By Dr. Josie Badger, #IWantToWork Campaign Manager
While writing this article, I was watching my terrier mix, Penny, and my dachshund, Kloey, play. The terrier mix was able to jump on and off of a stone wall in my backyard with ease, while my dachshund struggled to get on the wall because of her short legs. She climbed each stone individually, whereas Penny was able to jump over the wall completely.
It made me think about my life, which is probably much more comparable to that of my dachshund. The hypothetical “wall” that I struggle to climb was the same for me as anyone else. However, I had to overcome each stone individually rather than jumping over the hurdle altogether—but I did it anyway.
I have had my disability since birth, and I can promise you that nothing has come easily. From the basic life activities such as eating and breathing to the larger tasks of having a job and buying a house–it has always been an uphill battle. But that didn’t stop me.
I believe that every life position or opportunity we face provides us with a chance to improve the world. But for some of us those opportunities will not come as easily. In some instances, we all have to allow others to help us and receive supports. While in other times, we have to move beyond finding opportunities to creating them for ourselves and for others.
Countless times throughout my life I have been both the recipient and the provider of opportunities or supports. But no matter the situation, I have always worked to accomplish my dreams and help others do the same.
Sometimes, a recipient: When I was about 15, a woman in a wheelchair stopped me and said: “You should run for Ms. Wheelchair.” Those words stayed with me, and when I was old enough, I pursued it. Fifteen years later, in 2012, I became both Ms. Wheelchair Pennsylvania and Ms. Wheelchair America.
By this random stranger simply reaching out to me and sharing an opportunity, I was driven to reach a new dream, and despite some challenges along the way, I achieved that goal.
Being asked to tell your story, receiving a job offer, or even just creating a friendship can change a person’s life in so many ways. By acting as a recipient of kindness, advice and guidance, a person can accomplish so much and feel confident in pursuing their dreams no matter the mountains in front of them.
Sometimes, a provider: For more than twenty years, my family and I have organized and hosted a free, fully accessible hayride for families who have children with disabilities. The Autumn Bash has grown from just 30 attendees in its first year to over 800 attendees. It has therapeutic horseback riding, a petting zoo, pumpkin painting, and more. For many of these families, this is the only opportunity they have to do something together as a family that is fully accessible, where everyone can be involved.
Whether it be through an event like the Autumn Bash, advocating for equal employment for people with disabilities, or showing young people with disabilities they can do anything they set their minds to, it is important for all of us to take on the role as a provider or mentor and help all young people to follow their dreams however we can.
Whether you are in a position to receive support or give it, you will never know how your actions, contributions, and voice can make a difference. If you are not sure whether your words will be heard, say it anyway. If you’re not sure whether your few pennies can make a difference, give them anyway. If you’re not sure your one hour of service to others can make a difference, serve them anyway. In spite of barriers, always do it anyway.
To get involved or learn more about United Way’s 21 & Able initiative, please visit www.uwswpa.org/21-and-able.