By Stacy Ellingen, 2018-01-07
“Don’t compare yourself to others“. It’s something most people are told beginning at a young age. When people compare themselves to others, it’s often either to invoke pity on himself/herself or it’s to make him/her feel superior over someone else. Though we are told not to, it’s nearly impossible not to compare ourselves to others. It’s human nature. There are several different facets that people compare to. Whether it’s economic status, sexual orientation, religious preference, physical appearance, lifestyle preference, or something else, comparing is something most of us do on a daily basis.
People with disabilities are no different. I can’t speak for others with disabilities, but I probably compare myself to others more than most. Since my disability only affects my physical abilities, as I’ve said before, my expectations of myself coincide with what my friends without disabilities are doing. As I’ve written about in past entries, growing up my parents had normal expectations of me. Sure, some of them were modified, but, basically, I was expected to do what my peers were doing. Those normal expectations continued through college, and, even finding a job. It’s because of these high expectations that I’m as successful and independent as I am today.
However, after college, I began to notice that I wasn’t keeping up with my “normal” friends. Things such as finding significant others, “moving in together,” engagements, weddings, and pregnancies were and continue to be happening to many of my friends. Like I’ve said before, I’m very happy for them; I just wish those things would happen for me. Even though I have those expectations for myself, others don’t. I’ve heard things like, “honey, we don’t expect you to get married,” and “if it happens, great, but if not, that’s okay too,” from close family members. While I understand where they’re coming from and I’m grateful to know that my family doesn’t care if those things never happen to me, it also makes me sad that those normal expectations stopped. I’ve discussed this with a friend who has very similar circumstances (and whose family feels the same way), and we agree it’s an interesting conundrum. We wonder why those normal expectations stopped for us, but, yet, in our hearts, we know and understand it’s because our families want us to know that it’s okay with them if we don’t accomplish those monumental milestones in life.
That being said, it doesn’t stop me from comparing myself to others. Like many people, I find myself comparing my life to others when things aren’t going right. When things aren’t going right because of having a disability (my wheelchair breaks down, staffing problems, health issues, etc…), I often think about what my peers have going on. Of course, during times such as those, in my mind, everyone else unrealistically has a seemingly perfect life. An example of this happened in December. I was having problems filling my care shifts for January. One night I was really frustrated and told my mom, “Everyone else is worrying about what to get their kids for Christmas while I’m sitting here wondering who’s going to get me out of bed in January.” Obviously, I was venting out of frustration which does no good, but it goes to show how I sometimes compare my life to others.
Oftentimes, comparing ourselves to others is irrational; however, there are times when it can boost one’s self-esteem. While it’s not a very kind thing to do if one is boastful about it, comparing yourself to others who have similar situations can boost one’s confidence when realizing how well you’re doing compared to someone else. Of course, it could work the opposite way too. If you witness someone with similar circumstances doing better than you, it likely will cause some mixed feelings. In that case, you may have some bad feelings about yourself, but it also will hopefully make you want to improve. I sometimes see this in the disability community, and it’s not necessarily a negative thing. At least for me, when I see someone with similar circumstances succeeding at something, it makes me want to at least try it. Seeing people who have similar abilities accomplish amazing things ignites a spark in me. I can only hope I do the same for others.
Whether we realize it or not, comparing ourselves to one another is a part of life. Oftentimes, comparing ourselves does no good, but sometimes it can ignite a spark in us and make us realize what is possible!
By Employment Network, 2017-12-15
Individuals with invisible disabilities face a dilemma when applying for work: Do I disclose my disability to the potential employer and, if so, how?
In this article, written by Brent J. Lyons, Sabrina D. Volpone, Jennifer L. Wessel and Natalya Alonso, the authors explore two different tactics for disclosing your disabilities and how they might affect your ability to get the job. Read more here.
By Employment Network, 2017-12-14
Two recent articles that highlight innovative partnerships between businesses and supported employment agencies. Check these out!
By Employment Network, 2017-12-13
Self-Advocacy Resource and Technical Assistance Center (SARTAC) is offering Fellowship opportunities.
A SARTAC Fellowship is a one year self-advocacy project.A Fellow is a person chosen by SARTAC to do one of these projects. As a Fellow, you will work with a group called a Host organization. Applications are completed by the self-advocate and the host organization together. If you don't have an organization that will work with you, they can help you find one.
The project should help the Fellow grow their own skills as a leader. The project might work on finding new ideas to help solve problems many people have. It must end with a report or products others can use after the project is over. The Fellows will work on their projects about 6 hours each week. SARTAC pays Fellows $5,000 to complete their projects. Six Fellows will be chosen this year.
Deadline: December 31, 2017 at 5 pm Pacific time.
By Employment Network, 2017-12-13
An interesting idea from Montana...
What would happen if you combined the pop-up shop phenomena with the food truck concept? You might get a whole lot of cool, and you might also get Dish-Ability.
Dish-Ability is the brainchild of the Silver Bow Developmental Disability Council, Inc. — a Butte organization that advocates for the health, safety and independence of individuals with developmental disabilities.
By Stacy Ellingen, 2017-12-03
Everyone dreams. When people dream, amazing things happen. People do the unthinkable in their dreams. A dream can be funny, scary, inspirational, enlightening, and motivational. Dreams can be a source of hope, but they can also be a reality shock when you wake up and realize it was truly just a dream.
Once in awhile, I get asked if when I dream, I’m in a wheelchair or not. Fortunately, for me, in the dreams I’ve always had a disability. I don’t remember many of my dreams, but from the ones I do, I never recall being “normal.” I’m thankful for that because I think it’d be hard to wake up from a dream where I didn’t have a disability, and realize it was truly just a dream.
For whatever reason, it seems like I have memorable dreams during stressful times like the holiday season. This happened three or four years ago, but I still remember the dream as clear as day. I dreamt that I walked down the hallway of my elementary school. It wasn’t a normal walk; I had leg braces on and I was teetering, but I walked independently down the hallway. I remember for some reason my confirmation leader was there, but I unfortunately don’t remember anything else. I have absolutely no idea what brought that dream on, but I find it very interesting that it was so vivid. I wish I hadn’t woken up so quickly, so I could have “seen” what else happened.
I’ve also had dreams where I’ve been in a relationship with a significant other. I think these dreams are brought on by upcoming gatherings with family and friends. As much as I try to be ok with being single, when I’m around family and friends who have seemingly perfect relationships, it’s human nature to desire that as well. When I dream that I’m in a relationship, I still have Cerebral Palsy, but the significant other usually doesn’t have a disability. While dreams like these are fun to occasionally have, as one would guess, they aren’t the greatest to wake up from. It can be a pretty big reality check when you realize it was just a dream.
I’ve had friends and family members tell me that they’ve had dreams where I’ve all of a sudden gotten up and walked or said something perfectly. Years ago before she passed away, my grandma told me about a dream she had. Her sister who passed away and I were in it. Out of the clear blue, I said three words as clear as possible. The words were “I love you.” My grandma couldn’t believe it. She was so excited to tell my grandpa in the morning. I find it fascinating that my friends and caretakers have had dreams where I’ve stood up and walked or randomly verbally said something perfectly. Dreams like those must be awesome to have, but I don’t know how I’d react if I a dream like that. I think it’d a be reality shock.
It’s always fun to dream. I never knew what it’s like not have a disability, so I don’t usually see my disability until I’m faced with challenges related to it. In my dreams, it seems natural to me that I have Cerebral Palsy because I’ve always have had it. As much as I’d love not having a disability, I do and it has become part of life that I’ve learn to accept.
We all dream every night. Dreams energize our imagination. They give us a glimpse of what in some cases is the possible. It’s nice to dream, but we have to remember it’s truly just a dream!
By Stacy Ellingen, 2017-11-14
Most children are taught not to discriminate or segregate at a very young age. Regardless of age, race, religious belief, sexual orientation, economic status, or disability, as a society, we are made to believe that everyone is equal and nobody is the better than anyone else. In theory, all types of people should be mixed together all the time. While thanks to laws passed in the 1950s, this notion should be technically true, but it isn’t realistic. Segregation still happens in today’s world. People may not realize it, but we all have bias. When most people hear the word “segregation,” they automatically assume it’s a negative thing. However, at times, that’s not the case. It’s human nature for people to associate with others like them.
As I’ve shared in past entries, I was brought up believing I should do everything like everybody else despite having a disability. Obviously, there were things I wasn’t able to do, but that was life. Attending therapies isn’t a normal activity for most families, but it was for mine. My parents did whatever they could so I could participate in normal childhood activities. My dad adapted hundreds of things so I could use them. My mom was a Girl Scouts leader so I could participate in activities. My parents never put me in respite; instead, I had regular baby-sitters. I never went to special needs camps; I went on vacations across the US (and beyond) with my family.
The only time that I was classes with other kids with significant disabilities was when I was in Early Childhood classes when I was really young. From Kindergarten on, I was in all regular education classes. Some years, I had with a modified gym class where there were other students with all types of disabilities and health conditions, but that was it. Since my disability is so apparent, I made a very conscious effort to try not to associate with students who had intellectual disabilities—especially in high school. That sounds really bad of me, but it was so important to me to do all that I could to prove my cognitive abilities to my classmates.
When I got to UW-Whitewater, obviously that all changed because Whitewater is known for serving students with disabilities. There was no need for anyone to prove their cognitive abilities since we were in college. It’s true; people with similar circumstances tend to befriend one another. I made friends with people who had various disabilities, but I also had friends who didn’t have disabilities. It was when I first really realized that there were other people who had similar abilities. It was also the first time I got involved in disability advocacy. Whitewater had a student organization for disability advocacy. It was the first time I was a part of something that focused on disabilities. Again, students with and without disabilities belonged, and there wasn’t a need to prove anything to anyone. It was a cool experience.
It wasn’t until after college that I realized just how seemingly segregated adults with disabilities are. Everything from finding appropriate cares, to finding an apartment, to finally landing a job, it took lots of time and effort. There are lots of services available for people with disabilities, but the reality is that most of them are geared towards people with intellectual disabilities. Yes, most services are customized to the individual, but generally speaking I’ve found that many of the services were developed for those who have intellectual delays. Those of us with physical disabilities like myself often have to pave our own path and piece together services to meet our situations. While personally I’m happy I can do this, sometimes it does get frustrating that it seems “people with disabilities“ get thrown into a general category. In no way am I belittling people who have intellectual disabilities, but, for me, especially since my speech is affected, people assume that I have cognitive delays. As one would guess, this can be incredibly frustrating.
Services aren’t the only thing like this; many of the disability conferences and trainings are more for those with intellectual disabilities. This by no means is a negative thing, but, personally speaking, I find it hard to fit in at those events. A lot of it probably has to do with the fact that while I obviously understand and accept that I have a disability, I normally don’t think of myself as being different; I don’t focus on that. I’m also not used to being with lots of people who have various disabilities. Recently, I attended the Self-determination Conference. I worked the exhibit table for InControl Wisconsin. I loved meeting and talking to so many people, but, even before we got there, on the way there, I told mom it was segregation. Again, it doesn’t mean it’s a negative thing. It’s just a fact that people with all types of disabilities were gathering in one place. I personally again felt the need to prove my cognitive ability. In my opinion, a lot of the events and activities were meant more for people with intellectual disabilities. I understand that it’s the majority of people who attend these events, so it has to be catered to that population; sometimes, I just wonder if I should be there.
Thanks to my amazing family and friends, I don’t usually think of myself as having a disability; I know people I love see past my challenges and see me for the person I am. People with disabilities in general are in a minority; those of us with physical disabilities are even fewer in number. We just have to continue fighting for what’s right and paving new paths!
By Employment Network, 2017-11-07
This research brief dives into the issues that affect the lives of young adults living with serious mental health conditions (SMHC). Learn more about the issues affecting their employment.
The unemployment rate of young adults living with serious mental health conditions (SMHCs) is appallingly high when compared to young adults with other disabilities and even worse compared to young adults without disabilities. Approximately 91% of young adults with SMHCs are employed at some time since high school, while only 49.6% were employed 8 years a er high school, a rate that is significantly lower than that of the general population. Traditionally employment research has focused on only mental health conditions related to employment, but there is more to it.
By Employment Network, 2017-10-10
By Stacy Ellingen, 2017-10-08
As the saying goes, “family is forever.” Every single human being on Earth has some sort of a family. Obviously, there are several different kinds of families. Whether it’s blood relatives, a church family, a family of friends, or another combination of people, families are what get us through life. Family members celebrate the good times together and are there to embrace one another during the difficult times in life. In past entries, I’ve discussed how my disability affects my immediate family (my mom, dad, and sister). I’ve also shared about how I’ve been blessed with an amazing group of friends who accept and embrace my unique circumstances, but my disability also affects another group of people who I dearly love. My extended family—my grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins.
My mom and dad each happen to be the oldest of four children in their families. They were the first to get married, and they were the first to have a child. My grandparents were filled with excitement with the expecting of the first grandchild. My aunts and uncles were eager to meet their first niece or nephew. As I’ve shared in previous entries, my mom had a completely normal pregnancy and I was born on my due date. The complications happened during the last few minutes of delivery. I can’t even fathom what it was like for my grandparents, aunts, and uncles to get that call saying that there were complications and it was unclear if I’d survive. What an awful phone call to get—especially when they were anticipating joyous news. In the days following my birth, my grandparents and some of my aunts and uncles came with my parents to see me in Neonatial Intensive Care Unit (NICU). Visiting the NICU isn’t a walk in the park. It’s a frightening place. Even though medical professionals assured my parents that it was a fluke mishap, my traumatic birth put a scare into the entire family—especially since some of my uncles and aunts were planning to have children soon after. Thankfully, the initial shock did wear off, and it was realized that it wasn’t anything genetic.
During the first few years, my grandparents, aunts, and uncles did whatever they could to help. My grandparents and aunts and uncles who were in the area learned how to take care of me. It’s not uncommon for grandparents or aunts and uncles to babysit, but my relatives had some additional responsibilities when they watched me. That didn’t stop them though; they were always more than willing to take me for a night or weekend so that my parents could enjoy some time out. I had one set of grandparents who lived very nearby. Some of my best memories from my childhood are when my grandma took me to physical therapy in Oshkosh on Friday mornings (because I didn’t have Early Childhood that day) and then I’d spend the day with her and grandpa. It wasn’t what grandparents did with “typical” grandchildren, but that didn’t matter to them; they wanted to spend time with me.
My first cousin was born when I was two or three years old. Relief came in the family when she was perfectly healthy. My parents were overjoyed to have their first niece; however, I think at times it was hard for them to see her meet the normal milestones like walking and talking because I hadn’t done those things and they knew I’d likely never would. My mom has told me she remembers having to explain to me why my cousin was able to walk and talk, but I wasn’t. I can’t imagine how hard that must have been, but I know she did it in a positive way.
My sister and many more cousins came in the following years. It has never been discussed in front of me, but I’m sure my aunts and uncles had to have conversations with their children about my disability. I’m sure that they made it clear to their kids should greet and hug me (we’re a hugging type family) when they first see me. I’m sure they were told to try to include me in everything too. Having to explain my disability to my cousins couldn’t have been easy for my uncles and aunts—especially since there’s quite an age range among it my cousins. Like most little kids, many of my cousins went through a stage where they were scared of me because I was visibly different, but my aunts and uncles did their best to try to encourage interaction with me. I’m sure my cousins asked lots of questions after seeing especially when they were really young, and I can only assume that my aunts and uncles did their best to answer them.
My grandparents and relatives continue to help as I get older. When I went to school at UW-Whitewater, I was fortunate to have my other grandparents and an uncle and aunt close by. My grandparents came up every week to do my laundry for me. It was very nice to see them so often. It also gave my parents piece of mind that if I ever had an emergency, people were close. When I’ve had medical issues the past few years, my grandparents, uncles, aunts, and cousins have been always right there to offer support in any way they can. I also think they realize that seemingly minuscule achievements for most are often huge accomplishments (graduating college, moving into an apartment, getting a job, etc…) for me; they understand we celebrate the small victories in my life.
As my cousins have grown up, they have gotten better about interacting with me. Obviously, like in all families, some cousins are closer than others. Overall, though, in recent years, I’ve noticed that many of my cousins are taking time to interact with me without being prompted to. I can’t tell you what an awesome feeling that is. I’m well aware that it takes some extra effort and patience to have a conversation with me. It’s to the point where many of my cousins are dating, getting married, and having babies. I know that my aunts, uncles and now cousins probably have to explain my circumstances to their significant others and children. Again, I know that it can’t be an easy conversation to have, but they do it because they want them to feel comfortable around me.
Having somebody who has a significant disability in a family has its challenges. Extended family has a choice whether or not to accept the circumstances the person has. I’m beyond blessed to have an incredible extended family who not only accepts, but embraces the person I am. For that, I’m forever grateful!
***The views expressed here are strictly those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of InControl Wisconsin, the Network or any of our sponsors.