration for their incredible strength and determination? I think so!

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Sowing New Seeds in the Garden of Disability Rights Activism

Emily Ladau, a writer, disability rights activist, and the owner of Social Justice Media Services

By Guest Blogger Emily Ladau, Owner, Social Justice Media Services

When speaking to established activists, elected officials or anyone from generations before me whose work is deeply entrenched in the progress of the disability rights movement, I often find myself wondering if my thoughts and ideas will be considered viable contributions. It seems that to some, the ripe young age of (nearly) 24 means I’m much too young to be experienced in sparking change or well-informed enough to express anything of value. Sadly, I’ve noticed such ageism from time to time among disability activists, even as we work towards being a community dedicated to fighting prejudice and discrimination. At the same time, I’ve found some incredible mentors within the disability community – ones who have inspired me not only to learn from them, but also to consider how I can continually do my best to contribute.

As the 25th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act approaches, I’ve been reflecting on how we can deepen connections across generations of disability rights activists and how we can remember that we share common goals. Each time I think about it, my mind is drawn to the metaphor of a garden. If you’ve read much of my writing, my words usually have more of an edge than comparing activism to a garden, so this may sound a bit sappy, but stick with me.

Assume you have a garden, one that you’ve worked on growing with love and care for decades. The garden thrives from your efforts, but as time passes, working single-handedly to keep the garden going takes its toll. Amidst the lush green you find some plants overgrown, some patches struggling to blossom. Certainly, a person to help tend the garden couldn’t hurt. But it’s your garden and to give someone else a chance to care for it feels as though you’re letting go of your hard work. That person will tend to the plants with strong roots, but also suggests sowing new seeds. How could you possibly agree to this when you’ve always gone about your gardening in a certain way?

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Mentor Guides Veteran with Disability to Small Business Success

Bridget Weston Pollack, Vice President of Marketing and Communications, SCORE Association

By Guest Blogger Bridget Weston Pollack, Vice President of Marketing and Communications, SCORE Association.

Fulfilling the dream of owning a business can be a difficult journey, but some entrepreneurs face more challenges than others. With perseverance and a supportive SCORE mentor, military veteran Al Kroell and his wife Christy found their path to success.

While serving in the Navy, Al Kroell suffered an accident leaving him with a severe disability. He lost the use of his hands and the military deemed him unemployable – his 20 year career was suddenly over. A few years later, his wife Christy also became disabled after a car accident. The couple struggled with finances and needed a plan desperately.

Through the hardships, Al found comfort in his hobby of scroll saw woodworking. He especially enjoyed making plaques for military friends. Then it hit him – why not turn his hobby into a business?

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A Split Second Can Change Everything – PLEASE Keep Your Children inside When Mowing

A photo of guest blogger and mother Jodi Bainter

By Guest Blogger Jodi Bainter

Eleven years ago, our son Jake was tragically injured in a riding lawnmower accident. As a result, he will spend the rest of his life as an above-knee amputee. Think about that for a moment: he will live his whole life with one leg – because of a split second.

When my husband Brett decided to mow the lawn on a Friday in April 2004, he had no idea that day would change our lives forever. I am sharing our story today because it is easy to take things for granted. If you are like my husband, you operate with safety in mind, always using a protective and responsible lens because you love your child more than life itself. But accidents are unpredictable – they happen so quickly that even the most well-intentioned parents might not be able to protect their child.

According to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, each year, 800 children are run over by riding mowers or small tractors and more than 600 of those incidents result in amputation; 75 people are killed and 20,000 injured; and one in five deaths involves a child. For children under age 10, major limb loss is most commonly caused by lawn mowers.

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My Experience Living with Syndactyly: Fusion of Fingers

Guest Blogger Stephen Bell, who has Syndactyly

By Guest Blogger Stephen Bell

Being born with a rare visible difference/disability can be an extremely interesting experience. I was born with a limb malformation condition on my right-hand called Syndactyly (pronounced syn-dac-ty-ly). All four of my fingers were fused together and I have since had the index finger separated after many skin graft and plastic surgery operations. Skin was taken from both the groin and the upper arm area to use for the skin graft and plastic surgery. I then had to wear a skin-tight, and very itchy, custom-made silicone glove day and night for six months in order to compress and heal the scarring. I have more flexibility and grip with the index finger since the surgery. The other three fingers share the same bone, so if more separations were to take place, one finger would be useable (like my index finger) and the other two fingers would be floppy, limp and useless.

My personal experience of having Syndactyly has been generally really positive; from an early age, my family taught, encouraged and helped me to be comfortable in my own skin. I guess nobody is 100 percent perfect. I have never ever tried to hide my fingers and hand, as this would only cause unnecessary attention. Some people never even notice but I am always more than happy to explain this unique condition and answer any questions. As with a lot of situations in life, it is often a case of assessing the situation and going with the flow. I let these conversations progress naturally, as I do not want to force anyone in to learning about my condition. If someone starts staring or glaring, then I will very politely just ask them, “Have we met before?” The majority of reactions I get when asked about my fingers is respectful, positive and encouraging. For as many years as I can remember, I have worn plain silver jewelry on both hands, like a watch, rings and bracelets. Perhaps this a subconscious was of both distracting and deflecting people from noticing my fingers. Like all other human beings, I learn coping strategies and mechanisms and this method works for me.

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