A Life Without Limits
Today’s special post about disability awareness was submitted by a guest blogger, my good friend and disability awareness advocate, Jennie Woodside. Enjoy.
Today I met Jelena. She is 1½ years old, adopted last month from a baby house (orphanage) 3 hours outside of Moscow. She has gorgeous grey-blue eyes and white blonde, baby fine hair. She has a flirtatious smile. She also has mild CP (Cerebral Palsy). Currently she is in occupational therapy and physical therapy.
I believe Jelena was in a crib most of the time so far in her young life, so she did not develop as babies normally do. With her CP, the delay is even more apparent. Learning to crawl, stand, and walk would have helped her limbs be flexible naturally. As they are, the muscles are rigid. In her shiny Mary Janes, she walks scissored, with one leg right in front of the other, falling forward, like a vine growing on a trellis.
There was a discussion about “thriving.” With therapy and good nutrition at last, she may not need surgery, or orthopedic braces, and she will overcome and be normal like other children, my friends said, as they oohed and ahed over her.
I piped up and said, “It is quite all right if she does need those things for a brief time to correct her gait while she is growing.”
It is best to do that now, while she is small and resilient. Her young parents nodded in agreement. They have already been through so much, including 3 trips to Russia to make her their daughter.
Russian officials had asked, “Are you certain you want this one?”
They said, “Yes! We are certain!”
I have a feeling little ones with special needs do not gingerly grow up to live a life without limits there.
I told her young parents how my young parents put taps on the soles of my orthopedic shoes to prevent the toe from dragging and wearing a hole into the leather. Besides being money saving, those taps had a delightful therapeutic effect of helping me learn to tap dance and mimic some steps of my childhood movie idols: Shirley Temple, Bill Bojangles Robinson, and Gene Kelly. Tap dancing strengthened my legs and made me confident. I also took ballet. I enjoy kickboxing and yoga now. They liked that story.
I adored Nadia Comăneci, who is the first young gymnast to score a perfect 10 in Olympic competition. My dad made me a wide balance beam close to the ground, so I could practice my balance, my gymnastics routine, with my ponytails sticking straight out of my head and my artistic “Nadia” hands. To an imaginary crowd, I stood on a podium, and bowed in my braces, accepting roses and my gold medal, too, and singing the National Anthem with my 4 octave range!
As Christmastime approaches, my favorite best childhood Christmas memory of all is when I got my own “ruby slippers.” I was in first grade. I loved The Wizard of Oz and Judy Garland’s sparkly shoes. To think, she could have gone home the whole time if she had only clicked her heels. Why didn’t someone tell her? Was it so she could appreciate her journey, not the destination? Whatev! I would have been upset!
My orthopedic boots (brogan style) only came in black or brown. I had brown. Santa/Daddy had shined my worn boots to a luscious candy apple red and refined my silver braces till they blazed as bright as a star and gently placed them under the tree for me to joyfully discover Christmas morning. I wore my red shoes so proudly.
I am an advocate for disability awareness and will soon be certified by Cornell University as a Corporate ADA Trainer. At my previous place of employment, with assistance from many friends, I helped establish the employee resource group for associates living with disability. This group served both caretakers to a loved one who has a disability and those who were personally affected themselves.
The best thing we did was to make the building accessible for all, almost 20 years after the passage of the ADA. Through friendly persuasion, I bravely and assertively speak of what needs to be done. It is my mission, my life’s work. I blaze trails for the little girl I was, and for the little ones who come after me, such as Jelena. She will know a different world then I have known, hopefully one more kind and tolerant to differences as she grows up.
People living with disability are the largest minority group in the world. When one considers both obvious and non-obvious disabilities, one in five souls on the planet are affected. Four in ten people have a loved one who is affected. They usually shop in an entourage.
If one is reached in marketing or recruiting or other engagement efforts, many more than one are reached. It is the one group anyone may join at any time, due to a difficult birth, accident (civilian and military), illness, or simply living a long life. Like Jelena, they are trying to find their place in the world, and they will not be ignored. They learn to bravely defy gravity every day!
Jennifer Woodside Consulting
Cornell Certified ADA Consultant