What's My Excuse?
I recently watched a TED Talk about a beautiful young woman radiant with pride, describing her years of training to run a marathon. She was born with multiple sclerosis, (MS) and the twisted, uncooperative limbs that frequently accompany this disease. She trained for three years to accomplish this dream. When she was ready, race producers agreed to let her start twelve hours prior to start time so she would be on the track with the other runners for a thrilling few hours. Our successful runner did this on crutches for a period in which some runners could do three back to back marathons. BUT she did it; she finished the course eight hours after the last runner and was clearly thrilled by the experience. To understand this is very humbling. How dare I ever think anything I do or endure is hard? This instantly redefined my idea of what was even possible! Where did she get the Will? And why was it summoned in the first place? This started me on an inquiry about what it is, that sometimes comes with specific limitations, that forces people to really push the envelope way past traditional challenges. Australian activist, Stella Young said, “Most journalists seem utterly incapable of writing on, or talking about a disability without using phrases like....brave, overcoming the odds, wheelchair-bound, or my [her] favorite inspiration.” Young’s objection is that these observations are generated by pity. The real goal for inclusion is to see each of us as equal but different, regardless of the actual specifics. I understand the range of possible differences is huge; some invite inclusion easily, others, more severe – physical, intellectual, or emotional, require special adjustments for environments and for the people in these places as well. How can we do a better job? Can we acknowledge and admire the resilience and creativity we see in people managing difficult differences without pity or condensation? What behavior from a so-called able-bodied person is read as respect for these achievements? When we actually may be… (dare I say it)...inspired? My inquiry led me to enAble of Georgia originally founded in 1979, now rebranded InCommunity. This organization is a 501(c) (3) supporting people with developmental disabilities and their families. They create programs and innovative services for 10,000 qualified participants in Georgia alone. State of the art education and employment services, residential housing, family guidance, and a rich and diverse menu of enriching social events. This is a purpose-driven organization fortifying and supplementing people’s lives so they can reach their full human potential, whatever that may be. I was starting to understand that beautiful marathon runner. Choosing inclusion in activities in the general population takes somewhat for granted, is normalizing – even in the highly varied difference of that experience. People can be transformed having an experience their disability SHOULD have, and COULD have denied them. A triumph of the will, and of intention, over the well assumed limits created by the disability. The result is a huge dose of self-respect for who they are, not for who they might have been. Our limited ability to love beyond artificial boundaries is, in itself, a handicap. Understanding this makes it our job to learn how not be awkward or uncomfortable in the presence of difference. It just IS a fact of life. That means it is necessary to work on ourselves and the world we live in to make day to day life more welcoming for all people - celebrating our humanness together instead of defining what actually constitutes our differences.