Poteau OK - The old proverb states you can't judge a book by its cover, and while this is true for most people, those with disabilities are often unfairly labeled before someone gets to know them. The past couple weeks has proven this to me over and over.
Often times with disabilities we underestimate the person with a diagnosis. We assume because they have social issues or speech problems that they can't do things the same as others. And, granted many times there are certain adjustments that need to be made, but when you count a person out based on appearance alone you may be missing the real person.
I remember watching a program once on television where a man had suffered a brain injury and had been left with a speech impediment. This had caused many to believe that he had a mental disability. His cognitive ability was not impaired by the injury, but others treated him as if he didn't know what he was doing. They felt like he was a slow thinker when he was actually very intelligent. He just couldn't easily get the thought out vocally.
While riding on the city transit bus the man was listening to a couple young kids talk about where they need to get off. They were obviously confused when the man stepped in and began to explain the stops that would be best for them. He had a great knowledge of the bus system and had memorized most of the schedule. The boys were pretty receptive to the man, but when he finished talking in his slurred speech and turned from their view the camera caught them with a look of disbelief. It was as if they really didn't know how to take this man's advice.
How would you feel if this man would give you directions?
I met a great man this weekend during the Partners in Policymaking program that said some extraordinary things about his life. He has a degree from the University of Oklahoma and currently works there assisting people with disabilities obtain assistive technologies. His struggle to get there is a great story though.
You see Chuck Roberts has Cerebral Palsy as an attribute. Chuck explained that while he has a wheelchair, it is actually his freedom. He is not confined to it; he is liberated by it. Chuck lives on his own, draws no money for assistance from the government, and pays for his living assistance by himself. He was the first person from Norman High School to graduate with multiple learning disabilities, and then went to OU with help from his family.
You see, he applied for assistance to pay for college through the vocational rehabilitation services, and was denied. Granted this was a different time, but back then it was assumed that he couldn't function in a college setting. After being rejected, his father paid for him to attend. After a few semesters he took his transcript, with great grades, to the Voc-Rehab office and said, "So I can't go to college?"
The office began to work with him on getting the paperwork rolling, but when asked what he wanted to do as a profession he said, "I want to advocate for people with disabilities." The man filling out the paperwork looked at his father, not him, and said, "How the hell is he going to do that?"
Despite his struggle this is exactly what Chuck has been doing for years.
A second gentleman we learned about was Mike Phillips. According to the AssistiveWare website: "Mike Phillips is a gamer and freelance technology writer born with spinal muscular atrophy (SMA). Philips plays games such as World of Warcraft and Unreal Tournament 2004 with just his thumb. Mike also writes game reviews, presents at conferences, wrote chapters for several books, works on a novel and is active as a photographer and digital artist."
All of this is despite not being able to move from his back. There is a short video on YouTube called "One Thumb to Rule Them All" that explains some of the struggles he has had.
Most would assume that because he has very limited mobility he can't write, play games, or even operate a computer. This is a great example of adapting to overcome.
The final example I will give is from cub scouts a couple weeks ago. We take turns doing the pledge of allegiance, reciting the scout promise, and a few other ceremonial things. It was Konner's turn and I heard a child say, "oh no" as I handed Konner the flag. I kind of played it off, but as I handed him the scout promise to read I heard the child say it again.
I again, ignored him and as Konner paused to think about what he needed to do I heard him say to the kid next to him, "He can't read it." As Konner began to recite the promise without actually reading it, because he has it memorized, I was proud.
After the ritual part of the meeting was finished I sat the boys down and began to explain to them that Konner was an excellent reader, and that he was very intelligent. I then explained autism to them. They assumed because he was socially awkward and has to think before he speaks that he was incapable of doing what the other boys could. The scouts were very impressed with his abilities, and earned a respect for Konner.
We should always get to know people before we make assumptions about their capabilities in any area.