Monday, August 23, 2010

Remembering Linda Marie Wilson

It is easy to entertain the perception of weakness and inability when we look at someone with an obvious handicap. Growing up we are taught to categorize people, this begins with the distinguishing between sexes, then age, then race, then those that are relatively different. Looking at the handicapped individual through the eyes of their children we would see a completely different person that defies stereotypes. At the very least, we would see someone capable, and at the most we would see our hero. This is written in memory of one of these heroes.

Billy's mother, Linda Marie Wilson, like many people in the middle of our last century was born with polio before vaccination was readily available. She suffered painfully through her life being continually hospitalized for a myriad of complications. The disease had left her wheelchair bound, pain stricken, and with little use of all her limbs but her left arm. Billy knew the power of that left arm and when he misbehaved he knew it well. Billy learned to respect his mother.

As we celebrate the second year of her passing and her memory I am inspired by her example and the love of her children and through Billy’s request am writing now to let the world know that Linda "was not handicapped." She was instead a proud woman, despite the indignities of being carried to and fro, to be bathed and lifted into the car, and to be cared for by her children.

I met Billy and Linda twenty five years ago, his little sister Crystal was almost three years old. I did not see Linda as a helpless woman because I recall her getting after Billy one weekday afternoon when I came to visit. This boy was strong, bullheaded and 16 years old and he could not get away fast enough from Linda. Mounted on her wheelchair she would roll after him as he ran and would snatch Billy up quickly by the scruff of his neck with the same arm that she cooked the turkey at Thanksgiving. The same arm that she administered the proper wrath of a respectful mother she worked to the bone as a telemarketer and a craft hobbyist. And she ministered love with all of her being.

I know that Billy and Crystal learned pride from their mother. I remember times where there was little for them but she would not accept welfare. She pushed through to find work and made a place for herself in this world. She made a home and raised two children who I am proud to call friends. I know that she is peering down now with glimmering joy when she sees her children and who they are.

There is a Japanese proverb that reminds me much of Linda Marie Wilson; Nana korobi ya oki, or fall down seven times, get up eight. She is truly an example of what we all can be, no matter our physical attributes, or detributes. Her example is still seen: No matter what, push through and you will.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Joshua doesn't say "I'm sorry" anymore

Let me tell you about a guy named Joshua, who I met riding the bus to work. He made a distinct impression in my mind, because Joshua said “I’m sorry” a lot. That was the first thing that really made me notice him—his continual need to apologize. In saying “sorry” all the time, it was as if Joshua thought he was a burden.

From what I understand about his past, Joshua just barely a teenager when he suffered trauma in a car accident that left him mentally impaired. Can you imagine the frustration--how all his relationships immediately changed as a result of his diminished capacity to communicate?

Like a lot of folks, I really can't imagine his fate--the emotional turmoil that came from the source of that tragic event. And yet, his life did not end there.

All these years later, Joshua has a job scanning important documents into databases. He verifies that the written documents are consistent with the digital documents they were copied from. He works with other disabled persons, some who have behavioral disorders. From what he tells me, some of his co-workers who have behavior disorders tease him while he’s doing his job.

Joshua is rational. He understands things. His brain is damaged in a way where he has difficulty with motor functions. So for instance, he walks satisfactory, but his pace tends to be measured and slow. As well, he talks slow, and sometimes he stutters. For Joshua, the world around him is out of synch. It moves too fast.

Joshua has an iPod, so I gave him some music. He was thrilled with the 4.7GB DVD of music I made for him. I could see the joy written all over his face. And from that moment on, well, let’s just say it was official--we were definitely friends.

As he began to open up more about who he was and where he’d been, I told Joshua that he didn't have to be sorry anymore--that he wasn't a burden to this world. From his reaction, I don't think anyone had ever told him that before, but I think he really believed me when I said it.

I've known him for about two years now, and I don’t hear him say “I’m sorry” anymore. In fact, I haven't heard him apologize for being himself in at least a year.

So what’s the moral of this story? I suppose each reader will decide that. However, let me just say this: Joshua is a citizen. He’s a productive member of society. He pays taxes, and he’s not a criminal. Joshua is a brother, a son, and a friend. But most importantly, Joshua IS Joshua. He is his own person, with a unique identity, and he no longer has to apologize or feel sorry, because he has come to realize he’s accepted, valued and loved.

Friday, August 13, 2010

We are you too

Hello and welcome to We Are You, a blog about personal empowerment and transformation. 

My name is Doug Bialach, and I’m the site moderator.  I’m also a career professional specializing in digital hardware, content delivery, systems integration, and Internet tools.  I’m a family man and I have a disability.  I’m legally blind in both of my eyes.

In this live journal, I seek to convey information to my peers and the public-at-large about the daily experiences of disabled persons.  It is my hope that in sharing my own life experiences, the whole of the community can become more empowered; particularly as it relates to higher education and employability. 

At the behest of family, colleagues and friends, I will use my personal journeys as an able person living with a disability to tell my story and the story of others, while also providing a useful dialogue that informs of triumphs and challenges beyond conventional wisdom associated with the term “Disability.”

Persons with disabilities are not that different from everyone else.  You are us.  We are you too.