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disability awareness

You’re Next

Seeing as how it was my second trip to the DMV in one day, you can understand how my patience was already quite thin.  I had spent the day running errands, and my first trip to the DMV ended in failure as I was told I needed my wife’s signature on the form that had to be submitted.  Upon entering the room where you are reduced to a number and are forced to wait your long awaited turn, I was faced with another dilemma.   The number I was supposed to take to determine my place in line was in a machine a foot or two above my highest reach.  I was forced to ask for help.

What’s your weakest ability?  For some it is math.  I know tons of people who hate working with numbers.  Maybe it is writing or public speaking.  Pick something you hate or are terrible at doing.  Got it?  Now, for the rest of your life you have to wear a t-shirt that tells the world how incapable you are at the thing you just picked.  Got a bad feeling in the pit of your stomach?  Good…cause now you have an inkling of what it is like for me to ask for help.

I live in a body with no arms and deformed legs.  The ways in which I struggle – reaching high objects, opening doors, carrying things, etc – are shown to all those around me the moment I enter their presence.  I have no ability to hide my disability.  I’m always on stage.  So, you may comprehend why I generally choose to ignore my problems.  After all, if I focused on my lack of abilities, I would be down in the dumps all the time.  Sometimes, though, life forces me to acknowledge my lack of arms.  You’d think that having to ask for help as often as I do, that I’d be used to it by now.  It doesn’t seem to ever get easier, though.

A man standing near the take-a-number device made eye contact with me, I swallowed my pride, and asked if he would get a number for me.  After all, they were already serving number 61, and I didn’t want to this to take any longer than it was already destined to as the next number in the machine was 89.   The man smiled, grabbed a number, and then did something unexpected.  Instead of giving me the next number in the machine, he gave me the ticket he had been holding, and took the new number for himself.  I looked at the number he gave me…62.  “You’re next.” he said as smiled and walked away.

In asking for help, I admit my imperfection, my inadequacy, and ultimately, my handicap.  And, sometimes, I not only get the assistance need, but receive a blessing for being just the way I am.

Do You Want Customers With Disabilities?

What follows is a tale of two businesses.  Both experiences occurred on the same day.  Both were given a fair shot at my business.  One succeeded greatly, and the other failed miserably.

Customers With Disabilities: Epic Failure

The cleaning of my teeth was finally finished when the dentist entered the room.  This was my first visit to this dentist, and while I’m not going to shame them by mentioning his name or the name of his practice, I will say that he has glowing reviews on several public opinion sites.  The dentist came in and within ten seconds of meeting him, he said the following:

When I saw you come in, I told the hygienist that you likely had poor dental hygiene, and if that was the case, you’d need to see me every two to three months instead of the regular six months.  It turns out you have great dental hygiene, but if that changes because you can’t brush your teeth or no one will help you, you’ll need to come back more often.

There are so many things wrong with his statement that I didn’t even respond until I returned home and called his office.  First, his snap judgement of me was dead wrong.  He assumed that I was unable to brush my teeth before he even talked to me.  This assumption led to several insulting remarks.  Second, the fact that he would tell me about his incorrect first impression is unbelievable.  Making a snap judgement is bad enough, but now you are going to insult me by telling me you assumed I wasn’t capable of caring for myself?  If you guessed wrong, keep it to yourself!  Finally, he wouldn’t let go of his initial assessment.  He guessed wrong, told me he guessed wrong, and then proceeded to try and validate his assessment by assuming that my disability would further limit me in the future.  While that is a possibility, there is no current evidence of that occurring.  He so badly needed his hypothesis to be right, so he further assumed problems that may or may not happen.  The dentist failed in so many ways, that I cancelled a future appointment with him, and will never go back.

(Epilogue: I found a FANTASTIC dentist after searching for a bit, and am very happy to refer anyone to Just for Grins in Keller, TX.  They are awesome!)

Customers With Disabilities: Wonderful Success

Customers With Disabilities DoorwayOn that very same day, I went to a branch of my bank to which I rarely go.  I was by myself, which meant no drive thru banking for me.  I gathered up my deposit info and rolled out of my van and up to the door of the bank.  Usually, when I approach a business that does not have a door opening button, I get to sit and wait until someone sees me and opens the door.  It can be a little humiliating, and that humiliation grows the longer I have to wait.  So, imagine my surprise when the door swung open just as I approached.  A man whom I’d never met before opened both sets of doors and greeted me kindly.  He introduced himself as Al, the bank manager!  He took my deposits to the back and processed them himself, so that I did not have to wait in line nor did I have to reach up to the tall counter where the tellers are located.  Upon leaving, he gave me his business card and said to call him any time I was coming up, and he would come open the doors.  I’ve already tested his promise on another occasion, and he was true to his word.  He’s the bank manager, yet he has time to open the door for me.  Greatness.

Which One Wanted My Business?

The answer is obvious.  The bank manager desires for me to continue banking with his branch and he shows me that desire by treating me so well.  The dentist was arrogant and rude, and he desperately needs MY Disability Awareness training seminar.  By the way he treated me, he showed me that he did not want me there.  I don’t remain in places where I’m not wanted.

So, the question goes to you.  Do you want my business?  Do you want customers with disabilities?  Then show them you want them.  Begin brainstorming ways to make your customers with special needs feel wanted.  Make your location more accessible, but more importantly, have an accessible attitude.  There is an entire untapped market of people with special needs, and this market will reward your efforts by remaining loyal to your accessible business.

Do you want customers with disabilities?  Then build an accessible business both physically and mentally.  Simple as that.

The Land of Me

As we came out of the restaurant last night, we happened upon an all too familiar scene.  Someone had pulled their car right beside our van, and thus had blocked the stripes on the ground that are meant to signal that this is not a place to park your car.  Fortunately, the driver was in the car and had her window rolled down.  My wife and I approached the driver and explained that she was in the stripes and we could not get my wheelchair into my van.  We were calm, and smiled at her…trying to make this as peaceful a confrontation as possible.

“I’m checking to see if my order was correct.” she replied.  She had just been through the drive through.  She turned away from us to continue checking her food order.

“Ma’am, you are parked illegally, and we need you to move.”  I said a little more forcefully.

“I was only here for a second.  I just pulled in.”  She retorted.

“Ma’am, it was illegal the moment you drove your car into the stripes and parked.  It does not matter how long you were here.”  We responded.  After several seconds of what I can only describe as an angry stare, she slammed her car into reverse saying that she hoped we had a wonderful evening.  Her tone suggested otherwise, but I still smiled and replied that I hoped she had the same.

I wish I could tell you that this situation isn’t a regular occurrence, but I’d be lying.  It is so common, that I no longer get angry, but am just disappointed in careless thinking.  Most of the time, we are able to work around the carelessly parked car, but sometimes, we have to seek help as there is only so much room for my ramp.

I’m not suggesting that people who do these kinds of things are evil or stupid.  Rather, these actions are a symptom of a much larger problem.  We are so wrapped up in our own lives that our first thoughts do not go towards what others may need but rather what we need…or want for that matter.

Sure, doors are held open, and no one calls me names to my face anymore, but if you want to see where our thoughts and actions lie, just watch what happens when no one is looking.  When societal members think they can get away with something wrong, a significant number of them will attempt it.  What really blew me away with this interaction was the tone the driver took with us.  If she had apologized and moved as soon as she realized what she had done, then she wouldn’t have driven away feeling angry.  But, how dare we tell her she was in the wrong and how dare we ask her to move.  After all, her dinner was very important to her.  So important, in fact, that she had failed to see a dozen open parking spaces in front of the restaurant where she could have legally parked and checked her order.

I struggle with writing this as I think of my own behavior.  I, too, elevate myself to a position of importance, and have to be reminded often to think of others, first.  Fortunately, we have an example in Jesus, who was and is the ultimate servant.  In Mark 10, we find Jesus’ disciples having a little argument of sorts over who shall sit in a more prominent position at God’s table in glory.  After Jesus tells James and John that they don’t really know what they are asking for, the other disciples get upset.  Jesus takes the teachable moment to set the record straight:

42 Jesus called them together and said, “You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. 43 Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, 44 and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. 45 For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.

This must have blown their minds.  In a society that depended totally on social class and roles, Jesus tells his disciples to throw that all out the window.  Become a slave of all…they must have thought he was crazy.  I know some movies depicting Biblical times often show the disciples as nodding their heads in agreement while stroking their beards when Jesus drops a truth bomb.  I don’t see that happening this time.  I’m thinking many of them were giving a great “deer in the headlights” impression with their jaws wide open.  Become a slave?  But you’re the son of God…

As Jesus’ statements were backwards from the way the world worked back then, we are just as backwards from Jeus today in America, The Land of Me.  Our comfort, our wealth, and the lack of any real persecution allows us to think of ourselves as kings simply serving a King that is a bit higher than we.  Even when evil strikes our nation as it did ten years ago today, we soon forget our position in God’s kingdom.  We return to our “me” lives, and think to ourselves, “It’s good to be sons/daughters of the King.”  And it is…but, this King, this Lord, expects us to act as his hands and feet in the world.  His expectation of us is not for us to lord over everyone around us, but rather, to show the world His love and His compassion through how we serve others.

That driver that was so inconsiderate…I wonder what she was going through that day…

Inspiring Happiness at Work

On May 6th and 11th, I got the opportunity to speak at the Foulston – Siefkin Employment Law Seminar.  My topic was “You’re Not Broken: How to Inspire a Happier, More Productive Workplace.”  Among some other ideas, one thought I presented was how to inspire belief in your employees and co-workers.  By simply believing in others, the workplace can be changed and positively influenced.  I told a story about getting hired at Six Flags Over Texas when I was in high school.  Instead of me describing it to you, take a look below to watch the clip for yourself:


Providing Hope for a Better Tomorrow

On March 24, 2010, my dad and I had the opportunity to speak to guests of the Hope Network Foundation in Grand Rapids, MI.  The Hope Network Foundation provides a much needed service to those in the community with disabilities, providing everything from housing, employment, and most importantly, providing pastoral care.  So often, our churches are either ill-equipped to provide for the needs of people with disabilities, or they have attitudes that give off a message to the community that suggests that people with special needs are not wanted in the kingdom of God.

I find the direct opposite to be true in Jesus’ ministry.  In Jesus’ day, society had built walls around the diseased, handicapped, and around those who were easy targets of ridicule.  Sound much different from today?  Oh, maybe we don’t require certain people to live outside the city gates, but we do prefer that that they live in “another part of town.”  Maybe we provide some services to those with disabilities, but so often it is because the US law says to do so rather than because we are following the example of our Savior.  Jesus breaks through the man-made barriers time and time again, and when asked why, His reply is always some form of “because I know the will of my Father.”  If we are truly following Jesus, we must have a heart for those whom society has already turned its back on.  Jesus loves everyone, and so should we…

I absolutely love the work at Hope Network Foundation, and thank them for encouraging me through hearing about their mission.  The question is, though, why must we have organizations like this?  This organization specifically carries out the mission of Christ…but why has the church gone so far astray of this mission?  If Christ’s church is to continue to be THE source of love in this world, we must find a way to get past the way we look, and we must learn to see Jesus in each and every person.

Tour de Nebraska – Part Two

After a wonderful weekend in Omaha, we drove over to Kearney, NE, on Monday for our next stop, the University of Nebraska at Kearney.  While I did have a few flashbacks to dorm life in the guest dorm room we stayed in, I loved being a few minutes away from all of the events on campus.  We ate dinner with the students from Collegians for Integration and Accessibility, and had a wonderful time getting to know them.  Several of the girls became Hannah’s (my two year old) best friend while we there.  We felt like family even though we’d only been there for a few hours.

Disabilities Panel at University of Nebraska - KearneyOn Tuesday, it was time to get to work.  I was invited to be on a panel for students with disabilities, even though it has several years since I was a student.  I really enjoyed being on the panel and hearing perspectives from other panel members on what life was like living with their particular disability.  I was not even aware of some of the disabilities shared on that panel, and found the afternoon very educational for all involved.  I especially appreciated the positive attitude found in the entire room.  So often, when disabilities are discussed in any setting, it can be a very negative and/or condescending experience.  This was not the case at UNK, and I am glad to have been a part of such an educational experience.

Tuesday evening, I got the chance to tell my story and answer some questions from the students.  We had a blast together, and I truly hope that my story made a difference and gave the students in attendance some things to think about.  For many that were there, I hope that my message of a joy-filled life was either a boost or a reminder to do what they were already doing so well.

I appreciate the acceptance and friendships that were formed in the short time we were on campus, and I hope to be back to speak again and meet a whole new set of students in a few years!

Disability Awareness at Harper College

Just over a week ago, I was asked to speak to students and faculty at Harper College just outside of Chicago, IL, on disability awareness. I told my story of growing up in a body with no arms, and gave the attendees a few tips on interacting with people in wheelchairs along with a few ideas on how to live a happy life. The space they had me in is called a “black box” theater which provided a very intimate setting. After I spoke, we had a great Q&A time in which the students and faculty asked me questions that ranged from from how I met my wife to how I became a disability awareness speaker.

The group was fantastic, and even though it was a very short trip, I really enjoyed getting to be at Harper College for a few hours. I love the opportunity to teach others about my experiences in what the world sees as a “handicapped body.”. Many times, appearences can be very deceiving. All in all, judging from their reactions, the attendees at Harper College were entertained and enlightened.