Economic Empowerment

Every day I discover something new about life as a physically disabled woman and with these discoveries I also learn how to handle the multiple daily obstacles that I face. Obstacles such as the rising cost of medications or the increased health insurance premiums have taught me that being physically disabled is an extremely expensive life.

I’m not alone in believing that disability is expensive as there is extensive data that suggests persons with a disability are likely to have limited opportunities to earn income and have increased medical expenses. Although the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) assures equal opportunities in education and employment for people with and without disabilities and prohibits discrimination based on disability, people with disabilities still remain overrepresented among America’s poor and undereducated. Many persons with disabilities often face significant limits to owning assets, such as homes, or to obtaining access to credit.

Senator Chris Van Hollen

So, that’s why on March 25th, I decided to attend a personal finance workshop in celebration of Women’s History Month at Baltimore City Community College hosted by U.S. Senator Chris Van Hollen. I must admit I started out with a plan to learn more information that I could share with friends of Disability Partnerships. Since economic empowerment is one of our three core program areas, I needed to start focusing on that program. My initial goal was to listen to the speaker, write down some quotes and draft Facebook posts that I could share with everyone about the event.

I also went because I know the reality. The reality is being physically disabled is a definite economic setback. Believe me, I am blessed and thankful and highly favored. However, I am often stretched financially as a result of my healthcare needs. Before I was injured, I had no idea of the financial drain that people experience with disabilities. If it’s not medical supplies, then it’s the cost of doctors’ visits, hospitalizations, equipment and caregivers. And let’s not forget the overwhelming cost burden of transportation. If you can’t drive then you are either paying somebody to drive you somewhere or always paying for public transportation or a cab.

Michelle Singletary, author and columnist of the 21 Day Fast: Your Path to Financial Peace and Freedom

I started out attending the event for my nonprofit and ended up absorbing information that I have happily applied to my personal financial life. I sincerely appreciated the message of the day from Michelle Singletary. She was the keynote speaker and is a personal finance columnist and author of the 21 Day Fast: Your Path to Financial Peace and Freedom. Although she’s not physically disabled, her message will resonate with anyone who experiences the pain of trying to juggle multiple expenses with a limited income. My favorite part of her speech was when she encouraged the audience to be in love with budgeting. The way she described her love of a budget made me believe that budgeting could feel like eating the perfect meal with the added bonus of being serenaded by your favorite musical artist.

After attending the workshop, I also felt validated in my decision to include economic empowerment as a key program initiative. I have learned that economic empowerment is critical for persons with physical disabilities. Just to be clear, I believe that our community often suffers from a feeling of powerlessness as it relates to our finances and we want to be more in control of our economic destiny.

I know economic empowerment is widely recognized as a key strategy for enhancing the ability of persons with disabilities to live a full and successful life. I want my organization to partner with other entities to help foster the participation of persons with physical disabilities in decent employment, reducing poverty and enhancing income security.
Specifically, I want people with physical disabilities to own real estate, businesses and have the comfort of knowing that when they retire they will not empty out their 401k in one year just because they have multiple health issues. I want to see more persons with disabilities not only with decent employment, but also sitting on the board of directors of Fortune 500 companies or serving as a CEO who just happens to be in a wheelchair.

It is possible. For millions of individuals with physical disabilities, public policy efforts and the activities of organizations like mine simply need to work together to promote income generation, savings and asset building. I want to see an effort that empowers individuals with physical disabilities to pursue economic self-sufficiency.

Please take a moment and tell me what you think. Do you have any ideas on how to strengthen the economic sufficiency of persons in the physical disability community? If so, please share them. Because I truly believe that as Molière says, “the greater the obstacle, the more glory in overcoming it.”

What Challenges Us?

I cannot believe 2016 is almost over! It has been an amazing year for Disability Partnerships.

In January 2016, Disability Partnerships officially became recognized as a 501(c)3 non-profit organization. The process of becoming a non-profit organization is no easy feat, but I felt compelled to channel my pain into service. So, I quickly moved into gear and celebrated the victory of our non-profit status with the “public launch” of the organization.

Disability Partnerships officially launched in May, on the five-year anniversary of the natural gas explosion in my home that started me on this journey. We received our first grant over the summer and held the first “Wheels of Defense” class in September.  Also, in September, I attended an event sponsored by the TapRoot Foundation which enabled me to connect with volunteers and consultants who have offered their time and services to strengthen the infrastructure of non-profit organizations.

cheers-for-charity-picIn October, we had our very first fundraising event. It was a HUGE success! The event also marked our first public/private partnership with Dawson’s Market in Rockville, Maryland.

To close out 2016, during the first weekend in December, I attended the Abilities Expo in Dulles, Virginia. The expo has been in place for nearly 40 years and it’s an amazing resource for persons with disabilities. If you are newly disabled due to a traumatic injury or illness, this event is an excellent opportunity to learn about the products and services available for persons with disabilities. It happens annually across the country.  While there,  I was able to make many connections, both personal and professional, and met so many people with a similar goal – a desire to make a true impact in the disabled community.

rewalk_mobile2I also spent time visiting each booth. One of my most exciting discoveries was finding the vendor for the exoskeleton product called Re-Walk. ReWalk is a wearable robotic exoskeleton that provides powered hip and knee motion to enable individuals with spinal cord injury (SCI) to stand upright, walk, turn, and climb and descend stairs. It’s extremely pricey and not entirely covered by insurance, but I can only imagine how exhilarating it must feel to actually stand up using ReWalk.

I also connected with Joshua Basile, Esq, who founded a non-profit organization, SPINALpedia. I first became aware of this organization while in rehab at the National Rehabilitation Hospital in Washington, DC. SPINALpedia is a social mentoring network and video archive that is designed to help motivate members of the spinal cord community. Joshua has an amazing story and followed the path of transitioning his pain and suffering to strengthen persons in the spinal cord community and help them reach their goals.

I also had the opportunity to meet with a vendor who demonstrated a newbasketball-pic wheelchair designed for persons who want to do activities such as play basketball. It’s designed to be a safer alternative than a standard wheelchair and help the user effectively maneuver around a basketball court. I love that it offers persons who use a wheelchair the chance to improve their health by participating in aggressive team sports.

Overall, my experience at the Expo was inspirational. For so many reasons, I hope and pray that events like this continue to happen for persons with disabilities. Most importantly, these events give us a vision of the possibilities for our life.  We need to know that life doesn’t end because you are utilizing a wheelchair, a cane or a sign language interpreter.

And… my favorite time of the year is finally here. Christmas time has arrived and I absolutely love this season. I love the spirit, the beauty and the hope of the holidays. As I reflect on my first full year as a non-profit Executive Director, I know that what challenged me about starting my own organization with little to no funding did not break me, but turned out to be my greatest blessing. Disability Partnerships gives me the chance to pay it forward and I am committed to helping others embrace their new normal.

Last, but definitely not least, I am thankful for every single person who believes in the mission of this organization, who believes in what we do and what we can do together. Because of you, I cannot wait to see what the future holds for Disability Partnerships.

Happy Holidays, my friends.
Tamara Maze Gallman

Wheels of Defense

Once I became physically disabled, I developed a routine that I follow every time I enter a new place.  It doesn’t matter if it’s a restaurant, a retail store, a religious establishment, or a new doctor’s office.  I look at the door.  I wonder will it be wide enough. I look at the hallways. Are they too narrow?  I assess the reception desk or hostess stand.  Is it too tall for them to see me and allow me to comfortably talk with them?

Then, I look around the room to assess the other people patronizing the business.  What type of people will I encounter?  Are the people friendly or aggressive?  Invariably the questions always shift to more specific scenarios at the new locations, “What happens when…? How can I…? What if…?”

My calculated strategy for entering these new places is not unique or paranoid.   For many women with severe physical disabilities, this is a standard approach.  Unfortunately, It’s this same strategy that often reminds us of our vulnerability in community settings.  We wage a daily battle between wanting to be independent, but being fearful of our physical limitations in the face of potential assailants in the community.

It’s a valid concern.  According to the Department of Justice (2015), the rate of violent victimization for people living with disabilities was more than twice the rate of persons without disabilities. Women with disabilities experience specific vulnerabilities to abuse, yet because of the many social factors that lead to the personal devaluation and isolation of these women, they often don’t know any self-defense techniques or safety planning relevant to their physical limitations and living situations.

This data deeply frighten and sadden me, not just for myself and my future, but for the 27 million women in the United States who are currently living with a disability.

This is why when I launched my nonprofit organization, Disability Partnerships, the first program I set up was Wheels of Defense.   Wheels of Defense is a self-defense program for women using wheelchairs as a mobility aid. I am immensely proud of this program.  It is designed to be one of the solutions to the feelings of vulnerability that women who use a wheelchair may experience.  The overarching goal of the program is to help combat the attitudes and beliefs that women with physical disabilities are less capable of defending themselves.

We recently held our first class as a result of a grant received from Adventist Healthcare. We partnered with Defend Yourself, a certified self-defense training institute.    Two instructors taught the basics of self-defense theory, strategies, and techniques and provided general information on research on violence against women with disabilities.

I personally participated in the training and I left the class feeling more empowered and aware of the tools I currently have to defend and protect myself against an attack.  I understood that self-defense is more than knowing how to fight back.  It’s understanding boundary-setting, de-escalating conflict and effectively communicating concerns.  Since I became physically disabled, the number of people who think it’s okay to touch me or just push my chair without permission is astounding.  When I first experienced it, I suffered from the nice girl mentality and often didn’t want them to feel hurt by my refusal.  Through the Wheels of Defense class, I learned it’s okay to set boundaries and share my expectations about touching me.

Wheels of Defense is free of charge for all participants and we provide a small stipend to participants for transportation. This program needs help to survive and reach as many women as possible.  And, I’m determined to see it succeed.  I know with your support, we can start here in the Maryland/DC area and work our way across the country.  So, let me know your thoughts. If you are interested in participating or know of family members or friends who may want to attend a class send me an email at tmgallman@disabilitypartnerships.org.   I would love to hear from you. To support Wheels of Defense, visit Make A Donation .

wheels-of-defense-2
Wheels of Defense September 2016

 

Modern Day Heroes!

The Rio 2016 Paralympic Games, which run from September 7 – 18, 2016, feature over 4,000 athletes from around 170 countries who will compete in 528 medal events across 22 different sports. The Paralympics are the second largest sporting event in the world, following only the Olympics. However, I’m embarrassed to admit that before I became disabled, I never watched the Paralympic games. I knew it existed, but I was indifferent to the values and the importance of the games. Frankly, I didn’t understand why it was necessary. Before my injury I would ask myself, why is there a separate event? Wouldn’t it be better to just have everything all together and save a few events for persons living with disabilities? Of course, I understand now why there needs to be a Paralympics event. I understand why it should be separate and why these events matter. Because everyone, able-bodied and persons living with a disability, need to see evidence of hope.

We need to see people who channel their determination and courage into reaching their goals even when the daily activities of living are sometimes extremely difficult. The Paralympics are not an afterthought, but a complete and total focus on the people who overcome extreme odds to reach their athletic goals. The Paralympic Games include five major classifications of athletes: those with visual impairments, those with physical disabilities, amputee athletes, people with cerebral palsy, people with spinal cord injuries, and “Les Autres,” which literally means “the others” and includes athletes with a physical disability not included in the categories mentioned above, muscular dystrophy as an example.

Katie Holloway

The values and courage of the Paralympians is clear when you see competitors like Katie Holloway who competes in the sport of sitting volleyball. Katie was born without a fibula in her right leg and because of it, her right foot and ankle needed to be amputated when she was only 20 months old. This didn’t stop her from pursuing her dreams. Shortly after her college career, she accepted an offer to play for the U.S. Women’s Sitting Volleyball Team and has since been following her Paralympics dreams. She is a two-time Paralympic silver medalist and was considered one of the best spikers at the 2012 London Paralympic Games.

Tatyana McFadden
Tatyana McFadden

I also learned about Tatyana McFadden. Tatyana is an 11-time Paralympic medalist—three gold, five, silver, three bronze—who was adopted from St. Petersburg, Russia, at age six by Deborah McFadden. She was born with spina bifida that left her paralyzed below the waist. She walked on her hands at her orphanage and did not use a wheelchair until after her adoption. Once in her new hometown of Clarksville, Md., McFadden played many sports in her youth, including wheelchair basketball, sled hockey, swimming, gymnastics and track & field. She competes as a wheelchair marathoner and won the 2016 ESPY Award for Best Female Athlete with a Disability.

I’m not an athletic person – at all. In high school, I was the person who would read while sitting on the bleachers during a championship football game. So becoming a Paralympian will never be my dream. My dream is to successfully build my nonprofit organization so that young, potential Paralympians who may have recently been injured have the opportunity to grow in the areas of health and wellness, live in a home that is adaptive and comfortable and see the possibilities of a bright future through education. My dream is different, but it holds the same values. But, I do celebrate the achievements of Katie, Tatyana and every other Paralympian competing at the 2016 games and am committed to doing everything I can to highlight and promote the Paralympics games.

I realize that some of these athletes may not be famous or as recognizable as popular main-stream athletes, but it’s up to each of us to make sure they know they are no less inspirational to many of us living with a physical disability. I also know the question of political correctness is sometimes an issue when watching the Paralympics. How should you cheer and celebrate their achievements?  Should you pretend to ignore their disability and treat their achievements the same way you do those who compete in the Olympics?   I say cheer the same way you did during the Olympics. Cheer in awe. Cheer in excitement and Cheer their growth as human beings. Every disabled person is different but we are all human beings and human beings want people to notice the hard work we do.

So, the next several days are dedicated to the Team USA Paralympians. On the Disability Partnerships website, Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest pages you will see us promoting and highlighting the Paralympians competing this year. Please join me from September 7 – 18 in watching what many deem as the most inspiring international athletic event. I hope you’ll join me in cheering on our Team USA athletes, in being amazed at the feats these athletes accomplish and being inspired by their determination, courage, respect and positivity.

Working For Change

Disability Partnerships successfully launched on May 4, 2016, with the help of many people. We have wonderful and dedicated volunteers who support our mission and goals.  We also have a very small group of paid staff who help us develop effective programs and services.  These staff members have other full-time jobs and extremely busy lives, but they still manage to support this organization.  One particular staff member is Michelle Shipley. Michelle is a communications intern with our organization. She comes to us from Ithaca College where she majors in corporate communications.  We thought it would help you understand a little more about our organization by “hearing” the thoughts and experiences of our very first intern.

Thank you for your interest,

Tamara Maze Gallman

 

Michelle Shipley
Michelle Shipley

Working for Change

Growing up, you think about your dream career—astronaut, doctor, artist, teacher—mine was an actress.  I think most people my age never put much thought into the path you take to reach your dream career.

As I entered my sophomore year of college an internship was the furthest thing from my mind. It wasn’t until I started to see my friends apply and be selected for internships that I realized I needed to get on track. I’ve always had strong communication skills, so a career in the communications field naturally seemed like the right fit for me. Specifically, I study corporate communications and wanted an internship that would strengthen that skillset. I looked and applied to various places— any place that needed a communications intern, honestly. At that time, all I really wanted from an internship experience was to learn how to apply basic corporate communication strategies.

After my twentieth application was sent out, I came across an ad for Disability Partnerships. “Huh, I’ve never heard of that organization,” I thought to myself. The listing drew my eye. I never thought about working for a non-profit and developing skills that would allow me to help people that really need the support.  I figured a non-profit might be a good opportunity for me and I could decide if I really liked working in that field.

During my interview, I heard Tamara’s story for the first time. Hearing how her life had changed forever from a natural gas explosion at her home shocked me.  I never really thought about how tragic accidents can happen so easily. Her story not only touched me, but it opened my eyes that this could happen to anyone. I knew immediately that this was the perfect place for my internship. After a couple weeks of waiting to hear back about the position, I finally received the awaited phone call that I had been given the job. I was so excited and could not wait to begin my internship.

My first couple of days working with Tamara were nothing that I could have expected. I never thought about the little things that living with a disability prevents someone from doing. I quickly realized how unaccommodating this world is for disabled individuals and whole-heartedly felt how unfair that is. For instance, I noticed that going to a gym isn’t even an option because the equipment isn’t made for people with disabilities. Some doors don’t have the automatic buttons that they need in order to open it without strain. And just forget about getting anywhere if there are only stairs and no elevator. The list could go on forever. Things that any able-bodied person can do without a thought could seem nearly impossible for a disabled person.

Seeing first-hand the difficulties a physically disabled person has because of a lack of accommodation in a community is heart-wrenching. I learned that according to the United States Census Bureau, 1 in 5 people have a disability in the United States. After learning about this statistic, I wondered why able-bodied people haven’t worked harder with people with physical disabilities to make things more accommodating for everyone. There needs to be a change!  So, I guess you could say I have become a disability advocate.  I want to do more than think about how it should be better – I want to help make things better.

That is why Disability Partnerships is working to partner with other organizations to improve the quality of life for people with physical disabilities.  Tamara has taught me that it takes more than government, non-profit, private businesses or even citizens to make a difference – but it’s the collective work of each of those groups that really creates change.

The first area of accommodation that we are focusing on is health and wellness. I’ll be honest, I used to have so much trouble staying in shape and eating right. I don’t know anyone that would honestly rather eat carrots than a bag of chips for a snack! But that is because eating right and sticking to a fitness plan is a process. After working with Tamara, I started thinking, if it is this hard for me, it must feel nearly impossible to people who are living with physical disabilities! Even if they dedicate themselves to healthy eating habits, so many gyms aren’t even accessible to people with disabilities.

In addressing the health and wellness accommodation problem, our first step was to find partners that have mutually beneficial goals. Disability Partnerships found an organization called DPI Adaptive Fitness.

The gym is run by a man named Devon Palermo who works with people with limited to no mobility.  Devon was more than qualified and had great partnerships on his end as well. Tamara and I were both excited about the opportunity for a potential partnership with his company! We participated in an adaptive fitness class taught by Devon. It was such an eye opening experience, and let me tell you, by the end of the class my arms were burning! It was amazing to see everyone pushed to their limits by being creative and working hard.

This past month working with Disability Partnerships has been an adventure. My job is to help build awareness of her organization through the development of health and wellness programs.  Since I have been here I have learned about partnering with other organizations to help accomplish mutual goals, I helped her secure her first partnership with DPI Adaptive Fitness, she received her first grant from Adventist Healthcare to host a Wheels of Defense class (a self-defense class for women who are physically disabled), and I helped her launch and market the Disability Partnerships’ Pinterest page https://www.pinterest.com/disabilityp0103/ .

I’ve learned so much about the non-profit industry and I’m excited to learn more. I feel so hopeful when I think of all that we can do for those living with physical disabilities once we are aligned with the right partners and have the funding behind us.  I’m eager to take part in this growing organization and truly aspire to help Disability Partnerships make a difference to the physically disabled community.

Michelle Shipley

I will forever hold the title of the first Disability Partnerships Intern

 

Transformation

IMG_0262

WOW! The launch of Disability Partnerships was a huge success! I am so thankful for every single person who took the time to read the blog, share us on Facebook, send an email or tell somebody about Disability Partnerships. My goal for the launch was to promote awareness of Disability Partnerships and hope that people would share within their networks about the organization. I definitely feel like that goal was achieved. So, what now?

Since we have a very small team working on building this organization, we made a strategic decision to focus the launch year on creating opportunities to increase health and wellness for people with physical disabilities.

I’m excited for the programs and opportunities that my organization will implement in the coming years. I carefully selected each program focus area based on research, anecdotal discussions and the daily barriers that I face as a disabled woman, but I must admit health and wellness has a special place in my heart. It could be my public health training or because of my personal health history, but I desperately want to see people like me experience optimum health in every way—emotionally, physically and mentally. I want Disability Partnerships to be a critical resource that provides opportunities to achieve true health and wellness.

We all know that losing weight in a healthy way is extremely difficult. Before I became disabled, I never understood how hard it could be to lose weight as a physically disabled person. My entire life I struggled with my weight.  If there was a diet craze – I tried it.  Cabbage soup, watermelon only diet, the detox diet (the one with the cayenne pepper), weight watchers, Jenny Craig…the list goes on and on. I tried working out in the morning. I tried working out in the evenings. I tried step class, swimming. Sometimes I made progress, but most of the time I didn’t.

A physical therapist told me once that being wheelchair bound is the new smoking. What he meant was that the data and research we have about the negative impact of smoking on overall health is similar to what the medical community is beginning to understand about the causal relationship between chronic disease and those with severe physical limitations.

I know the statistics. I know what the research says about persons with physical disabilities. We’re more likely to be obese compared with people without disabilities and people with disabilities are more likely to:

  • Experience difficulties or delays in getting the health care they need
  • Not exercise
  • Use tobacco
  • Be overweight or obese
  • Have high blood pressure

I recently visited my community gym to give everyone an idea of what’s it like when you try to use a gym with no adaptive equipment.  Take a look.

Scoping out the community gym

I also know the reality. I know how frustrating it is to try and rework my budget despite numerous medical expenses and add a monthly fee for a gym membership. I understand going to the community gym and not being able to use any equipment because it’s not adaptive. I feel the embarrassment when a healthcare provider asks for my weight and I have to guess since I can’t stand on a scale (my only real estimate of weight fluctuations is the way my clothes feel or if I’m admitted to the hospital and get weighed without my wheelchair).  I have no baseline on whether I’m moving in the right direction.

When you are physically disabled and trying to navigate in an able-bodied world, the problems you encounter trying to be healthy can seem overwhelming. It could be trying to figure out how to get transportation to a gym on a consistent basis. It could be trying to determine if your walking route is safe for a wheelchair. It could also simply be trying to emotionally address any self-esteem issues you may experience as you visit a gym and are surrounded by able-bodied people. Beyond all of that, it’s also about independence and feeling safe when you go into the community. That’s why Disability Partnerships is launching the Wheels of Defense program this summer and the Gym Partnership Scholarship Program.

I truly believe that as a society we can help eliminate the barriers and work together to make those of us who are physically disabled so much healthier. Please take a moment to read more about those two programs and consider donating to help Disability Partnerships make a difference in the health of those who are disabled.

 

Tamara

 

 

Finding Purpose In Your Pain

Transforming Suffering into Service

Welcome to the Disability Partnerships blog

May 4, 2016

Five years ago today, my reality changed forever.

On Wednesday, May 4, 2011, at 3 a.m., I woke up on the lawn of my home with a fire blazing around me.   The last thing I remembered was going to bed the night before with my home burglar alarm activated, the smoke detector on, and my husband by my side.

I woke up again on May 4, 2011, in a hospital bed confused, disoriented and unclear about where I was and why I was there.   I looked around the room and noticed my hands were strapped down to stop me from harming myself.  I wanted to know, what happened?   I slowly began to learn the answer to that question as days passed.    My husband, Collie, and I were the victims of a natural gas explosion in our Rockville, Maryland home.

According to the official report from the Montgomery County fire and bomb squad, “The entire first floor and the roof structure had been blown off its original location and was spread out over several hundred feet in many directions. At this point it was evident to investigators that this was a large scale event so additional fire investigators were called to assist at the scene.”[1]             The explosion ripped through the house and ejected us from the second story of the home and we landed in the backyard. The blast was deafening and woke most of the neighbors.  From what I was told, my body flew out of the house and hit the top of the fence in the back yard, which is probably what caused my complete T8 spinal cord injury and resulting paralysis.  The debris from the explosion fell on top of me and I was stuck under several feet of rubble until we were rescued.  My husband was also ejected from the home and suffered minor injuries.

The house and every single item we owned in the home were destroyed.  The explosion also set off a massive series of fires in the neighborhood.  It took 75 fire fighters more than 90 minutes to secure the scene.  It also took several investigators an estimated 8 hours to recreate the accident and try to determine what happened.

My husband and I were both rushed to the hospital.  The EMTs who arrived quickly assessed my injuries and immediately understood they were critical and life threatening and took me to the nearest trauma hospital, Washington Hospital Center.

The day of the accident doctors at Washington Hospital Center did exploratory surgery to determine the full extent of my injuries.   They discovered several life-threatening injuries:  Second and third degree burns to my foot, leg, and right arm; numerous fractures throughout my body, including a neck fracture, a shattered pelvis, extensive bruising and fractures of my spine; compression throughout the lumbar area; several fractured ribs; and a broken leg.  I had swelling and bleeding in my brain. I also suffered a traumatic brain injury which led to several small strokes.  While in the ER, I went into cardiac arrest and was resuscitated.

There were many things wrong with me, but the trauma surgeons made the decision to work on the most critical issue – my pelvis.   As one doctor later told me, “Your body went one way and your pelvis went the other way.”  During the 9-hour surgery they replaced my pelvis with a metal fixator.  I underwent several additional surgeries including a drain placement in my heart; a tracheotomy; a chest tube placement; and an IVC filter for blood clots. I lost more than 5 pints of blood and had to get numerous blood transfusions throughout the first few days.  As a result of the traumatic brain injury, I endured several small strokes which left me temporarily paralyzed in my left arm and hand.

So here I am today, 5 years later, on May 4, 2016.  I’ve been through 21 surgeries and 10 hospitalizations.  While still medically fragile, emotionally I’m stronger, wiser, happier, and have a renewed commitment to serving others, and with a greater understanding that I am a living witness of God’s existence. It took me 5years to get to this place.  Five years of hiding my story so that I could avoid publicly talking about my journey.   Five years of pretending that someone else should be the advocate and voice for persons with physical disabilities.

Once I entered the world of physical disability, I truly began to realize how difficult life can be with limited mobility, I will always remember the utter fear I felt when I left the hospital after being there for almost 11 months.  After attempting to reintegrate into the community, I quickly realized that in some ways the fear was justified.   I experience significant emotional pain, constant feelings of helplessness and a sadness that infected my mental health.  As time went on and I began to make friends who were also disabled, I realized I was not unique.  We were all able to tell the same stories.   The thought began to creep into my mind:  If able-bodied people were more aware of these issues I believed they would be willing to help find solutions.

So, I decided to launch a non-profit organization.  Today, May 4, 2016, 5 years after the accident, I have officially launched Disability Partnerships.  I wanted to build an organization that would help address the barriers persons with physical disabilities face in three key areas; physical health and wellness, housing and education. I also knew that the more I focused on others the less I would consider myself.   I stopped thinking about what I could not do and started thinking about what I could do. With the launch of this organization, I became committed to helping other people thrive with a physical disability.

Tell me what you think. Send me a note about the organization and any ideas you have on helping people with physical disabilities improve their quality of life in my program focus areas. It doesn’t matter if you have a physical disability or not – we can all contribute to improving the lives of those around us.

To learn more about Disability Partnerships, visit www.disabilitypartnerships.org. You can also reach us on Twitter and Facebook.

[1] Montgomery County Fire and Bomb Report