This is the talk I used to give at the once a month at the Extend-A-Family Inclusion Workshop

Picture this; you are seventeen, and you’re back in high school, sitting in class. You try to arm yourself against the stares and jeers that you know are coming, but are never quite prepared for, as you wait for the bell.

This is a normal occurrence for many teens,  and other young people who feel different, as it was for me. Due to the way that people reacted to my physical disability, I felt really different, alone, and like I didn’t fit in or belong anywhere. However, that changed when I met John Stewart, or Mr. Stewart, as I called him then.

Mr. Stewart was my entrepreneurship teacher in 2007, and right from the start, I felt included in his class. He’d call on me to answer questions, and he would take the time to understand my responses. You know, it’s the little, everyday things, which a lot of people overlook, that make the difference.

Inclusion doesn’t have to be a big production– it can be something as small as saying “hi” to someone in the hall, or taking five minutes to get to know a group member the next time you have a group project. To me, inclusion is simply recognizing and valuing another person’s worth, regardless of their race, gender identity, sexuality, religion or level of ability.  

I feel that how Mr. Stewart treated me, epitomizes this idea perfectly. In fact, my former teacher went over and beyond the call of duty, and assisted me with a number of extra-curricular activities, many of which were related to charity. All of this made me feel like I belonged, and that for once, my disability didn’t matter.

This brings me to my last point; for me, “disability” is just a word, and I don’t let it define me anymore. I used to subscribe to the idea that having a physical impairment would stop me from achieving my goals, as well as having a happy and successful life. defines “disability” as the “lack of adequate power, strength, or physical or mental ability; incapacity,” or “a physical or mental handicap, especially one that prevents a person from living a full, normal life or from holding a gainful job,” whereas the Oxford Dictionary describes a disability as “a physical or mental condition that limits a person’s movements, senses, or activities.” 

Although the Oxford has a marginally nicer definition, I would like to offer my own. A disability is not a lack of ability, but an ability to find different ways to do things, e.g. finding a way to draw with your computer, when you can no longer draw by hand.

I have Cerebral Palsy, and that will never change, however, my former teacher Mr. Stewart, has helped me to shift my focus from my “disability” to my ability, simply by making me feel included and valued. I feel that others can make this shift if we promote, and subscribe to the idea that inclusion doesn’t have to be a big production.

I truly believe that it is the little, everyday things that can make the difference in someone’s life.