Valley Life for All: Reflections of a reporter
Special to the Post Independent
Editor’s note: The Aspen Times, in conjunction with Valley Life For All, continues a monthly series of profiles about people in our community who have different abilities.
I’d never deeply considered the lives of people with disabilities: They just are, as I just am. If someone with a wheelchair needed to get by, I’d just make way.
But really, that’s an oversimplification: My father-in-law is a paraplegic, having lost both legs while in the Air Force. I had a taste of being disabled when I had a double total knee replacement and used a wheelchair in airports and crowded places.
People treated me differently, as they do my father-in-law. They pitied me and made a fuss, or they looked down their noses at me, as if I was a lesser-than. My father-in-law is seen as a hero, but he also makes sure to wear his Korean War Veteran hat when he’s in public.
When the Valley Life For All (VLFA) director asked me to reflect on what I learned about the disabled community — although it’s awkward to write about oneself — I was happy to do so because in my one year of writing for VLFA, I learned so much about a demographic too few consider.
A quadriplegic woman recently wrote in Time magazine: “We have ignored the stories and voices of disabled people for so long that their actual needs, feelings and experiences are hardly acknowledged.” She wrote about what it means when someone asks to “help” a disabled person.
Through the stories I wrote I learned that “help” is a relative term. It doesn’t mean to pity, nor to romanticize, or to assume one cannot handle things. What I’ve learned through Kolakanta Darling, Josh Chavez and many others is that respect is desired and accessibility is a necessity.
A theme weaved through each person I interviewed: perseverance mixed with positivity. Losing your mobility when you’re an elite athlete like Adam Lavender has to suck, to put it bluntly. But now he’s helping other quadriplegics. David Moya, another quadriplegic, has the most upbeat attitude of almost anyone I’ve met.
Interviewing Tammy Nordstrand, who is deaf, and Norma Teran, who speaks little English, taught me that communication is delicate and difficult at times, and yet so essential and rewarding for those with disabilities.
Getting to know Ella Munk, who has Williams syndrome, a genetic disorder, taught me that some disabilities we cannot see, but they deserve the same amount of respect.
So perhaps what it means to “help” disabled people is that sometimes it requires a great amount of time and effort, but other times, it simply sounds like this:
“Looks like you’ve got this.” To which, I suspect, many would say, “Yes, I do!”
Local nonprofit Valley Life for All is working to build inclusive communities where people of all abilities belong and contribute. Find us at http://www.valleylifeforall.org or on Facebook.