BIAIL Fashion Show + Top 10: Favorite Things About Having My Blog After One Year

Hello, dear readers! I hope you had a fabulous weekend! I had the honor and pleasure of modeling for the Brain Injury Association of Illinois’s Annual Fashion Show for the second year in a row. As a TBI survivor, disability awareness has become really important to me, and I was so happy to help with such a great cause. The organization is a special one to me, and this event–run so well by heads Philicia Deckard and Ginny Doran Lazarra–always brings together compassionate people and organizations, making it fun to network and socialize (not to mention dress up in pretty outfits). This year, I got to model three gorgeous dresses from Pink Slip Boutique.

Models on the runway

I loved getting to see and chat with Alicia Roman again this year. (I am unashamedly name-and-photo-dropping.) She is a meteorologist for NBC5, and she was the emcee again for the event. She does a great job of being warm to the crowd and models (even asking me over the mic if I was OK when my shoe got stuck in the runway–yes, graceful me) as well as being impassioned about the cause.

Alicia and me after the show

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This weekend was also important to me for another reason:

It marked the one-year anniversary of the creation of my blog! In some ways, I can’t believe it’s already been a year. However, when I look back at my entries over the past year, I realize I’ve put a lot of work and pride into my blog. I am so grateful to all of you, dear readers, for impelling me onward to continue posting. Every comment and view is a validation of my work–so thank you for making it worthwhile. ❤

As happy nostalgia washed over me, I realized this would make for a great Top 10 for this week (my last Top 10 till May!). Below, please enjoy my Top 10 favorite bloggy things. 🙂 Tomorrow marks the beginning of my double-challenge for April: NaPoWriMo + A-to-Z, which means a poem each day (except Sunday), focusing on consecutive alphabetic topics (or forms). I will do my best to complete all 26, but I’m also working on my novel plus my memoir plus, you know, life–but I look forward to the challenge. It was a productive blast for me last year. 🙂

Top 10: Favorite Things About Having My Blog After One Year

1. Making new friends

One of the most unexpected perks of having my blog has been meeting fellow bloggers (or commentators) who have become my friends. I’ve really enjoyed connecting with so many of you, whether it be through writing about similar topics, participating on blog tours together, comments, etc.

2. Keeps me writing

Having to keep up with my blog keeps my writing sharp, and it’s really helped me to develop my voice. My “blogging voice” has settled somewhere in the intersection of the tones of my critical essay, memoir, and conversational writing. My readers’ responses have helped me to nail that down–so again, thank you. ❤

3. Free writing workshops!

It is beyond awesome to receive feedback on my writing from readers who are actually interested in my work. Getting different viewpoints and constructive criticism helps me to tighten my work (often helping me to eliminate those flowery-sappy holes I can fall into and not notice on my own 😉 ). Similarly, I also enjoy offering feedback to other writers. It’s like an online version of a classroom workshop.

4. Opens up my perspective on memoir, etc.

I’ve discovered I often find news or literary items I have an emotional response to that I want to write about on my blog. In the past, I might have an emotional response and not explore the depths of it like I have here. That exploration has deepened my own understanding of how my life or societal events have shaped me, which is very helpful, indeed, for writing my memoir.

5. Online portfolio

I love having a collection of my work all housed on my URL, where I can point people who want to see my work. The site is all mine, and the work I show is how I wish to represent myself as a writer. If, a few years later, I look back and wonder how I could ever have been so SAPPY, for instance, I can simply take it down–it’s a comfort granted when you choose to bare yourself to the world (lending us bloggers a bit of courage). 🙂

6. Experience as a book blogger

When I began my blog, I thought I’d write a little about my opinions on books, but I didn’t imagine I’d be an official Book Blogger. I’ve had the wonderful experience of being an official book reviewer for Novel Publicity & Co., which has been terrific. In addition to being able to use my blog as an official reviewing platform, I’ve also been exposed to books I never would have picked up on my own, broadening my perspective and taste. Receiving free books and publicity have been great perks, too. 😉

7. Challenges

Blog challenges (like NaPoWriMo) have pushed me outside of my comfort zone as both a writer and a reader, which invariably leads to my growth. Having a network of people doing the same thing gives us inspiration and encouragement to persevere, even when it’s tough!

8. Organization of my life’s events and writings–and how they intertwine

In reviewing my last year of entries, I realized another unexpected benefit of having my blog was seeing how my life’s events, writings, and cultural responses (like reviews I wrote) all intertwined and influenced each other. It’s kind of like a personal version of that introduction section in book anthologies that explain what was going on in society when an author wrote a work–“No man is an island,” and it’s neat to see where my inspirations have come from.

9. Able to share (give and get!) advice as TBI survivor & writer

I’ve always hoped to be a disability advocate, especially since my own Traumatic Brain Injury. Happily, I get to do that at my job at Marianjoy when I write patient stories and other articles. However, I’ve also enjoyed doing it right here on my blog. It’s nice to be able to write about issues that are important to me–even more so when I get a response that my writing has touched someone in some way. I’ve learned in addition to teaching, too–I really appreciate when people respond with their own life experiences, lending their perspective. The community broadens me as a person.

10. Pushes my creativity

This blog constantly pushes my creativity, impelling me to expand the way I think about writing. The nature of blogging has caused me to think in a much more “multimedia” fashion, once I realized how graphics can enhance a blog’s message. Also, I’m always having to think about writing new things in new ways to maintain–hopefully, increase–reader interest (I hope I’m doing a good job!) 🙂

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I hope you enjoyed my list as much as I enjoyed everything on it, dear readers–and you’ve made it all possible. Thank you.

Please join me tomorrow–and throughout April–for my A-to-Z and NaPoWriMo writings!

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Academy Awards: Reflections and Book Nominations

Hello, dear readers! Did you have fun watching the Oscars tonight? Our family tuned in for a few parts. Ellen DeGeneres was hilarious as host, and there were some touching speeches and pretty dresses. 🙂 (In particular, Lupita Nyong’o’s speech made me cry! I need to see 12 Years a Slave.)

Of course, I had to participate in Ellen DeGeneres’s request for the world to make this the most retweeted photo ever–the set-up was pretty cute:

View image on Twitter

I was SO happy Frozen won for Best Animated Feature:

Photo: Frozen just won the Academy Award for Best Animated Feature! Congratulations to the entire team at Walt Disney Animation Studios! #Oscars

…and that it also won Best Original Song for “Let It Go”:

Photo: "Let It Go" just won the Academy Award for Best Original Song! Congratulations to Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Bobby Lopez!

The film was one of my favorite movies of all time (the power of love between sisters; the courage and then reward of being yourself; such good lessons!). You can read how much the song means to me in my previous blog post about it, but each time I hear the song, I feel like I get more and more out of it. I think it’s a fantastic message for anyone who is afraid of sacrificing a perfect image to embrace who s/he really is–the beauty of finding out your own unique talents when you finally “let it go.” After my traumatic brain injury, I struggled so much with this concept, since I wanted to be just like my old self and achieve the exact same goals I had for myself before–goals set intentionally by me, and goals set artificially by society (you must look like ___; you must achieve ___ by __ age, etc.). It’s been quite the journey, but I reached a point where I realized I had so much more to offer as a survivor, as the true *me*, than I ever could by completing some outdated checklist.

Idina Menzel’s performance for the show gave me goosebumps. It was extraordinary. She’s one of my very favorite singers; her range, emotion, and style are gorgeous. I actually felt a little bad for her tonight, because I think something was going on with the synching of the background music (not to mention how John Travolta butchered her name in her intro). The music sounded way too loud for her, and she had to almost shout-sing over it–shocking for such a powerful singer–I can’t imagine how bad it must really have been, then! I also think the pacing was a little off. I couldn’t tell if she was wearing an earpiece to hear the music, but if not, that might have been the problem. From my own experience as a performer, I know that music sounds a lot different when you’re onstage and it’s reverberating throughout the hall versus when you’re hearing it directly out of a close source. Still, I think something even more was going on, since Idina is such a seasoned Broadway performer. I guess we’ll have to wait for the news stories to come out! I haven’t found anything about it yet. Of course, it was still a beautiful, passionate performance, and I highly recommend watching it if you haven’t already.

A special congratulations to the film Her, which picked up the Oscar for Best Screenplay. It’s another film I have to see, especially because my friend Marcy‘s sister, Natalie Farrey, is the executive producer! From everything I’ve heard, it’s a well-done film. I’m perhaps a little afraid of its being sad…but we all know that sometimes that’s good for you, right? 🙂

Photo: Congratulations to Spike Jonze on his Best Original Screenplay win for #Her! #Oscars

What did you think, dear readers? Were you particularly happy or disappointed in any of the wins? Were there performances or moments you enjoyed?

The people at bookish.com had a really clever idea: they made an Academy Awards-style nominations list for their favorite books of 2013. They are taking votes for YOUR favorites until 10 a.m. E.S.T. on March 3 (today), so make your vote now!

Vote here for the best novel; protagonist; supporting role; graphic novel; cover design; nonfiction; film adaptation; and short story collection of 2013. All you have to do is comment. 🙂

You can see my votes below, and I’d love to see yours!:

Avatar
Amanda Fowler • 5 minutes ago

Best novel: The Ocean at the End of the Lane
Best female in a supporting role: Lettie Hemstock (The Ocean at the End of the Lane)
Best graphic novel: Hyperbole and a Half
Best film adaptation: Hunger Games: Catching Fire

Miracle Day: Eight Years After My Traumatic Brain Injury

I’ve put off writing this post until this moment, because I wanted to make sure I enjoyed every. Single. Second. of Miracle Day.

“Miracle Day” is what I’ve decided to call November 21, 2005. It was the day I almost died–but I didn’t. Last summer, Wheaton Franciscan Healthcare asked me to tell my story for their annual report. Please watch this short video to learn about my journey (mobile users, click here):

I feel bad for the video editors, who had to cut down 2+ hours of my speaking about my experience into two minutes. 😉 I think they did a great job, though. There’s so much I have to say about all of this; as you may recall, I’m working on my memoir of this experience now.

Words are my gift, my tool, and I had to fight hard to get them back. Initially, I couldn’t speak, except through the American Sign Language alphabet that Jennifer and I had taught each other (half-correctly) at ages 5 and 7. Even after I was no longer intubated, my throat was damaged and my words were sludgy in my mind. With the help of some amazing therapists and the encouragement of my family and friends, along with a lot of hard (rewarding) work, I was able to make a tremendous recovery. It was this experience that taught me just how crucial communication is, and that my gift with words might be a gift indeed. It gave me the courage to be a writer, because I finally saw a way to make a difference through my writing. And I’ve never stopped.

I feel like God gave me back my life for a reason, and I have a huge sense of destiny and duty to give back and help other people. I never feel like I can do enough, and sometimes I worry I’m not working hard enough or being good enough. I know that my memoir is part of that destiny, and that’s part of what intimidates me–but also excites me–about it.

Although I only had <5% chance of surviving that injury, and even less chance of recovering to any great extent, I did. I am incredibly grateful to God and every person who helped me to come back. Each day since then has been a gift, even the bad ones, because they are days I almost didn’t have. I don’t feel like I’m living on borrowed time, but rather gifted time. My loved ones are a huge part of that gift, and I’m going to love them as hard as I can (and tell them so) to thank them for making my life so worthwhile and for all they do to keep me alive–not just when I was in the hospital bed, but also in the way they nourish my spirit and give my life purpose.

Today, Jennifer voted to wrap me in a comforter and hold me in a rocking chair by the fireplace. While I appreciated the loving thought, we deemed this too sweaty and bulky an option. Kidding aside, I feel overwhelmed by the love, congratulations, and protectiveness that surge forth on this day from loved ones. I was surprised I actually managed to convince my dad to go shopping with me today–not the shopping itself (he has always gone shopping with us and has personally found many of our best pieces), but the leaving the house on the day. But, we did have a miracle to celebrate, after all.

In retrospect, a day that might have seemed mundane was actually quite symbolic–almost eerily so. This morning, my dad picked up a collared shirt for me from Wal-Mart for my country-themed birthday celebration coming up. Eight years ago, he also picked up a couple of collared shirts for me from Wal-Mart to wear during therapy at Marianjoy. When he got back today, we left to buy a ball gown I’ve been pining over for two years, which I plan to wear (spoiler alert!) to the next Marianjoy gala. It was a far cry from the hospital gowns I was wearing as a Marianjoy patient eight years ago. To go with those hospital gowns, eight years ago, my dad had to buy me high-top gym shoes to wear in the hospital so my feet stayed upright while I slept/the muscles didn’t pronate. Today, we went shopping for shoes for my job at that hospital. We even took a picture today in our nearby downtown area, with all the Christmas lights in the background wrapped around trees and poles–pretty different than pole lights and X-rays in my hospital room. Then we ended the night with pizza, which was my #1 requested food item at Marianjoy, which they were so sweet to accommodate. So maybe I’m just reading too much YA literature, or maybe I’m just trying to justify making my dad go shopping with me, but I thought the day was awesomely symbolic.

I never feel more grateful, blessed, or awe-struck than this day, each year. It’s a nice feeling to have–it makes me feel simultaneously small in the universe and hugely impactful, predestined but powerful, loved and loving. Thank you to my family, friends, doctors, nurses, therapists, and firemen who rescued me not just from death, but from a darkness I might have entered, too. And thank you to you, my dear readers, for following my journey. ❤

National Disability Employment Awareness Month & AbilityLinks

Hello, readers! I hope you are enjoying your October. There are so many fun holidays this month–but there are some more serious ones, too.

Clipart Cemetery With A Jackolantern Tombstones And Ghosts Under A Full Moon With Bats Royalty Free Vector Illustration by visekart

No, I’m not talking about haunted graveyards. I’m talking about National Disability Employment Month (NDEAM), and although it lasts all of October, it’s something that can (and should!) be celebrated all year long. It’s an important one, considering the unemployment rate for job-seekers with disabilities is double the national average. However, with the recent passing of some new federal rules about hiring people with disabilities, that number will hopefully go way down.

I’d like to share a blog post I did for AbilityLinks last year about NDEAM, accompanied by some new information below.

The 2013 NDEAM poster consists of four circles—each depicting a successfully employed worker with a disability, and each worker equal to the task they are performing.  Poster background colors range from bright green at the bottom to light blue at the top.  Centered at the top is DOL’s logo with the Office of Disability Employment Policy, United States Department of Labor next to it. Below this header are the words of the theme:  Because We Are EQUAL to the Task.  The words at the bottom include National Disability Employment Awareness Month, What Can YOU Do? and ODEP’s website: www.dol.gov/odep/

NDEAM Poster for 2013

By Amanda Fowler 24. October 2012 07:44

October is one of our favorite months here at Marianjoy’s AbilityLinks: the leaves are changing colors; autumn festivals are in full swing; pumpkin-flavored EVERYTHING has entered cafés and restaurants; two favorite holidays are celebrated—Sweetest Day and Halloween. Our most favorite reason to celebrate, though, is that October is National Disability Employment Awareness Month (NDEAM).

The idea for NDEAM began almost seventy years ago, in 1945, in an effort by Congress to employ more people with physical disabilities. (One likely reason for this historical timing was the large number of returning veterans who had acquired new physical disabilities during their service.) As the understanding of disability expanded, so, too, did awareness. In 1962, the program broadened to include people with all types of disabilities, not just physical. In 1988, the observance received its current name and expanded from a week to a month.

NDEAM is officially under the direction of the Office of Disability Employment Policy (ODEP). The organization offers many resources for companies to participate in the campaign, including posters, articles, and more. Its theme this year: “A Strong Workforce is an Inclusive Workforce: What Can YOU Do?” certainly is a call to action. Does your company participate?

One way in which AbilityLinks celebrated this event was by hosting its triannual online job fair in the beginning of the month, from October 1–5. A record number of people participated on all fronts, including 180 job-seekers and 21 employers. Both job-seekers and employers were from all around the country—a reminder that you don’t have to be in the Chicagoland area to use AbilityLinks.

The companies that participated were: Space Telescope Science Institute; Convergys Recruiting; Convergys Corporation; State of Illinois Disabled Workers Program; Domino Printing; ECRI Institute; Internal Revenue Service; Employment Options; AGB Investigative Services, Inc.; Balfour Beatty Construction; GC Services; Farmland Foods, Inc.; G.C. Services LP; J. Craig Venter Institute; Océ North America—A Canon Group Company; Advocate Health Care; FishNet Security; Big Tent Jobs, LLC; Nicor Gas, an AGL Resources Company; Fenwal Inc.; and, of course, Marianjoy Rehabilitation Hospital. Congratulations to Ken Skord, Janice Duvall, and Bill O’Connor for a well-run job fair. Those who participated said they found it very useful.

Make sure to watch for next year’s AbilityLinks online job fair—but you don’t have to wait until then to attend an AbilityLinks event. Check out our event calendar for more information. [Note: the next AbilityLinks.org job fair will be February 18–20, 2014; the last one was earlier this month, October 8–10, 2013].

How do you feel about NDEAM? Does your company participate—do you wish it did? (Here is a guide from the Department of Labor with tips on how to be more inclusive.) Are there other ways you think that AbilityLinks can participate? Please leave any comments here—we’d love to hear from you!

Enjoy the rest of our favorite month—maybe you could post an NDEAM flyer on your way to get your pumpkin latte.

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Now, for a bit of an update on my last post about legal initiatives for disability. Although the Americans with Disabilities Act was passed in 1990, and it did make a lot of improvements for people with disabilities, the unemployment level (14.1%) and poverty level (29%) for people with disabilities are still way too high. Those aforementioned legal initiatives were just part of a bigger plan, a huge wave of social activism to improve opportunities for people with disabilities. In August, the Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs (OFCCP) of the U.S. Department of Labor released two final rules requiring at least 7 percent of the workforces for federal contractors to be people with disabilities. And with federal contractors (and subcontractors) comprising 10% of the national workforce, that means a LOT of people! Woohoo! I am so excited people with disabilities will be getting more of a chance to work. As someone with a disability myself, I value being able to work, contributing my skills and passions in helping create great end results for Marianjoy. I wish the same opportunity for everyone.

3d white disabled business person with a laptop on his legs, working with a workmate  . 3d image. Isolated white background. - stock photo

New Initiative Promotes Employing More People with Disabilities: Studies Show They Are Top Employees

Happy Monday, readers! Today, I’d like to share with you a recent blog post I wrote for AbilityLinks, Marianjoy’s job network for inclusive employers and job-seekers with disabilities. It’s about new legal initiatives to get more people with disabilities employed. I’m excited about it, because it’s an issue that really needs addressing, and these imperatives look like they will really work. Let’s hope so!  It also shows that, contrary to previous stigma, people with disabilities may actually be better workers in general. It’s not that surprising, considering a disability forces someone to work  harder just to achieve the same goals as someone without a disability. I think this must teach a good life-long work ethic! I hope you enjoy and learn something from this post. 🙂

“Today, Americans with disabilities are facing disproportionately high rates of unemployment compared to Americans without disabilities,” said Jack Markell, National Governors Association Chair, in his letter from 2012 announcing the initiative “A Better Bottom Line: Employing People with Disabilities.” The initiative began last year, and this month, the NGA published a follow-up report in the form of a blueprint for companies. The intent of the format was to encourage businesses and government to apply it as a model for inclusive employment efforts, also adding statistics and testimonials of why this method works.

In an interview this month with PBS Newshour’s Judy Woodruff, Markell explained why the NGA blueprint includes both businesses and the government. He said the way they’ve been doing it till now is ineffective: “I think for too long states have approached businesses asking businesses as a favor to provide employment opportunities for people with disabilities really as a charity. That’s not what this is about. We have to change our mind-set. We have to recognize that we’re business partners.” The NGA’s recommendations for the government fall under five key categories, outlined in their blueprint as such:

• Make disability employment part of the state workforce development strategy.

• Find and support businesses in their efforts to employ people with disabilities.

• Be a model employer by increasing the number of people with disabilities working in state government.

• Prepare youth with disabilities for careers that use their full potential, providing employers with a pipeline of skilled workers.

• Make the best use of limited resources to advance employment opportunities for people with disabilities

But the responsibility isn’t entirely legislative. Markell speculated as to why more people with disabilities aren’t currently employed: “I think not enough businesses are hearing this message. They don’t know that there are so many successful examples of companies that are providing these employment opportunities to people with disabilities and how well it’s working out.”

The initiative sought to change that. Markell said discussions with businesspeople throughout the campaign affirmed they care about an employee’s ability, not his or her disability. “We have seen so many companies around the country benefit when they give people with disabilities a shot at employment.”

In fact, a new study published this month stated that people with disabilities may actually be better workers than those without. According to this article (posted on AbilityLinks’s Facebook Page), “Studies of Walgreens’s experience at a few distribution centers show disabled workers are more efficient and loyal than nondisabled workers. Absenteeism has gone down, turnover is less, and safety statistics are up. And the cost of accommodating such workers with new technologies and education is minimal.” A lot of businesses are startled by this report, but perhaps they shouldn’t be.

It comes as no surprise that, in general, people with disabilities have had to work harder than their non-disabled peers to achieve the same goals. Now, this ingenuity and dedication is being recognized by employers as an asset–almost to an extreme opposite. While historically, stereotyping people with disabilities has been detrimental, now it’s being flipped around to celebrate them. Markell gave an example in his interview: “A regional company, with thousands of employees, has committed over the next few years that 3 percent of their consultants will be people with autism because they found that many people with autism are great at data testing and software quality analysis and the like.” Personally, I find this incredible. What a fabulous turnabout that disability is now seen by some as a sort of superpower–not a lack of skill, but an amplification.

Markell emphasized that the NGA’s initiative is not a legal imperative, but rather an appeal. “The beauty of this is if you talk to these businesses, once they give some of these folks a shot at employment, they find out it’s actually in the best interest of their own shareholders,” he said. “So this is not a requirement. We do believe that we as states have to do a better job of walking the walk and being a model employer of people with disabilities, but businesses will choose to do it.”

The initiative said that one challenge businesses faced was finding those qualified job-seekers with disabilities. That’s why specialized networks like AbilityLinks are so important, because they bridge that gap. It makes the link easy and efficient on a national scale, filling necessary jobs with specially qualified candidates who just so happen to have a disability–or perhaps a super-ability. It’s not just the right thing to do; it’s the best thing to do, says the initiative. We couldn’t agree more.

EveryBody: The Smithsonian’s New Artifact History of Disability in America

Good morning, readers! I hope you had a wonderful weekend. I am a bit tired this morning from mine, which may mean that it was awesome enough to make me tired, that I’m still not a morning person, or that weekends need to be longer. I think it means all three. 😉

I wanted to share a blog post I wrote recently for AbilityLinks, Marianjoy’s job-networking program that connects inclusive employers with job-seekers who have disabilities. Part of my job is to post on the AbilityLinks blog from time to time, and I thought you might find this one interesting.

EveryBody: The Smithsonian’s New Artifact History of Disability in America

A new exhibit at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History has “everybody” talking: EveryBody: An Artifact History of Disability in America. With a considerate nod to the subject content, the museum has chosen to make the exhibit accessible online, enabling people with disabilities to view it at their convenience. It’s available in both English and Spanish, broadening the access even more.

On the museum’s blog, curator Katherine Ott observes: “People with disabilities have been present throughout American history, but rarely appear in textbooks or shared public memories.” It’s a problem people with disabilities have faced throughout history: the tendency to become, if not ostracized, ignored.

The Smithsonian wanted to address this problem by making a statement in the most direct way a museum can: In their continued effort to showcase all facets of American history, they have compiled images from their collections with accompanying facts about the sometimes weird, sometimes heartbreaking, and always fascinating history of disability in America. The introduction to the online exhibition illuminates the Smithsonian’s choice of multimedia presentation: “When history comes through artifacts, distinct themes emerge—for example, the significance of place, relationships, and technology—that are less apparent when only books and words are used.” It’s a choice that makes sense for a museum—a choice that, interestingly, bonds people with disabilities across distance and time. The same could be said about any exhibition at any museum, but the statement holds special meaning for a group that has, historically, experienced a distance from society that could feel insurmountable.

“To broaden the familiar narratives of American history and give presence to some of the ‘disappeared’ in American history, we created an online exhibition about disability drawn from the museum’s collections,” Ott explains. For all those who have been voiceless over the centuries, this exhibit certainly speaks for their history. “Being anonymous or forgotten does not mean that you are invisible,” says Ott.

One item of note, which may be a good starting point for viewing, is the timeline of disability history the museum links to; you can see the 1990 ADA event in bold that Janice talked about in her most recent blog post.

A display that is particularly disturbing to me is the one entitled “Appearance.” As someone who has experienced disability personally, I recall feeling extremely uncomfortable when people would stare at my injury, especially when it first happened. (Refer to my welcome post if you’d like to know more about my personal story.) However, I was downright horrified when I read that “Ugly Laws” in the mid-1800s forbade people with physical deformities from being in public.
This “no wheelchairs allowed” photograph is also chilling, especially since it is from the 1970s, when there was an increase of disability for Vietnam War veterans. Seeing how things used to be really puts it in perspective. Not that staring is acceptable, but I’d rather have that than being banned from going where I’d like.

Going where we’d like—that’s really the point this kind of examination, isn’t it? Yes, we have a lot to be proud of, and we should applaud ourselves as a country for how far we’ve come. But let’s not forget our goals for the future, and that we’re still on that journey. What do you think, readers? What kind of legal and social advances for people with disabilities would you like to see? And what do you think of this exhibit? Perhaps with more accessible education to all people about disabilities, like the Smithsonian’s new exhibit, we can continue to become a more considerate, informed, and helpful community.

In closing, what impresses me most about this museum is how well it shows the perseverance of people with disabilities throughout history. “Many people with a disability must be pioneers,” the exhibit says. I’d like to point out two images that really inspired me: two people following their passions, in spite of how challenging it must have been. They engineered adaptations to allow them to pursue activities that even people without disabilities might find difficult: playing the violin (1860s) and skiing (1940s)!


I am in awe–and what a nice reminder to us all that with some simple adaptations, people with disabilities can shine brightly, not just as a representation of disability, but as a testament to the beauty and talent of humankind.

Happy Memorial Day!

Happy Memorial Day! I’d like to take a moment to thank all of our soldiers who have fought for freedom, especially those who have paid with their lives. I think there is no greater bravery than risking your life for an ideal, for the future happiness and freedom of people you will never meet, all because you believe in a country. Even the Bible echoes this sentiment in John 15:13 with a quote that’s become so famous as to transcend religion: “There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”

For a lot of Americans, a big part of Memorial Day is watching war movies on AMC and outdoor barbecues (always thought that one was spelled with a “q,” but Merriam-Webster disagrees!). But when did the holiday start?

According to the official website for the holiday, the idea for Memorial Day popped up in many different areas around the country during the 1860s, post-Civil War. The first official observation of it was on May 30, 1868, when people placed flowers on the graves of fallen soldiers in Arlington National Cemetery. No matter how many times I visit the Cemetery, I am overwhelmed with gratefulness and awe. It’s always a sobering experience. When I was in eighth grade, I won an essay contest that gave me the honor of participating in the wreath-laying ceremony on the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier when our class went to Washington, D.C. I’ll never forget that experience.

A soldier marches, with a rifle over his right shoulder, in front of the Tomb of the Unknowns. The inscription on the front of the Tomb reads, “Here rests in honored glory an American soldier, known but to God.” (Photo and caption from ncd.gov)

Another tradition associated with Memorial Day is that of wearing red poppies to honor the dead. Apparently, the custom started because of a poem that Moina Michael wrote in 1915:

We cherish too, the Poppy red
That grows on fields where valor led,
It seems to signal to the skies
That blood of heroes never dies.

I think it’s a beautiful sentiment and tradition. Recently, the Duchess of Cambridge, a.k.a. Kate Middleton, has re-invigorated the tradition (in an international sense) by modeling the pin herself.

The Duchess of Cambridge popularizes the poppy pin tradition
(Bauer Griffin; Courtesy Photo)

I actually bought the pin for my sister for her birthday last year, and part of what I love about the pin is the proceeds go to the Royal British Legion, a nonprofit charity that aids veterans, enlistees, and their families. If you’d like to buy one just like hers, you can buy one here. Of course, you could also roll down your car window and buy the simpler ones from the VFW representatives you see selling at traffic lights. 🙂 Buying those “provides financial assistance in maintaining state and national veterans’ rehabilitation and service programs and partially supports the VFW National Home for orphans and widows of our nation’s veterans,” says the website hyperlinked above.

Another neat thing I got to do in D.C. when I went with my family in 2006 was to visit the new National WWII Memorial.

WWII Memorial Plaza (photo by Richard Lato, from http://www.wwiimemorial.com)

This memorial had special meaning to our family. My paternal grandfather really wanted to participate in the war efforts, but because he’d had an elevator accident earlier in life that left him with a prosthetic leg, he was unable to go into active duty. However, he didn’t let his physical impairment stop him from making a difference. He got his chance to participate by being the official driver for an American colonel during the war as well as working in a munitions factory. It seems like a small duty, but it’s the compilation of all those small duties that enable the bigger action to happen successfully. I can just imagine how the colonel was discussing strategic plans in the back seat of the car while my grandpa drove him to important meetings, or how my grandpa might have made one of the crucial pieces of armament in the war. 🙂

Although I never got the chance to meet him (he died right before I was born), my grandpa has always been an inspiration to me. He achieved so much throughout his lifetime; besides his war efforts, he was also an engineer and inventor, a conductor of his own band, a violinist, a boxer, a father of three kids and a dog, and more. What a combination! But even before my TBI, I was inspired by how he never let “disability” define him as a person or limit his achievements. I am very proud to leave you with this final image, which is a screenshot of my grandpa’s record in the WWII Memorial registry.

William J. Fowler, WWII Honoree Record in the WWII Memorial Registry

William J. Fowler, WWII Honoree
Record in the WWII Memorial Registry