“One friend, one person who is truly understanding, who takes the trouble to listen to us as we consider a problem, can change our whole outlook on the world.” — Dr. E. H. Mayo
I was born in the mid-1950s to a large working-class family. We lived in what was then considered the typical traditional family, where the man was the breadwinner and the woman was wife, mother, and homemaker. I was socialized to grow up and become a wife and mother, to be pretty and well mannered, a.k.a; voiceless. For many years, I stayed true to that training. I dropped out of school, married young, and gave birth to my children instead of pursuing an education or a career.
Research shows high rates of marital failure, lowered levels of education, and greater risk of poverty and domestic abuse for females in this demographic; my life experience fits well into this statistical set. As I grow into the person I want to become I have had to face several misconceptions in my beliefs about myself and in the manner in which I could function in the world. My disabilities following brain surgery in 2005 was my first personal encounter with physical limitation, particularly an impaired ability to communicate. I quickly gained a larger perspective on the barriers faced by people with disabilities and a new respect for the difficult work required to overcome these challenges. As a person with disabilities, I simply want the supports that level the playing field…I want the same rights and dignities afforded those who are “temporarily able.”
My personal fight to recover from my medical circumstances provided not only the opportunity to recognize the true depths of my determination to succeed, but also gave me a strong desire to focus my life in the area of peer support and advocacy. My personal experience helped me understand that communication goes beyond the ability to speak and hear. Persons with physical, visual, or facial impairments also experience a loss of communication tools. I consider the use of computer emoticons (i.e., smiley faces, sad faces, angry face, etc.) to be proof of the human need to communicate with something more than words. Humans need non-verbal communication to gain the correct connotation of words. When we do not have the benefit of body language, facial expression, or tone of voice, communication can suffer. In cases of people who have sudden loss, as with stroke or traumatic brain injury, communication ability becomes crucial to understanding and helping address the many other disabling effects of these traumatizing illnesses.
I believe each and every person carries unique talents and gifts to share with our society when accessible opportunities, encouragement, peer support and strong self-determination are present. The driving force behind my goal of helping others is my desire to offer myself as a tool of support for others who are experiencing roadblocks to achieving their fullest potential. My personal history and my difficult life situations have given me the determination to fight for the life I want. Many parts of my past are painful to recall and were not filled with opportunity, encouragement, or guidance. Today I hope to use my understanding of those hardships and the perseverance of my spirit that continues to fight to make something beautiful out of those circumstances. I believe that my own experiences have given me a passion to encourage others as they define their own life course.