How vanity makes the world a better place

Not to brag, but my family has some outrageously gorgeous people in it. And my friends? They’re all ridiculously beautiful too! Wayyy better looking than the general population. I’m not talking about personalities here, I mean beautiful in the most literal and shallow sense of the word.

Before you judge me, take a moment to think about the people you love and how good looking they are. I bet you’re realizing that you must be shallow too.

For me, the vast majority of the masses are just meh, average, nothing special. My acquaintances usually tend away from average, either really nice looking or a bit of an eye sore. Maybe it’s a karma thing–if you take the time to be nice to people, they take the time to notice how smooth your skin is or how shiny your hair is. If you take the time to be mean to people, they take the time to notice your flaws. And by this magic, all your friends are exceptional looking.

The interesting thing is this growing movement to show the beauty in people with disabilities. To the friends of these models, they’ve always seen the beauty and it’s the most obvious thing in the world. But in a culture where disabilities are hidden away, people don’t know how to recognize that beauty for themselves; they must be shown. And that is what is so important about the efforts of people like Debbie van der PuttenAimee Mullins and Ali Stroker: including disabled models and actors in mainstream media. Because when someone takes the time to appreciate and share the beauty of another person, it’s easy to see the person behind the appearance. And that goes for any sort of demographic. I’m sure that if you’d never seen a guy taller than 6 feet before, you’d think he’s pretty funny looking and have a hard time looking past it to see him for his personality. Think about how long it took people from the history books to look past people with a different color skin than they were used to seeing.

Last year’s Fashion Week in Ukraine was a massive step for this country for not only embracing but also integrating the disabled community. One night they hosted a special fashion show, Fashion Chance, featuring models with disabilities.

Blind model at Fashion Chance

Models in wheelchairs preparing for Fashion ChanceBlind models in Fashion Chance

Living in Ukraine with a disability is shockingly different from that same experience in the US. The lack of ramps, elevators and accessible transportation cuts off all connection to the general public. After WWII, many disabled citizens and injured soldiers were locked away in institutions or on remote islands to isolate them from the general public. Even children struggle with this: there are only about 10 inclusive schools Kiev, in a city with tens of thousands of disabled children!! And these struggles only continue as 75% of disabled adults are unemployed.

These are some major issues! And efforts like this fashion show will prove to be among the most powerful weapons we have to right these wrongs! It’s about so much more than vanity.

In a place where disabilities are so hidden…

When I roll in my wheelchair, people stare at me like I am an alien and it wounds. –Yulia Kozluk

…no wonder people react this way.

It’s hard to see beauty or value in the foreign, the unknown, the alien, but it’s hard to miss when you take the chance to look. Fashion Chance for many Ukrainians was their first chance to look.

When we look at a disabled person, we are not ready to see a person in them… we should first be seeing a person and only then notice their peculiarities – are they tall or short, do they have blond or dark hair, do they have disabilities or not   —Natalia Skripka, Director of Ukraine’s National Assembly for Disabled

Do you think the media has affected how you see disabilities?

The gift of disability

I think one of the “steps” to coming to terms with your disability is inevitably to dwell on what you’ve lost. The future we had envisioned for ourselves. The experiences. Maybe even relationships.

I’m pretty sure this is true across the board from the deeply faithful to the clinically optimistic—these are the people who are the stuff of inspirational tales that are constantly shared. And then there are the people that go beyond inspiring…

Ali StokerI remember Ali Stroker speaking at the Abilities Expo this year. She was introducing her wheelchair dance team, Team Hotwheelz, and she said something kind of shocking: she is grateful for her disability because of the opportunities it has opened to her, one of which is getting the chance to inspire other people like her.

To me, Ali is beyond inspiring. Let me explain. I came across this video a while ago titled “Shit People Say to the Disabled”–it’s a parody of another video and all in good humor. Still, it covers a lot of what some other people with disabilities have said about their experiences with able bodied people that they’ve just met or don’t know at all. For example, (shown at 0:51) people tell him that he’s an inspiration. I’ve heard some people say this bothers them because they are just living their lives with the hand they were dealt, just like everyone else. Sometimes “You’re an inspiration” (perhaps followed by “I could never do what you do”) has an implied negative or pity for the person they are complimenting. Ali’s speech, however, was so empowering! It went beyond inspirational, past any negativity, and straight to motivational.

I think what it comes down to is that “inspirational” is often used to describe people who survive their misfortunes. “Motivational” is a person that achieves and thrives at a level that is impressive regardless of their abilities. You can’t feel sorry for the person who motivates you, if anything they should feel sorry for you for needing them. Ali is one of those people for me because she showed me that some good can come from your disability. And when you stop to think about it, it is so true. Whether it made you more courageous, more compassionate, more tough, feel special, opened a door…

I got a little off topic, but what I was hoping to demonstrate is how Ali saw her disability as, in short, a gift. And as remarkable as she is, she is not alone in this sentiment. What is really cool is that another site took the time to seek out the testimonies of disabled travelers and see how they felt they enjoyed their travels more than their able bodied peers (check it out for yourself here, it’s a great read!). This was my favorite story:

On a safari trip in Zambia a few years ago the rest of the passengers were miserable because we hadn’t seen any lions or cheetahs. For me however, the sensation of heat, isolation, quietude and hearing just the hiss of the cicadas and the groan of the insects was enough to leave me feeling absolutely blissful — a state of mind I don’t think any of my fellow travelers had, as they were so preoccupied with what they could or couldn’t see rather than the other sensual elements that make the African bush so special. –Tom Hart (blind traveler)

Abled TV

According to the 2012 Census, about 19% of Americans are disabled. This classification includes people with dyslexia, ADHD, speech impediments, etc. So lets take a look at the percentage of Americans with severe disabilities: almost 13%.

Now lets take a look at American television. With the rise of reality TV, stars discovered on YouTube, and the changing environment where celebrities are able to open up about their disabilities… we should be able to find a good amount of characters/actors on TV today that have disabilities.

Lets give it a go. In no particular order
(Disclaimer: I am not a TV aficionado so, after doing some research, here’s the most thorough list I could come up with)

Get Down Syndrome

  1. Artie, Becky and Betty on Glee – Artie is played by an able bodied actor, but Ali Stroker (Betty, paraplegic) and Lauren Potter (Becky, Downs) share their characters’ disabilities.
  2. Jason Street on Friday Night Lights – this character was paralyzed in the pilot episode and is portrayed by able bodied Scott Porter
  3. Walter Jr on Breaking Bad – has cerebral palsy and is played bRJ” Mitte III, who has a much milder case of cerebral palsy than his character.
  4. Venom on The Guild (web series) – Played by Teal Shere, a real-life paraplegic.
  5. Tyrion Lannister on Game of Thrones – played by Peter Dinklage, a dwarf.
  6. Daphne & Emmett on Switched at Birth – Katie LeClerc and Sean Berdy are hard of hearing and deaf, respectively. (There are a few other deaf characters too)
  7. Joe Swanson on Family Guy – probably the most well known paraplegic on TV. He’s a cartoon, but you’ve gotta give him props for how he got injured – stopping the Grinch from stealing Christmas from an orphanage. 

When I look at this list, I think Wow! We are doing a great job showing a variety of empowering disabled characters! Good job us! But then I’m reminded of that staggering statistic. 13% of the population.

The average American watches 34 hours of live television a week (an another 3-6 watching taped programs), according to this report. That’s almost 12,500 hours a year (plus another 1 to 2 thousand hours). So you tell me. Is 7 shows featuring a disabled character enough?

Let’s put it another way. 67% of pragramming watched, is reality TV. So lets think of disabled reality stars…

I can only think of a 2reality shows featuring disabled participants in this last year. In the last year (or 12,500+ hours of TV you’ve watched) there have only been TWO!!

  1. The Glee Project (Ali Stroker, paraplegic)
  2. American Idol (Lazaro Arbos, stutter)

To be fair, in recent history, 2 other shows have featured disabled contestants: Dancing with the stars (Marlee Matlin, deaf, & RJ Martinez, injured veteran) and America’s Next Top Model (Amanda Swafford, blind, & Heather Kuzmich, Asperger’s syndrome)

A couple months ago, I’d probably be proud of the fact that the US has so many disabled characters/celebrities on TV. Now I’m inclined to think it’s a gross under-representation, don’t you think?

Reminder: today is Controvery Humpday. Now’s the time to get opinionated and share those opinions!!! whether you agree with this post or not.
Let me just say, I’m not done with this topic. *wink, wink* So if you aren’t sold, I may convince you yet.

Abilities Expo-tivation

I hope everyone had a wonderful St. Patty’s Day! I imagine, after last night’s festivities, many readers will need a little extra help this bright Monday morning. Thankfully, it’s Motivational Monday time!

It feels only right to dedicate this post to the Abilities Expo I attended this weekend.

I will be honest, somewhere deep down, I was expecting to see a lot of broken people. My own disability knocked me down about 12 pegs, so I guess I thought I’d see people as broken as I’ve felt in the past. The biggest surprise of the entire event was seeing just how wrong I was!

It was an honor to be part of such an inspiring event. These are some of the inspirational highlights:
Don’t stop until the end–I have a special video for you at the bottom! 😉

20130318-025526.jpg

Adapted Equipment – LA Marathon!

Today is difficult for some because of some Irish fun. For others, its because they ran the LA Marathon. This booth (Strae Sport) had adapted bikes for amputees/paraplegics that are more steady and race-ready. In fact, one of these beauties actually crossed the finish-line at the marathon! How’s that for inspiring?

IMG_2016 - cropped    20130318-022149.jpg     20130318-022229.jpg

Adaptive Climbing

People of all disabilities made their way up this wall, met the challenge, and rang the bell all the way at the top! For some it was more difficult than others. One man was working hard at it for probably 15 minutes, but he didn’t give up and when he rang that bell, the whole place erupted in cheers!! He’s a travailler if there ever was one!

Mark Smith at Abilities Expo

Meeting Mark Smith

I had no idea that this amazing motivational blogger would be at the event, but I was thrilled to meet him in person! As you know, I love Mark and have even quoted him in previous Mondays. In case you were wondering, he’s even more amazing in person. Check out his blog here: powerchairdiaries.com.

Team Hot Wheelz!

Check these hotties out! These seven girls are a team of wheelchair dancers, and the epitome of the attitude and spirit of the expo that blew me away. They are beautiful and talented performers. Their disability was honestly an after-thought. They let the fact that they can’t walk hold them back about as much as the fact that I can’t write with my left hand holds me back.

Ali Stroker, member of the team and also a star on Glee, said–something to the effect of–she was grateful for everything that had happened in her life to bring her to this point, including her injury because it has given her so many opportunities, including this opportunity to meet all the attendees and to perform for us. The entire team had this same amazing attitude and grace. They were a HUGE inspiration to so many of the attendees. The team invited the entire audience to join them in their last performance. The stage became filled with dancers. (I’ll try to find a good video of the that to upload)

Enjoy this video of a piece of my favorite of their routines. You should watch, you’ll see what I mean.