International Day of Acceptance

International Day of Acceptance

“Friends, tell the world you embrace who you are; a person with social rights, who has an opinion, who has interests, who has goals and who loves life; a person who is empowered to make a difference in the world and not be without a voice in society. You are not living disabled, you are living.” -3E Love

Today, January 20th, is the International Day of Acceptance. This day was marked in remembrance of Annie Hopkins, founder of 3E Love and creator of the International Symbol of Acceptance, who died on January 20th, 2009. Today we emphasize what we should be doing every single day; we celebrate people of ALL abilities, and embrace diversity in our society.

3E Love was created in 2007 to “change the perception of disability.” The mission of this organization is to help people embrace diversity, educate society, empower each other, and love life. Annie Hopkins created the international symbol of acceptance (the wheelchair heart logo of the organization) to represent their mission.

As wonderful as it is that this day is celebrated around the world, it’s almost sad that it has to exist. It’s unfortunate that we have to have a specific day where the celebration of acceptance is emphasized. This is something we should be doing EVERYDAY. Each day we should be accepting people for who they are, what they love, their abilities–no one should be judged by their disabilities. Each day we should be showing respect to people with different abilities, not just January 20th.

I have the pleasure of knowing and being friends with many people with all different abilities. Every person has something to offer. Of course everyone has weaknesses, just like you and me. But everyone has strengths that outshine their weaknesses, and often society does not give them the chance to show those strengths. We need to start focusing on ABILITIES because a person should never have to be defined by their disability.

So today, on this International Day of Acceptance, make an effort to spread the word about embracing diversity, empowering each other, and educating others about respecting people of all abilities. Do this so that EVERYDAY can become a day of acceptance.

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Anti-Bucket List

Anti-Bucket List

I often hear people talk about the things they want to do before they die. They create giant lists, mostly wishful thinking, of things they imagine would make them happy. Thrill seeking activities. Far away places to travel to. Famous landmarks, national parks, mountain ranges, caves and canyons. And although all of the items on these lists seem new and exciting, many of them never get checked off. I, myself, have made several bucket lists that were never touched again after their creation. Then instead of being a list of things to do before you die, these bucket lists become reminders of unfinished business. A reminder of what you wished, and dreamed you could’ve done, but never got the chance. Instead of being something positive, and something to look forward to, they turn into a list of could haves and should haves.

I’m not saying you shouldn’t dream. Of course you should have goals of what you want to do with your life, and places you’d like to go. But why would we continue to make these extravagant, unrealistic lists, if all they are going to do is disappoint us in the end? And instead of writing page after page of wants, wants, wants, and materialistic items to own someday, or fancy, expensive places to travel to, why don’t we list off ways we want to change the world and help others?

But there is a way to make a list, and have goals, without ending up with unfinished business and disappointment.

So today, I am sharing my Anti-bucket list. Things that I plan to never do in my life. A fool proof way of making specific goals without leaving incomplete tasks in the end. I know they say to “never say never,” but I’m feeling pretty good about the following:

  1. I will never go bungee jumping. For whatever reason, jumping off of a cliff, bridge, etc. with only stretchy extension attached to your ankle sounds “fun” to some people. Yeah, no thanks.
  2. I will never go deep sea diving. Being that far underwater for that long sounds as cool as it sounds terrifying. I will leave it up to somebody else to tell me what’s down there.
  3. I will never ride a bull. Probably not even a mechanical one.
  4. I will never grow away from my family. I will always keep them in my life, and include them in the things I do.
  5. I will never chase a tornado. I’ve been deathly afraid of tornados for as long as I can remember. Why would I ever purposely go towards the fear?
  6. I will never rob a bank. Do I really even have to explain this one?
  7. I will never use a Ouija board. I’m not saying I believe EVERYTHING I have been told about those things. I’m just saying that if any of it is true, I would rather not be involved in it.
  8. I will never eat octopus. I’ll have the octopus soup, hold the octopus.
  9. I will never purposely make someone feel self conscious, or upset in any way. Some people make themselves feel better by putting others down. I promise to continue to be kind and treat everyone with respect.
  10. I will never live in a house too big for my own good. I don’t understand why some people feel the need to live in a house so big that they probably don’t even see certain parts of it for weeks on end.
  11. I will never run for a political position of any sort. I hate politics.
  12. I will never fly on a small, sketchy plane that isn’t through an international airport. I’m already afraid of planes, I don’t need to add anymore risk factors to the picture.
  13. I will never stop helping the less fortunate. I will do my best to help people in need, make donations, and volunteer for as long as I live.
  14. I will never own a tarantula. I’m sorry, did you say giant, furry spider? I will pass, thank you.
  15. I will never stop dreaming. Maybe I’m hypocritical because I just explained why I sometimes find it unreasonable to make exorbitant, costly lists of things you wish you could do someday.  Don’t set yourself up for disappointment, but you should dream, and you should chase those dreams. You should travel to places you love, and do the things you’re passionate about with the people you care about (even if that means taking some risks and doing outrageous, extreme activities once in awhile).

All I’m trying to say is life isn’t a to-do list. Dreaming isn’t about checking items off of a piece of paper, it’s about being spontaneous, and overcoming obstacles to get to where you want to be and to do what you want to do. The best memories usually don’t come from  preplanned item on lined paper, but from living in the moment.

Take your life day by day, and always remember that the biggest things in life are not always the best. You don’t have to free fall 10,000 feet from a moving plane to be happy.

 

What does your anti-bucket list look like?

The Wild Iris

The Wild Iris

“What in your life is calling you? When all the noise is silenced, the meetings adjourned, the lists laid aside, and the wild iris blooms by itself in the dark forest, what still pulls on your soul? In the silence between your heartbeats hides a summons, do you hear it? Name it, if you must, or leave it forever nameless, but why pretend it is not there?” — The Terma Collective

When all the noise is silenced. When distractions around you come to a halt. When you are laying awake at night at 3 AM thinking about your past, your future, the things you wish you would’ve done and the things you plan to do. When all the meetings adjourned. When your peers and family members and teachers stop telling you who you should be. When you decide for yourself who you truly are, instead of conforming to society’s standards and predispositions. When all the lists laid aside. When you push everything that you have to do today, or this week, or this year out of your mind. When you forget about the checklist of qualities or talents or beliefs you’re supposed to have. When the wild iris blooms by itself in the dark forest. When you decide to take your own path, follow your heart, make your own decisions, even if no one is holding your hand along the way. When you decide that it is okay to be “the only one” as long as you’re doing what you love.

What still pulls on your soul? When you look deep inside, past all of the things you’ve been told you need to do by someone else, and past everything you feel obligated to do because some overcritical, ignorant outside source tells you to. What do you see? Where does your deepest, burning passion lie?

Think about it.

But don’t just think about it. Embrace it like never before.

Joseph Campbell once said, “follow your bliss and don’t be afraid, and doors will open where you didn’t know they were going to be” (The Power of Myth). Follow your bliss. Find what makes you happy and don’t let go of it because that is what is going to allow you to live your life to the fullest.

They say that if you love your job you’ll never work a day in your life, and I plan to hold that saying close to me as I continue my education and eventually find a full-time job. I have heard of way too many people hating their job, which they go to every day, saying that they dread waking up in the morning because they know they have to go to work again. Why would you put yourself through that? If you are unhappy with your job, you are unquestionably holding yourself back from being truly, completely happy. And isn’t that everyone’s goal in life? To be happy?

You have the power to do whatever you want with your life. You are in full control of every decision you make. You decide who you are, and what you do. So follow your bliss. Listen to your heart. Do what makes you happy because it’s the only way that you are truly going to be happy. And everyone deserves to be happy.

Sometimes it is hard to go against social norms. It’s hard to break through that wall that society builds between who you “should” be and who you want to be. But if your true passion lies on the other side of that wall, I believe that anyone can find the courage and strength to chase after it. It’s scary to be alone, but being brave and getting to do what you love and what you’re passionate about is incomparably better than conforming to society and getting stuck doing something you despise for the rest of your life.

So don’t let society tell you that you cannot be a doctor, or an artist, or a caretaker, or a chef. Don’t even let your parents tell you that you are destined to take over the family business if that is not where your passion lies. Create your own path, and associate yourself with people who will open doors for you, not close them. Don’t be afraid to be the wild iris, blooming by itself in the dark forest. Do what you love because you will be happy for it.

An Open Letter to the Best Parents

An Open Letter to the Best Parents

This is gonna sound really cheesy, but thank you for raising me the way you did. I also want to say, as much as I DREAD admitting it, you were right. You were right about that friend who turned out to not be a true friend. You were right about not going to that event because the roads were too slippery and I could have been hurt. You were right about forcing me to practice endless hours of piano because I did’t see it then, but it is one of my passions now. You were right about working hard in school because as a result, I am a straight A student. You were right about a lot of things that I argued with you about at the time. Because sometimes I don’t understand why; why can’t I do this or have that or go here. I didn’t understand that you have ALWAYS had my best intentions in mind, and nothing less. There were many times that I got angry (and there will probably be many more) because I thought you were wrong.

I realize now that you were right. (oh my gosh I’m so cliche.)

I definitely do not say this enough, but I sure lucked out getting you guys as parents. I’m lucky to have parents who care about everything I do. Who invest their time, effort, emotions, and opinions in every aspect of my life, no matter how small. Who support me in every decision I make. I’m lucky that you were both around, together, to see me grow, and challenge myself, and make mistakes, and not only did you see me do it but you went through it with me. Not everyone is fortunate enough to say the same, and I take that for granted wayyy too often.

Sometimes I see someone doing something, or hear somebody say something and think dear GOD I’m glad my parents raised me the way they did. You guys made me who I am today, and I should thank you every second for that. You taught me right from wrong, and reinforced it many times. You taught me how to be a leader and how to push myself to be better. You taught me how to be kind, and how to care for others. You taught me discipline. You taught me balance. You taught me how to handle tough situations with grace.

It’s not just the lessons you taught me that I am thankful for. I am thankful for how much fun we have had as a family growing up. I love coming home from school knowing that our house is truly a home, and that is because of you guys. Not everybody gets to share family inside jokes, or have sit down dinners altogether, or laugh at each others weird habits. The closeness of our family is something I do not ever want to lose.

I’m grateful to know that you will be there for me every step of the way as I continue my journey on life’s bumpy path. I’m thankful to be able to call you for anything from advice, to telling you a funny story, to sharing an accomplishment, to just talking. I’m excited to have parents that I will be able to share exciting things with in the future. And even though we will continue to have our ups and downs, I promise that I will always do my best to make you proud, and remember everything you have taught me.

I was truly blessed to get stuck with you guys as parents. Thank you for everything you have ever done, and ever will do for me. I love you bunches.

“It’s just a word.”

“It’s just a word.”

“That’s so retarded.”

It was hard for me to even type out that word without cringing. Over the years, the word “retarded,” which from now on I will refer to as “the r-word,” has been transformed from a medical diagnosis to a derogatory insult. According to James C. Harris, Professor of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, Pediatrics, Mental Health and History of Medicine, “The term ‘mental retardation’ was introduced by the American Association on Mental Retardation in 1961 and soon afterwards was adopted by the American Psychiatric Association (APA) in its Diagnostic and Statistical Manual for Mental Disorders (DSM-5)” (Medscape.com). Since then, the r-word has been morphed to an insult used to describe things that are “stupid” or ridiculous.

In 2010, President Obama signed what is known as Rosa’s Law, named after an 8-year old girl who has Down-Syndrome, which removed the r-word from federal and educational documents and policies. The term was replaced with people first language like “intellectual disability” or “a person with an intellectual or developmental disability.” This law showed that the r-word needed to be removed from vocabulary because it was not just a medical term anymore–it became hurtful to people.

But apparently federal laws will never be enough because I still hear this term being carelessly thrown around all the time.

I have done my best to correct people when I hear them use the r-word, and many times their response is a simple, “Oh, I am sorry. I did not know that it was offensive.” And then we move on. I understand that many people are not aware of how this word can actually affect a person. And that’s okay. Educating people about the offensive nature of the word is a huge part of removing the hurtful use of the word from society.

Sometimes I will come across a WONDERFUL person who obliviously says the r-word, sees how hearing the word upsets me, and realizes that something needs to be done about it. They change their vocabulary right then and there, and even spread the word to other people about it’s negative meaning. Unfortunately, it is not always this easy to change someone’s ways.

Then there are the people who just DON’T. GET. IT. They continue to use it over and over. Even after I ask them to please not say the word, even after I explain that I have seen the use of this word make some of my best friends’ days go from great to terrible, even after I emphasize how hurtful the r-word actually is. They try to argue with me on why they should be able to say it. Are you kidding me? Were you even listening when I told you I’ve seen this word make someone cry? “It’s just a word.” But it’s not. It really is not.

It’s more than a word. It’s a label. When you use the r-word to describe something as stupid, you are associating people with intellectual and developmental disabilities with things and actions that are “stupid.” And thats putting them into categories that are untrue, and unfair.

So next time you try to make a case about why you should continue to use the r-word, please, please think about this: what if it was you. How would you feel if something completely out of your control was altered and distorted by society into something humiliating and offensive? And what if that was your sibling. Wouldn’t you take offense to the r-word if it was being used to describe your brother who has an intellectual disability? Wouldn’t you stand up for him? People with disabilities are NOT stupid. People with disabilities  are NOT dumb. They aren’t foolish, or mindless, or unintelligent. So stop associating them with things that are. Remove the r-word from your vocabulary because it is offensive, and derogatory. Remove the r-word from your vocabulary because if you are not a friend, or a brother, or a cousin of someone with a disability, chances are you know someone who is. Remove it because no one deserves to be labeled. Remove it because it is more than just a word.

 

To learn more about the r-word and sign the pledge to remove the r-word from your vocabulary, visit r-word.org. By doing something as little as thing, you can be the difference in someone’s life.

Dancing My Way Through Life

Dancing My Way Through Life

I can still remember sitting at the kitchen table at my old house. Little four-year old me barely even able to see my parents over the top of the table. I remember saying the words out loud, “Mom, I want to dance.”

Now this should not come as a surprise, obviously. Every little girl is enrolled in a ballet class of some sort, whether they watched Angelina Ballerina and decided they want to do the same, or their parents think it would be adorable and sign them up without consent. But eventually, many little girls grow out of the dance phase and move on to school sports. When I said those words, though, I knew–even with my tiny, barely developed four-year old brain–that dance was going to become an important part of my life. I was right.

I first started dancing at Kay’s Academy of Dance. One of my first dances was a tap dance to “Oh Susanna,” which included shiny shoes, a little yellow tutu, and some horrible bright red lipstick that made me look like a Grandma. I personally took dance very seriously, even at a young age. Even when everyone around me took it like just another recreational activity that wouldn’t matter in two years. I practiced every day, and at recitals I could look directly into the audience and smile because knew what I was doing.

When my family moved to our current house, I had to find a new studio (I was still young, so my mom was in charge of this part). I was signed up for classes at 5,6,7,8 Dance Studio, where I danced from age seven until 8th grade. I went through a lot at that studio, and made some wonderful friends that I danced with for all those years. By the end of my time at that studio, I was in the advanced levels and in the traveling dance company. Yet, I still wanted more. I desperately wanted a challenge, and I craved REAL training in dance, not just recreational. So as hard as it was for me to say goodbye to that studio, and those friends, and that teacher, I left 5,6,7,8.

And it was the best thing to ever happen to me.

I had heard of MainStage Academy of Dance from people at my school, but I didn’t know a lot about it. There were rumors that the director of the studio hit you with his cane if you did something wrong. I guess that was a risk I was willing to take. My mom took me to MainStage to audition and see what level I could be placed in. As soon as I walked in and saw the class in matching black leotards and pink tights, all in perfect synchronization at the barre, I knew that this was the place I belonged. I knew that this studio would give me the challenge I desired. I also knew I was going to have to work really freaking hard to get to where I wanted to be.

I was placed into intermediate level 1, where I basically had to start over the technical part of my training in dance. I was trained in Vagonova ballet, pointe, hip hop, and some Modern and Character styles. Through the years, my director, Mr. Eddy (who, by the way, does NOT beat his students with a cane), worked with me to become the best dancer I could be. I dedicated my life to dance. I lived dance. I slept dance. I breathed dance. And I loved it more than anything in the world. And as much as I would have loved to continue with dance as a professional career, I just knew deep in my heart that I was meant to do other things with my life. I realized in college I would continue with dance in SOME way, simply because it is one of my biggest passions–however, I knew it would never be the same. So when the summer before college rolled around, I painfully grasped the idea that I was on my last stretch of training with Mr. Eddy and dancing with my MainStage family. And it broke my heart. Leaving dance behind was the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do.

I am currently a sophomore at UW-La Crosse. I love my school, and the people that I’ve become close with. I love taking classes and I’m excited to continue to pursue my Therapeutic Recreation undergrad on the Pre-Occupational Therapy track. However, I still miss dance every day of my life. I go to the studio in one of the recreation buildings by myself sometimes, or drag one of my friends with me and make them try to do a barre. I dance around my room, and around my kitchen when I am home. But as I realized before I left, it is not the same. Nowhere near the same, actually.

The worst part of it all, I think, is forgetting and losing what I had. Forgetting how to do a move, or a dance that I used to do all the time. Losing flexibility, losing strength in certain muscles, losing some dance vocabulary. It’s quite frustrating. But I understand that it’s because I cannot afford to do it every day anymore.

This coming semester, I will be teaching a beginner’s ballet fitness class at the rec center on campus. It is only once a week, but it will give me the opportunity to dance with REAL, LIVING, BREATHING PEOPLE AGAIN. Which I could not be more excited for. Just being in an environment with other people who WANT to dance will mean everything to me.

I have goals of some day combining my passion for dance, and my passion for working with people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, and starting a dance class for people with disabilities. I also have thought about starting a class for people who are recovering from severe addiction, giving them an outlet for expression and creativity.

Even though I do not dance as much as I used to, or as much as I would like to, I will always consider myself a dancer. Because it is not just something I love to do, but it is a part of me. Mr. Eddy did not, by any means, ONLY teach me to become a better dancer. Under his training, and through the experiences I had at MainStage, I became a better person. I learned to accept constructive criticism, and to properly give it. I learned to fix my mistakes and frustration with a smile. I learned to take things seriously that need to be taken seriously, but laugh and joke around when the time was right. I learned to be self-disciplined and dedicated, and to challenge myself and take risks. I learned to be a leader. I learned that in ANY situation, I am my biggest competition, and now I always work to do better than I did the last time. I take these qualities through everything I do in life, and remember that dance helped shape me into the person I am today. And I could not be more thankful for that.

So thank you, Mom, for listening to your four-year old daughter, who probably just got done eating play dough or operating on her stuffed animals, and taking her request to dance seriously. Thank you Kay’s Academy and 5,6,7,8 for giving me my first dance experiences, and showing me what I really wanted. Thank you to my MainStage family for everything we went through together. Thank you Mr. Eddy for believing in me, and helping me to achieve so much more than I thought I ever would.

And that being said, I will continue to dance around my living room. I will go to the studio and dance for hours by myself. I will do barres on random fences in parks and leaps down empty halls in buildings and pique turns down empty aisles in grocery stores. I will dance anywhere, and everywhere, for as long as I am physically able to. And when I am 94 and my sight is gone and my bones are brittle, I will turn on music from the Nutcracker, and Paquita, and Coppelia, and Giselle and I will smile to myself as I remember one of the most important parts of my life.