Updated: Jan 17, 2019
Somewhere in the world, it is my "officially documented" birthday already. I put "officially documented" in quotations because, as many of you know, I am adopted, and have no way of knowing my actual birth date. I want to take this time to let you all know that I am proud to be a person with disabilities. We are important, we are valuable, and our voices matter. Just to let you know how important we are, let me give you one astounding statistic. According to the World Health Organization, there are around one billion people with disabilities in the world or about 15 percent of the world's population. Let's take a moment and let that sink in. One in seven people in the world have a disability...wow! Imagine how much power we have and how much good we can do for the world if we were given the SAME opportunities as able body people.
Like many of those living with a disability in developing and third world countries, I was probably abandoned due to shame, lack of financial resources, and the idea that individuals with disabilities are not valuable to society. I am here to tell you, no, we ARE valuable, just as valuable as any other person you see around you. Don't let the fears of others make you retreat into the shadows of shame and embarrassment. Our disabilities are not a curse from a previous life like what many in the rural communities of third world countries will have you believe. Our misshapen bodies are just as beautiful and attractive as any you see around you. I am proud to be a wheelchair user. I am proud to be a polio survivor. I am proud to part of the #OneBillionStrong.
For those of us who have the fortune to live in the Global North (in areas such as the United States, Canada, Europe, etc.), we are much better off than our brothers and sisters who are living in the Global South (in areas such as Africa, India, China, Southeast Asia, etc.). We are not chained up against a tree for nearly a decade of our life (Indonesia), we are not put on a train to be captured by the police and taken to a mental health facility where our voices are forever silenced (India), we are not confined to lying on a bed day and night (Ghana), so let's strengthen our fragile and tenuous freedom to free our fellow disabled brothers and sisters in whatever way you know how: speaking out, listening, educating yourself on crimes against individuals with disabilities all around the world, traveling to the local regions and documenting these issues.
Life is short. And progress is not inevitable. I am so thankful to those who came before me (i.e. Judy Heumann, Ed Roberts, Ralf Hotchkiss, Bruce Curtis, etc. and so many more I've gotten to talk to from my podcast interviews) who've fought for the signing of the Americans with Disabilities Act, who've fought for wheelchair accessible busses, who've fought for curb cuts, etc. and who have created a country where I can pursue so many varieties of career paths, including the freedom to start my own company.
Now, what will younger generations say about us? How did we take the torch they passed on to us and made life even better? There is lots of work to be done domestically and, especially, internationally. The progress of yesterday will not necessarily exist tomorrow if we just sit idly by for someone to make that change. As my favorite president once said, "Change will not come if we wait for some other person or some other time. We are the ones we've been waiting for. We are the change that we seek." #OneBillionStrongDisabled #OneBillionVoices#OneBillionWaysTowardProgress #OneBillionIsValuable