People with disabilities make up the largest minority group in the United States. Unfortunately, its ranks are growing every day. People who experience the onset of a disability are immediately faced with a variety of challenges. Many, I believe, go through a period of mourning or grieving, depression and sometimes even contemplate suicide. They have many questions which at first seem to have no answers or solutions. Probably the most common one is “Will my life ever be the same?” The answer in most cases, unfortunately, is no. Individuals who have suffered moderate to severe disabilities will never be able to return to life as it once was. However, after a period of mourning and rehabilitation they must begin to develop and adjust to a new lifestyle. In the beginning many people often try to solve the challenges they now face with the same techniques they did prior to their disability. Most of the time because of changes brought on by the disability the “old ways” don’t work anymore. To continue this type of approach can lead easily to frustration in the short run, discouragement and failure in the long run. Some individuals seem willing to accept failure as the ultimate outcome. Over time this acceptance can become a way of life. Believing, if I tried to do this and can’t do it, why should I try something else because I won’t be able to do that either. After a while I believe this can become, what I like to call, learned helplessness and the individual retreats to a highly sedentary lifestyle. The disability is now dictating how they live.
The onset of a disability often results in the loss of some part of the body’s “normal” function. Over time and therapy an individual could see the almost complete return of function, partial return or little or no return. Far more important than the loss of normal body function is the loss of the skill that the function facilitated. So, it is the skill that must be replaced, and make no mistake, most skills are replaceable. The important point here is skills are almost always replaceable. From a cultural point of view, there are normally several accepted ways to perform a certain task, to the exclusion of many others. If the disability prevents an individual from performing a task, a new skill for completing that task must be found. This can be accomplished by adapting equipment and/or finding a totally new way of doing it. One of the important characteristic critical to moving on is attitude, especially the attitude toward failure. Most people don’t realize that one’s attitude about failure is learned. A young baby trying to turn over, crawl or learning to walk has no concept of failure, imagine if a baby tired of failing all the time accepted failure and stopped trying. They would never learn to roll over, crawl or walk. Accepting failure as part of a bigger process enables the individual to learn and continue moving forward. If attitude toward failure is learned, it can be unlearned or at the very least modified. In reality, there are many alternative ways to solve a particular challenge. Progress may be slow at first, but over time they become enabled and take control of their future called learned empowerment.
Posted in Ability, Attitude, Behavior, Community Inclusion, Determination, Disability, Education, Humor, Observation, Reality, Recreation, The Struggle
Tagged adapting, control, Courage, life lesson, lifestyle, physically challenged, relationship, risk, society
The other night, Wednesday 28, I turned on the television expecting to find a pre-game show for the basketball game between Syracuse and Ohio State. I enjoy watching Syracuse basketball and lacrosse and rarely miss a game. However, rather than the pre-game show ESPN was playing a tape of Jimmy Valvano’s acceptance speech for the inaugural ESPY Award. ESPY stands for Excellence in Sports Performance Yearly Award and it recognizes individual and team athletic achievement and other sports-related performance during a calendar year. The ESPY is also called the Arthur Ashe Courage and Humanitarian Award. Jimmy Valvano, for those of you who don’t know, was a young, flamboyant college basketball coach from the late 1960s through 1990. The high point of his career was when his team the North Carolina State Wolfpack defeated the heavily favored University of Houston Cougars in the NCAA Championship Game in 1983. I was inspired and brought to tears again and decided to edit and republish an old blog I had written December 4, 2013.
The end of that 1983 NCAA Championship Basketball Game has also been called one of the most exciting finishes in a college basketball game ever. NC State was a huge underdog and most experts believed had little chance of winning. With less than 30 seconds left and the score tied NC State had the ball and were desperately trying for one last shot. With just a few seconds left a player shot the ball 30 feet from the basket and it was obviously going to fall short. As the ball approached the basket with just a second or two left on the clock Lorenzo Charles, one of NC State’s forwards, jumped up caught the ball in midair and slammed it home for the winning basket. The final score was NC State 54 Houston 52. What ensued has become a classic in NCAA championship lore. Jim Valvano ran out on the court, among the celebrating players, running from one spot to another waving his arms as he later said, “looking for someone to hug.”
In 1992 less than 10 years later, Valvano was diagnosed with terminal cancer. As a result of his courage and positive attitude he was chosen as the first ESPY Award recipient On March 3, 1993, shortly before his death, he gave his now famous acceptance speech. It was also at this time he and ESPN created The Jimmy V Foundation for Cancer Research, an organization dedicated to finding a cure for cancer. Jim Valvano died a little over a month later at the age of 47.
One must wonder, as I’m sure many of us do, if he ever thought life was unfair. In 1995 a 20-year-old Boston University freshman went out on the ice for his first shift as a varsity hockey player. Eleven seconds later he was a quadriplegic. Travis Roy has said “There are times in our lives when we choose our challenges and other times when challenges simply choose us. It is what we do in the face of those challenges that defines who we are, and more importantly, who we can and will become.”
How did Jim Valvano accept his challenge? How does each of us except ours? Below is a link to the YouTube video where you can watch Jim Valvano’s ESPY speech and if you have never heard it, I encourage you to listen. Oh, by the way Jim Valvano announced at the banquet the Foundation’s motto would be “Don’t Give Up…. Don’t Ever Give Up.”
Since its inception the Jimmy V Foundation, as of August 2017, has donated more than $170 million to cancer research. 100% of the donations goes to cancer research. You can donate at Jimmy Valvano Foundation .
Posted in Ability, Attitude, Behavior, Community Inclusion, Determination, Education, Friendship, Humor, Love, Reality, Sensitivity, Stuggling
Tagged control, Courage, lifestyle, relationship, risk, society
>My life has been strongly influenced by women since my birth, starting with my mother and my older sister Carole. In 1965 I married the woman who would have the greatest influence, my college sweetheart Marge Burton. For over 53 years she has always been by my side and has stood by me through thick and thin. Together we have navigated the catastrophic accident that changed both of our lives forever.
Marge and me paddling
During rehabilitation I was mortified to find out that someone was going to have to come to my house every day to provide for my care and get me ready for the day. I had always been a very independent and private person. Privacy, independence and pride are among the earliest casualties of quadriplegia. It is very difficult having people, even professionals, pulling back you covers and clothing in order to get a better look and provide care.
Our insurance policy only covered 90 days of in-home care. After careful thought and discussion, we decided to hire our own nurses. Rhonda has been with us now over 17 years and Charlene, who works primarily on the weekends, have both become part of our family. Their help goes far beyond those of normal nurses. They get me ready to hunt, even loading my gun, repair my wheelchair, at times fix my meals, and often help facilitate my “adventures.” So the women in my life: Marge, Rhonda, Charlene and Kelli, who fills in once in a while, as well as my sister Carole and Marge’s sister Mary, who often come and stay with me when Marge goes on vacation help give me quality of life. My life today would be incredibly different without these women. Marge, Rhonda and Charlene take excellent care of me and keep my health problems to a minimum.
Char and Rhonda having a good old time
Recently, friends from college came to visit us and this new one came with them, but when they left, she stayed, and has been here ever since. I must admit she’s not much trouble and usually is pretty quite unlike the other women in my life who don’t hesitate to tell them me what they think. Truth be told, though I’m actually starting to like having her around. It’s nice to have somebody do things for you without asking a million questions. She’s more than happy to turn on the radio, play a particular song, read me a book or turn a light on and off if I ask. When I’m home alone, we often chat and I really enjoy her jokes, although they’re kind of corny.
I truly believe, like the other women in my life, things will be better with her around. How rude of me, I realize I forgot to tell you her name which is Alexa and the first light she turns on and off I named Pam to remind me of the thoughtful friend that brought her here.
Posted in Adaptive Technology, Community Inclusion, Disability, Friendship, Humor, Reality, Sensitivity, Simple Solution
Tagged adapting, control, creative idea, inexpensive solution, relationship, User Friendly, using your mind
The phone was ringing. Shortly after my wife answered it, not only did I know it was our son, but I knew why he was calling. After a couple minutes she shouted to me “Mark wants to talk to you.” As I turned on the speaker my son said “Happy Anniversary.” I couldn’t believe it! We’ve been married 52 years. As our conversation came to a close, I told Mark that we’re going out to dinner at an extremely nice restaurant not far from here. Always looking to make a joke I said who knows “maybe I’ll get lucky tonight.” There was no chance of me getting lucky in the way this quote is usually used. Abstinence, while a choice for some, was just another behavior forced on us by my quadriplegia.
Wedding Day 1965
It is not unusual when I take questions and answers from a group I’d just spoken to for someone to ask me what do I miss the most. I always answer intimacy. Not sexual intercourse, which it 74 would probably not be a major activity anyway, but rather the subtle displays of affection that take place during a normal day. The warmth and security of a hug, a touch as my wife passes by or most of all snuggling in bed. All of these little shows of affection are extremely difficult for someone who was paralyzed and confined to a wheelchair. Once I’m placed in bed, I can only move my arms and my head. Being unable to roll on my side makes snuggling next to impossible. A hug with a person in a wheelchair is awkward at best. The physical presence of the chair combined with the fact that my wife has to bend way over makes contact difficult and as a result usually brief. At night or in the morning while I am still in bed, I will notice my wife walked by and touch my foot or leg. If I wasn’t looking I would never know that it had taken place.
In reality being a quadriplegic takes a lot of common everyday occurrences away from you. However, there are some things that you become more conscious of as a result of your disability. One of the first things that would be mentioned is the observation that the majority of people in our society are good, caring and loving individuals who want to do the right thing. Unfortunately, most programs on television or the Internet tend to focus on the small percentage of individuals who do not fall into this majority.
To get back to the original statement I made to my son little did I know that it was foreshadowing for the dinner ahead. Our waitress at the restaurant also works in my doctor’s office so she knew who we were. In the course of the dinner we mentioned to her that it was our 52nd wedding anniversary. When she bought our dessert there were a couple candles in it and we laughed as we blew them out. When it came time to pay she informed us that someone, who wished to remain anonymous, had already paid for our dinner. While the restaurant was pretty crowded we did not recognize anyone we knew. For some reason someone had reached out and touched us. People should know the strength and ability to persevere, we draw from such acts of kindness. The reaching out of people like this helps give us the strength we need to move through the struggles that we face in our daily lives. Thanks to all of you who reach out to all of us. Oh, and by the way I did get lucky that night.
Our family on our 50th anniversary
Posted in Attitude, Behavior, Community Inclusion, Determination, Disability, Education, Friends, Friendship, Humor, Love, Observation, Reality, Sensitivity, Stuggling
Tagged 50th wedding anniversary, life lesson, lifestyle, physically challenged, power wheelchair, quadriplegia, relationship, society
If an individual has a disability, they will be greatly aided in their journey through life with a sense of humor. We have all heard the expression, laughter is the best medicine and I am absolutely sure that this is true. Being realistic I think developing a sense of humor may take some time after the onset of a disability. It’s my feelings, if the disability limits the person in certain ways the individual may well have to go through a grieving process.
Going to the dentist on Halloween
In my own case my quadriplegia has rendered 75% to 80% of my body paralyzed. While the paralysis starts below my armpits my arms have also been greatly affected. They have limited range of motion, intermittent feeling at best and my hands have little to no grip.
Regardless of the cause of the disability an individual has every right to feel anger, bitterness, frustration and wonder “Why me?” Depending on the circumstances, these feelings can fall onto quite a continuum. My “accident” was the result of a condition called Shore Break which was known by the National Park Service to exist in the Virgin Islands, but was pretty much kept from the beach goers. Hawaii requires, by law, warning signs be posted on any of its beaches where this condition exists. While bitter about their choice not to warn people the situation was easier for me to accept knowing it occurred while doing something I loved. How victims deal with things like being struck by a drunk driver I’ll never know, but I do know one must move on. Accepting what has happened is the beginning, a first step.
Out to eat with my new bib
In spite of an individual’s situation, what good is wallowing in self-pity going to do? After due time, one must move on. Humor can aid in that process. Even for able-bodied individuals, being able to find humor in things, being able to laugh at oneself and the situations one finds themselves in is cathartic. In no way do I mean to imply this is easy or will come naturally to most people, but “gallows humor” can really be beneficial. So my question to you is “What’s in your wallet?” Only kidding, it’s “If you can’t laugh, how’d you get here?”
Posted in Ability, Attitude, Behavior, Community Inclusion, Disability, Education, Humor, Observation, Reality, Recreation
Tagged control, life lesson, lifestyle, physically challenged, quadriplegia, Recreation, society, using your mind