By Dr. JR Harding
I am excited about my new job at Florida State University (FSU). This opportunity is exhilarating because FSU celebrates diversity and was exceptionally compassionate during the overwhelming emotional and physical stress of my second spinal cord injury in the fall of 1998. In short, it is a bit of a homecoming to now champion inclusion at my alma mater.
As a member of the “differently ABLED” population, it took a long time for me to learn that asking for assistance was not a form of weakness, but rather a manifestation of courage! 33 years ago on that tragic Saturday evening September 25, 1983, I became a quadriplegic. There was no “do-over”, in an instant, as quickly as a balloon can pop my life was in pieces. While I had the courage to work hard on physical therapy and occupational therapy issues, I had no idea how to ask or receive help from others. As a 6’5″ multi-varsity lettermen receiving college scholarship offers, most things in life came easy and asking for help was not a part of my daily routine. But, in that blink of an eye, easy would no longer be the appropriate adjective for describing my life. It is a daily challenge, and one that never goes away, but with the assistance of friends, family, and the community I am empowered to achieve my highest level of self-sufficiency and independence.
Some of the most successful individuals in the world also happen to be individuals with disabilities. It is important that each of us find that courage to ask for help and find our niche in the world rather than being relegated to the sidelines of life.
Belonging to the world’s largest minority population, persons with disabilities, is quite frankly “a normal” part of life. Not only do I believe this statement with every breath I take, but it is also similarly articulated within the preamble of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Thus, this is not merely my conviction, but it is also the heartbeat of the American people. No one person is an island onto themselves. Each of us, at some point, has needed and benefited from the love, mentoring, and inclusion of others. However, it took a number of years for me to “get it” and to find the courage that everyone who has succeeded in life must request.
I had no experience of asking for assistance. I did not know how to ask for help. And, honestly, I was scared to ask for it. It took me a while to achieve the courage to ask for help, but once I did I was overwhelmed by the generosity and the sincerity of my friends, neighbors, and co-workers. Over the years, I have learned everybody needs a helping hand. These thoughts are captured in both my books Now What? (coming of age with a disability) and the other book ADA Adventure which is a collection of stories from the post-ADA era and living life to its fullest.
Because of organizations like Different Brains society and others, we have moved from a medical model to an inclusive model for persons with disabilities. Some of the most successful individuals in the world also happen to be individuals with disabilities. It is important that each of us find that courage to ask for help and find our niche in the world rather than being relegated to the sidelines of life. Universities like FSU and community groups like Different Brains will help you get off the sidelines of life if you have the courage to ask for help.