I was sitting across the desk from my high-school advisor, who was officiously scrutinizing the completed applications I intended to submit to the universities of my choice. She sat back, and, peering at me over her horn-rimmed, half glasses, she announced, “You may as well go to the local community college, and not bother with this. From where I sit, Miss…uh,.” she paused, distractedly shuffling through papers, trying to find my name, then continued: “Laura, is it? Because I doubt you’ll ever amount to…anything.”
Later, while attending the four-year university of my choice, and thinking ahead as to my career, I aggressively sought full-time, gainful employment. Overcoming the barriers imposed by small minds required a patience I didn’t know I possessed. Sitting in the office of a potential employer, I was asked, “Come on, now. What can you people really do? if you can’t see, how can you really do…anything?”
After being invited to speak at my City Hall to a group of officials conducting a workshop on community access, the meeting facilitator briefly interviewed each speaker as to their credentials, for the benefit of the attendees. As the only speaker on the panel who was disabled, I was advocating for reasonable accommodations as per the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Each speaker was asked about their vocation and qualifications. Upon turning to me, she said, “And what is it that you like to do with your time, dear? What is it that you do for work? Or, do you do anything?”
Sometimes, when we hear stories of people who have overcome adversity, we hear tales of epic struggles, like those we see in movies. Much of the time, though, what stands in our way can be subtler, not so much a battle as a series of slights, or the persistent pressure we might experience through chronic adverse circumstances, such as poverty or isolation. To overcome the adversity of anything, you need to know your strengths, identify allies, seek out heroes and be open to the idea that you are your best advocate.
Identify your strongest supporters. you may be disheartened to realize that this may not include family, or even close friends. While this can be devastating to anyone seeking self-sufficiency, keep in mind that your loved one’s lack of support may be due to reasons that have less to do with you or your decision to become independent. Sometimes, we become so deeply entrenched in our expected roles, especially in families or close relationships, that when we make changes, this can inadvertently cause the role of the other person to become redefined. If, for example, your spouse or loved one has become accustomed to managing certain aspects of your life, she may feel she is fulfilling a purpose. One friend confided in me, after deciding to move from the East coast to the West coast that his mother wailed, “Now, what am I supposed to do?” Sometimes, we find out the hard way that our families are not our best support system. If this is the case for you, then find support elsewhere. Seek out friends, peer counseling, outreach services, a like-minded online social network.
Find the people who are doing what you want to do, and contact them directly to learn how they overcame barriers. Don’t be intimidated. If you are rejected or dismissed, realize that is not the kind of person you want to emulate, and any advice they would offer would only be tainted by their ego, and not offered generously in the spirit of elevating others. Try to keep in mind, though, that not everyone wants to be the “poster child” for disability, and that their non-responsiveness may be due to the fact that they, too, are still finding their own way forward. Once, I wrote to a high profile entrepreneur who dominated his industry, and who shared my particular form of vision loss. Since I admired this person a great deal, I not only wrote to him, but attempted to meet with him in hope of learning how he had conquered the attitudinal barriers I knew he faced everyday, and a further hope that he might offer some sage advice. Unfortunately, I never heard a word from him, and I was deeply disappointed. Later, I learned that he carefully guarded his public persona, to the degree that he micro-managed the means by which he interacted with people, to the point that he insisted he never be seen using a white cane, and that he was always seated or situated in place first in any meeting conditions, so that he should never appear weak or disadvantaged in any way.
Consider disability-specific education or retraining. When it became necessary for me to begin using a white cane, my department of services for the blind vocational rehabilitation counselor insisted I attend a school for blind adults. at first, I refused. I was strongly independent, and in my opinion, attending a school for the blind would only define me as a person who was blind, a label I desperately wished to avoid. It took quite a bit of convincing before I agreed to go. I won’t go so far as to say I arrived kicking and screaming, but I was not exactly willing to embrace the situation. My attendance at the school for the blind completely changed my life. It is where I learned my love of advocacy, it was the genesis of my passion for educating others. It is where I learned the meaning of dignity and what it means to ascend to meet your circumstances. I expected to learn Braille, independent living and cane mobility skills. but it was what I had not expected to learn, from which I benefited the most.
Overcoming adversity doesn’t always mean that the barriers are external. Sometimes, it is the inner conflict, our personal narrative, playing on the endless loop of our subconscious, that holds us back. Those private, negative messages may have begun early in childhood, through social conditioning, parental expectations, or catalytic events. If it were true that time heals all wounds, then psychologists’ offices wouldn’t be filled with adults seeking to heal childhood hurts. Our jails wouldn’t be filled with precious human beings who couldn’t find a productive way to cope with their circumstances and manage their lives. Social media wouldn’t be a labyrinth of nonexistent personas desperately seeking to manifest the celebrity, excitement, success, or attention that is missing from their real lives. It is when we permit ourselves to be defined by the external that we are weakened, because we are then vulnerable to the vicissitudes of opinion. It is perhaps the greatest struggle in our lives that we must find out who we are, and live our lives on our own terms, with our own sense of purpose. It is only then that you will be able to overcome the adversity of anything.
About the author: Laura Legendary is a speaker, author, and educator specializing in disability awareness, accessibility, advocacy, and assistive technology. Learn more at her flagship site, Eloquent Insights, www.eloquentinsights.com. More recently, Laura has been working on a start-up enterprise, Elegant Insights Braille Creations. To read product descriptions and sign up on the mailing list, go to www.elegantinsightsjewelry.com, or find the Elegant Insights page on Facebook at www.facebook.com/Elegant.Insights.
You are welcome to leave a comment or link to your own BADD 2013 submission in the comments section. Please use the accessible contact form on the blog home page if you would like to write to me directly.
Previous BADD posts:
2010: You Don’t Look Blind
2011: It’s on Aisle 5
2012: Your Ingenius Life
Thanks for reading, and fight on.