CELEBRATING DISABILITY

by Angela West

March is Cerebral Palsy Awareness Month. It is also Developmental Disabilities Awareness Month. In addition to raising awareness, we should be celebrating people with different needs and abilities.

So often, when doctors diagnose a young child with cerebral palsy, their parents are told that the child may not live up to all the hopes and dreams that the parents have. One of the first thoughts that went through my father’s mind, he told me years later, was that I would never experience my high school prom.

Living with cerebral palsy has been interesting, to say the least. There are days when life is easy and there are days when I don’t think I can keep going. I feel like I have overcome a lot of things that most people did not think I could do. I remember a high school teacher telling me that it may take me ten years to graduate college if I really wanted to go. My first thought was, “Are you crazy? I don’t want to be in school another ten years!” By that time, I had been going to school for sixteen years. I was ready to break out of school mode.

When I got to college, it wasn’t as easy as I thought it would be. I had to ask for help more than I was used to. While that was difficult, I soon learned that asking for help was not a sign of weakness. One of my greatest strengths became recognizing my limitations and maximizing my gifts; and I sometimes need help to do that. Even though I could type a paper by myself, it would take me three hours to finish one page. Asking a person to dictate what I said allowed me to use better utilize my time and energy. I graduated college in four and a half years.

Over the years I’ve set many goals and continue to strive to accomplish them for myself and myself alone, not for others, and certainly not as a way to “prove myself” to anyone. I have chosen a career path that is both challenging and still compliments my abilities. All of my projects involve people with disabilities. I love encouraging people with disabilities, especially youth, to accomplish their dreams and set their sights high.

At the same time I avoid clichés. It is important for people with disabilities to recognize their hardships and figure out hardships. My approach is just to tell young people, including their families, that it is important to dream, but it is also necessary to be realistic with yourself. I have learned that it is much easier to set little goals that fall under a big goal. This way, it feels like you are accomplishing vital milestones along your journey to reach the ultimate goal.

To my father’s surprise, I not only attended my high school prom – I was prom queen! That night, I had the time of my life and my father got a glimpse of what my future held. I am so thankful that he was able to watch me move out and get a job before he passed away. I told him that the things I’ve experienced in my life have made me the person that I am today. That includes having cerebral palsy. I believe my disability opened so many doors that I don’t think I would have if I didn’t have cerebral palsy. Each day is a new opportunity to experience life to the fullest.

Happy CP Month!

***ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Angela West earned a master’s degree in Rehabilitation Counseling from Virginia Commonwealth University. Her passion for disability advocacy stems from advocating for her own rights as a young woman with cerebral palsy.***

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