Living with Disabilities
As a little girl, one of my favorite moments was after dinner, just before bedtime. I would curl up on the sofa beside my mom and she would tell me stories of wonderful people who lived extraordinary lives. One of such stories was about a woman named Joni Eareckson Tada.
Joni was a young girl who was vivacious and full of life. She was very athletic and loved horseback riding and backpacking. She enjoyed all these until she turned 17, when a diving accident left her with a broken cervical vertebrae. She became a quadriplegic from her shoulders down at such a young age. Paralyzed from the neck down, she spent the next two years struggling for life and tried to come to terms with her paralysis.
Young Joni suffered through the harsh reality, and it seemed as though her life was over. Actually, I suppose her life as she knew it was indeed over. I tried then to imagine what she must have had to struggle with and I could not. I still cannot fathom the depth of her struggles. What I do remember was that she pulled through. She went on to write fourteen books and record several albums. She became a voice for those living with disabilities. There are several things that struck me about Joni, and I have found that these qualities are those that are inherent in most successful people who are living with disabilities.
Rejecting a Victim Mentality
It is extremely difficult to be successful with a victim mentality. As I studied Joni’s life and the lives of other successful people who lived with varying forms and degrees of disability, I noticed a marked absence of self-pity in their lives. They realized that their lives were different and looked for ways to work around the restrictions that life had placed on them. For Joni, she learned how to write using her mouth.
Holding on to a Higher Power
In these incredible people, there is a fierce determination to succeed, and this seems to stem from something deep inside. It was this belief that held Joni when she was tempted to lose hope. Not surprisingly, Joni is not the only person living with a disability who has attested to the necessity of a strong belief. Helen Keller is another person who survived great odds to become successful. She was the first deaf and blind person to earn a college degree, and she also wrote openly about her faith.
Another common trait of successful people who are living with a disability is the need to give back. They go through life without any sense of entitlement, even becoming fierce activists and advocates for others. This attitude is well summed in the famous words by Helen Keller; “I am only one, but still I am one; I cannot do everything, but still I can do something; I will not refuse to do the something I can do.”
Living with a disability takes courage and it takes an incredible person with a great spirit to overcome incredible odds and be successful at life. Joni Eareckson Tada is an embodiment of such a person.