Tomorrow's the annual International Day of Acceptance, which is a day dedicated to the social acceptance of disability. For me, acceptance is something I am always striving for and hoping for. I am hopeful that there will one day be a world where we are no longer judged by the color of our skin, our limitations, or other differences that set us apart. As I share in my book, Difference is what makes us all unique. Everyone has challenges or differences that should be embraced, not seen as a mistake or something that needs to change. God doesn't make mistakes (Psalm 139:13-14 and Exodus 4:11, NIV). I know this and yet, sometimes I still feel judged for what I can't do, instead of being celebrated for what I can do, and the contribution as well as the credibility that my difference brings to society. Like Dr. Sexton, I was asked by an academic adviser if I was sure I wanted to continue pursuing a career in social work because classes would only get harder and they wanted to ensure I could handle it. I'd say I handled things well, getting my masters in a year and graduating Suma Cum Laude. Like Dr. Sexton, I've been told (by potential employers) I wouldn't get hired because of the things I couldn't do, Like Dr. Sexton, I didn't give up. Even though it took two years, three months ago, I got hired as a social worker for a therapeutic day school. I am so thankful to my employer for seeing something in me that others couldn't or wouldn't see.
Several months ago, Donka contacted me and asked if they could share my story. For those who don't know Donka, they're a non-profit organization that provides computer training and job readiness services to persons with physical, visual and limited learning disabilities. Through the use of computers and assistive technology, our clients become more self-sufficient and independent members of the community. I was once a student of theirs:
Today, my interview on Opening Bell aired. I only hope that Steve got to ask all his questions. Those who know me know I like to talk, but I must have been nervous because every time he asked me a question I ran away with it. Anyway, as I share on my home page, I still feel strongly that I am supposed to use my experiences to educate others, to be an encouragement and a beacon of hope for other people with disabilities and their families. It is my heart’s desire to help individuals become all they can be, no matter their challenges. It is my hope that being an author, motivational speaker, and consultant will help me to fulfill my desire while I wait for the perfect employment opportunity within my field. So if you know of any places or populations that could benefit from hearing my story, the whole story- not just Yazzen's, buy my book and/or invite me to speak!
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!
I'm discovering that attending book events can be fun! They're a good way to meet new people and find out what they like to read and also write. Today I met fellow first-time author Alexandra Georgas, author of Mom & Me: My Journey with Mom's Schizophrenia She and I both have a strong desire to make a difference in people's lives through the sharing of our stories. I also met Lou Holly, author of Southside Hustle.
Yesterday, I spoke to students and staff at Yorkville High School as part of the International Day of Acceptance. All my life I've had to work hard to show people what I am capable of, that I'm more than my limitations, but sometimes I still feel like that's all society sees. True acceptance is something that I want to see in this world and it's something that's needed. When I talked to the students about acceptance I shared some of what I share in my book on the topic:
"If you have ever felt different like you do not fit in or belong, you are not alone. I, too, have felt this way, and sometimes I still do. However, if you’re dealing with feeling different, you need to know that being different is what makes you unique. Don’t worry about trying to fit in or be normal. You are perfect just the way you are. As Maya Angelou said, “If you are always trying to be normal, you will never know how amazing you can be” (Angelou 2015). Realize that no one is normal. Everyone has challenges or differences that should be embraced, not seen as a mistake or something that needs to change. I believe we are all exactly who we’re meant to be. There are no mistakes. I shared how I try to never let fear or a perceived lack of inability keep me from trying something new, like cheerleading, waterskiing or writing my book. I talked about how I wouldn't change anything about my life except maybe my inability to drive. I also showed them how my service dog helps me be more independent.
Acceptance from Others
When I talked about acceptance from others, I shared how having meaningful friendships was difficult and how at times I didn’t want to go to school. I shared how it seemed like sometimes peers were too concerned with what others might think. But in college that all changed, especially when my service dog (Yazzen) came into my life.
I hope I made an impact yesterday, and I hope the students learned that people who are dealing with differences are not much different from them. I hope that when they see others who are different from them, they won't be mean, they won't ignore them or exclude them. Instead, I hope they'll say hi to them, include them in activities, talk to them, and get to know them. I hope that they won't be afraid to ask questions, even if their questions are about what makes the person different. Being friends with someone who's different, could be the best thing they do, not only for them but for the person they're befriending too.
Excerpts from my book "Making Independence Happen, © Amy Chally, 2016
This began on Sept. 27th when I received a call telling me I'd been nominated and my presence requested at the board meeting on Oct. 19th. Once I knew I could attend I was contacted for an interview and photos for the press release, which read:
Waubonsee Community College alumnus Amy Chally has faced many challenges over her lifetime but has persevered to turn those challenges into an opportunity to help and motivate others. Chally was born with spastic quadriplegia cerebral palsy that causes her muscles to be constantly tight and contracted, making it a struggle to move or control movements in her arms and legs. While she can walk with a walker, Chally uses a power chair and service dog for greater independence and mobility in her daily life.
Today, Chally is an author, motivational speaker and social worker seeking the right opportunity for her next career move. She recently worked with students at Geneva Middle School North, substituting for the social worker on maternity leave, where she said she had an amazing experience with the staff and kids. But when that temporary assignment ended, Chally wasn’t going to just sit by and wait for what’s next and has launched a new career as an author and motivational speaker. “I am a social worker by trade but I have struggled on and off to find permanent employment in the years since I graduated,” she said. “So now I am trying to start a second career as an author and motivational speaker while I wait to find my niche in social work.”
Chally recently published “Making Independence Happen, One Paw at a Time,” a two-part memoir told from two very different perspectives. Part one is her first service dog Yazzen’s adventurous tale of his journey from a tiny pup to her invaluable partner in life. Part two is her story, about how she got started on her journey of receiving a service dog and also “how courage, faith and love helped me get through the obstacles I face in life.” Her beloved service dog Yazzen passed away in 2014 and she currently has a new companion, Portland.
For her perseverance, desire to help others and can-do attitude, Waubonsee is proud to recognize Chally as a Student Success: Featured Alumnus. During her time at Waubonsee, Chally was a Gustafson Scholar and said she enjoyed the community service and other requirements necessary as part of that scholarship. She said that the staff at the Access Center were helpful and remembers a number of instructors like Dr. Murphy in psychology and Sara Quirk in English.
After graduating from Waubonsee, Chally continued her education at Aurora University, earning both her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in social work. She was drawn to the field after an encounter with a social worker at the age of 13. A social worker approached Chally and asked if she needed to talk to her regarding my upcoming surgery. When the social worker said that Chally could talk to her because she knew what it was like to be her even though the social worker had no visible sign of disability, she realized that she wanted to go into social work to help other individuals with disabilities. “I wanted to be able to use my experiences to help them, not because I knew what it was like to be them, but because I knew what it was like to be me as a person with a disability.”
In addition to her book, which is available for purchase on Create Space, Barnes and Noble and Amazon, Chally is serving as a motivational speaker for a broad range of audiences. She has focused on school assemblies, employee training, and disability awareness education. “I have been both a keynote speaker and a panelist at diversity/disability awareness events and have spoken to parents, teachers, and special education majors about the benefits of inclusion at local schools,” she said.
Outside of work, Chally enjoys going to the gym, spending time with her family and her Canine Companions for Independence service dog Portland. Chally is driven to succeed by her faith and passion for helping others be all they can be. For future Waubonsee students, she has one simple piece of advice. “Follow your heart, believe in yourself, and don't ever give up on your passion,” she said...
Tonight with my small entourage (which included my parents and a few staff from the college) by my side, Mr. Dickson, Chair of the Board of Trustees presented me with a certificate of recognition. I thanked the board for the honor and shared how I've always had a desire to help others. I also shared how difficult it has been to find a job as a social worker, but how I've used this detour in my life to write my book. I told them what it's about and where they could buy it.
I was a guest on WSPY TV 30's Fox Valley Today with Anne Vickery. October is National Disability Employment Awareness Month. This year's theme was inclusion. It's hard to feel included in the workforce when I've been unemployed longer than I've been working. That's why WSPY and Anne thought it was important for their listeners and viewers to hear my story. The first half of this segment discusses my educational and work history,
As you'll hear, I received my Master’s Degree in Social Work from Aurora University in 2006 (graduating summa cum laude). I am a Licensed Social Worker with my Type 73 in School Social Work and I've got valuable skills worth mentioning.
First, for clients on the autism spectrum, I have knowledge and experience writing social stories. I also have first-hand knowledge and experience linking clients who have special needs with information and resources with regard to transportation, adaptive equipment, home health equipment or other community resources available in the area that they may need. In addition to working in the schools, I have experience in the mental health field. In these environments, I gained knowledge and experience in facilitating different treatment groups, working as a member of a larger treatment team, as well as providing case management and individual counseling.
Yes it's true that I don't have a driver's license, but I am confident that this will not prevent me from performing the essential functions of a position with or without an accommodation, should I be given the opportunity. My personal and professional experience working with individuals diagnosed with pervasive developmental disorders makes me a uniquely qualified candidate for employment.
In second half of the segment we discuss what my book is about and also the important work of Canine Companions for Independence. In addition to trying to find a job as a social worker and writing my book, I also do motivational speaking. Therefore, I'm interested in sharing my story with local libraries, schools, boy scouts, girl scouts, women's groups, churches etc. in Kendall, Kane and DuPage Co. If you'd like me to speak at a location near you, please e-mail me. Thanks!
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