Last semester, I had a professor who I really connected with on a more personal level. Though we discussed my role as a student, we also discussed a role I didn’t think I could inhabit so fully: my role as an advocate, especially for those with disabilities. One evening following my night class with this specific professor, we discussed my life, my future, and all the many obstacles I’ve faced to get to where I am today. It was an incredible conversation, one in which I truly felt heard, and it’s something I will never forget.
Specifically, after much discussion regarding my Cerebral Palsy, my past of physical therapy, surgery, pain and hardship, my professor mentioned how she had been wanting to talk about my disability with me for quite some time but didn’t know how to broach the subject with ease. However, once I completed a project for her class in which I discussed the topic of disability discrimination, she knew I was comfortable and wouldn’t mind hearing any questions she had.
As we talked about my life and my future aspirations of writing my memoir and becoming a social worker, I slowly began to realize I had gained a mentor. I had gained someone who not only supported and believed in me, but someone who pushed me to look more closely at myself and my potential. Since I have only truly connected on a more personal basis with one or two other teachers throughout my life, this experience was incredible. It gave me a chance to open up, to share my life, in a way I wouldn’t have otherwise been able to do if I hadn’t had the courage to open up about my disability through a big research project which was presented to the whole class. Specifically, during our conversation, my professor said, “Amelia, you have the power to completely change the face of disabilities.”
I have striived to be an advocate for others with disabilities since as a kid, I wished I had had a kind of mentor who I could talk to about the difficulties of living with a physical disability. In my opinion, having the chance to talk to someone who had been there would have really helped me, so I long to be that person for others. Therefore, when my professor told me I have the power to completely change the face of disabilities, I was floored. I truly felt proud to receive praise of such a high honor. The simple fact that someone believed I had the potential to achieve something so lofty was amazing.
Recently, I thought about what my professor said last semester, and how great it made me feel. As I mentioned that conversation to a friend recently, she said, “Amelia, there’s something you don’t see: you already do change the face of disabilities.” I stared at my friend, confused, not understanding what she meant. She explained by saying, “You change the face of disabilities just by being yourself. You bring awareness to what Cerebral Palsy is. You provide special needs families with the hope that it’s possible to overcome incredibly difficult obstacles. But you know what the best part is? You overcome it all with a smile on your face the determination to keep going no matter what.” The wonderful thing is I didn’t see how I was changing the face of disabilities just by being myself. I imagined I wouldn’t be able to do that until I aimed to do something more tangible, something I could point to and say, “Yes, I brought about that change.”
It’s caused me to realize that maybe being an advocate and lifting others up has many parts. Maybe it doesn’t just involve the tangible changes we can point to with pride. Maybe it’s the little things too: the connections I strive to make with the families of children with special needs at my internship, the talks about CP and bullying I’ve given at elementary schools, and the connections I’ve strived to make with others with special needs through my blog.
Recognizing my abilities to change the face of disabilities definitely isn’t easy. Maybe it takes hearing it from others before I start to believe it. However, as I’ve been told, I’m already doing it just by being myself. As of now, there’s only one way to go in order to continue along this path: forward. I don’t know all the answers. I don’t know the secret to living life with a physical disability without letting it pull you into despair and self pity. But I do know one thing: All I have ever been is myself. Maybe that’s the only secret that matters.