A nice memory popped up on my Facebook feed when I logged in this morning: "Excited to start a new venture, which I hope will lead to a second career in Motivational Speaking. Wednesday night, I will be sharing my story with parents and students. I'll speak about how I have chosen to defy disability and delight in diversity. I will discuss the importance of self-acceptance, perseverance, independence, and advocacy...Teachers, social workers, parents, organizations, etc., if you are interested in having me speak at your events, PM me your contact information, and I'll be in touch."
What a year it has been! I wonder if I'll ever be able to charge the $1,000.00 fee the internet suggests for Motivational Speaking. Since I started, I have done seven speaking engagements, five for free. Although I'd like to get paid, getting my message of acceptance, understanding differences, and positivity to those who could benefit from hearing my life's story is essential. Most recently, I spoke to two fourth-grade classes at a local school. They're currently reading Sharon Draper's Out Of My Mind.
The (fictional) main character Melody's 11 years old, and she has Spastic Quadriplegia Cerebral Palsy. She uses a wheelchair and cannot walk, talk, or feed herself, but Melody is very bright and has the gift of a photographic memory. Sadly, no one but those closest to her knows what she can do. To the other people in her life, she is the girl in the pink wheelchair who can't do anything for herself. Doctors told her mom that she won't potty train, can't learn, and should be institutionalized. Thankfully, her mom doesn't listen, and she enrolls her in school. As a result, Melody's peers pick on her, calling her a "liar" and an "idiot." Melody also must deal with teachers who assume she's incapable of learning. Through it all, Melody perseveres and eventually receives the gift of speech, but will the people in her life be ready to listen to what she has to say?
Melody's story is a "must-read" for anyone, and so is mine. I, too, have Spastic Quadriplegia Cerebral Palsy, and I use a power chair and a service dog for mobility and independence in my everyday life. Although I can walk, talk, and feed myself, I can relate to Melody. Doctors also told my mom that I would never potty-train, and when I was five years old, school administrators told my parents that my school was "not equipped to handle a child like me." As a result, I rode the bus an hour away to a "special" school in Joliet. I didn't think I'd ever get out of there. When I did, some administrator’s teachers and peers tried to make my life miserable. Administrators wanted to make me stand out from my peers even more than I already did. Some teachers couldn't understand that I needed accommodations to be successful in school, and some peers bullied me. They were repeatedly mean and excluded me from activities that most kids my age would've loved to be a part of, like going to the movies or trips to Great America. Some even accused me of not doing my homework/classwork, especially if I got better grades than they did. I wondered if I would ever be accepted by them. Would the people around me ever see beyond my wheelchair and my limitations?
If you want to know the answer to these questions, read my book or have me come and speak to your school, your community group or service organization, your church, or even your place of employment. I guarantee you won't be disappointed!
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