By Kodey Toney
Life’s Been Good To Me So Far
This week I had the opportunity to attend the Joining Forces Conference in Norman, OK. This is an annual conference hosted by the Oklahoma Family Network, and held to help families and professionals better provide services for families coping with disabilities. This year’s keynote speaker was Michelle “Sheli” Reynolds, Ph.D., from the Missouri Family to Family Network. There were several points in her presentation that I would like to share this week.
The theme of this year’s conference was “A Good Life Is…” which I found to be a great question. What is a good life? This question is not just for your child with a disability. What is a good life for you? I think that once you answer that question for yourself you’ve answered it for everyone in your life. The answer for most of us is a good quality of life.
For those who don’t know I work with local middle and high school students to help them prepare for college. One of the workshops that I do is to help them understand their goals in life. I ask them, “What is your overall mission in life?” After a few minutes of coaxing the answer, we usually land at having a good life for themselves and their (potential) family.
So how do we accomplish this? One of the quotes that Reynolds had that stuck with me was, “Our overall compass is ‘quality of life’.” I think this is a great way to see things. If we keep in mind that we’re looking for the best possible life for ourselves and our children then we’re going to eventually find that “good life” we’re searching for.
Reynolds also said, “People with disabilities and their families have the right to live, love, work, play and pursue their life aspirations just as others do in their community.” This is one of my main goals for this area of the state. I want people to realize that there is a place in life for people with disabilities. We have to find those places and work to get people in the classrooms with their peers, into jobs that they love, and work to help find community acceptance.
Where does this begin? Well, as Reynolds explained, “Individuals live within the context of their families.” What I take this to mean is that what we do, say, and how we act will guide them in life. When we work hard for their rights they will see this and do the same for themselves. As I’ve said several times, we are our children’s biggest advocate.
Another quotable gem I caught from the conference was, “It’s not what you do or how you do it, it’s WHY you do it.” I know this is harder for the parents because we have a 24 hour reminder of why we advocate. However, for teachers and other professionals there may need to be a reminder every once in a while. Don’t forget why you got into the business that you did. Hopefully it was to help individuals and do what is best for the child. If it’s not you may want to rethink things.
These are only a few points, but I thought they highlighted the speech and the conference. WE have to keep focusing on a good life for our children. Don’t forget, what we do today can actually pave the way for others in the future.