For too long, our voices have gone unheard. They have been muffled, obstructed, stifled, muted, subdued, quieted, and hushed. I know this, because it has happened to me. I have Cerebral Palsy, as well as a learning disability. And if I hadn’t spoken up and out throughout the years, none of the things I’ve done or accomplished would have become reality.
For many years, I would have thoughts like… “If only I could walk without my full-length leg brace on. If only I could write a check by myself. If only I could have my own bank account, drive my own car, be independent. Speak up for myself without being forced into “people pleasing.” Voice my own opinions and beliefs in such a way that I could and would be heard and respected. Be valued for who I am and what I can do, without my disability defining me. To be held in esteem, and regarded in such a way that people would really listen. Maybe I could be the voice of reason and change for both myself and others. Maybe I could even change laws, along with attitudes! How great it would be if I could really get involved, and contribute to society in truly meaningful ways.”
These thoughts, ideas, and dreams often felt overwhelming and completely out of my reach. Frustration started feeling normal. Fear was also a constant. What if I was torn down and silenced for expressing how I really felt about my life and the world around me, or what I want for myself? But I was determined. I wouldn’t let my fears and frustrations stand in the way. Possibly, just possibly, I could change people’s minds and have some control over which direction my life was to go in. After all, in the words of Maya Angelou: “I am the master of my fate; I am the captain of my soul.” It was up to me!
The truth is that the general public is not comfortable with people like me, speaking up for myself. They assume our concerns are in the safe hands of paid helpers. While there is nothing wrong with paid helpers, many of us cannot afford them; we are forced to go it alone. We are lucky if we have any money left over during the middle of the month, let alone the end.
As a group, we have not been marked with good fortune, good health, or all the help society mistakenly thinks we have. We can’t even save extra money in the bank without being penalized. We are not fortunate enough to be a Helen Keller, a Tom Ritter, a Geri Jewell, a Josh Blue, or a Temple Grandin. They were and are fortunate enough to have people around them 24/7. Not only do their caregivers help them with their daily needs, but their presence serves other needs as well. For those in the public sphere, caregivers can assist and assure them constantly that their talks and programs will go smoothly, without a glitch, and that they can be relaxed and not stressed.
Most of us don’t have that kind of luxury. We don’t have the kind of money to hire people to help us in our lives. We have to accept things as they are. But this is where strength and perseverance and stubborn determination come into the picture! We push forward and work things out by and for ourselves. We continue to commit to doing our very best. We hold our heads high as we walk ahead with hope in our heart, expecting only good things to come, with a drive and fearlessness to make things happen. We pledge to ourselves over and over again to take action and do everything possible to change our circumstances. Even in difficult times – and there are many – we vow to ourselves to remain strong and carry on.
I have spent six and a half decades talking out, speaking up, and making huge changes, while accepting my own fate. I’ve had to adjust my thinking and my attitude numerous times, making me a stronger person in the process. I have walked the walk and talked the talk! From my education, to winning the first civil rights case in California, to becoming a fitness instructor, a special needs advocate, a motivational speaker, and author. I have risen to each and every occasion, pulling myself up and over each wall and hurdle, only to find another one. But this won’t stop me!
We have to think bigger, become wiser, and be the agents of change. We have to voice our thoughts and our concerns if we want to be heard and have change come to our lives. We have to wave our own magic wand, empower ourselves, and continue striving to accomplish our goals and dreams. We have to take away our own fears, become fearless warriors, and make this a better place for you and me! Even during adverse times, when we are frightened and upset, we have to deal with it and work through it. We must keep searching for and seeking opportunities that will open the doors, change our lives, and allow us to live the life we desire and deserve. I’ve done it, and I believe you can do it too!