Fighting for Accessibility and Disability Support, with Dr. JR Harding of FSU | EDB 60


In this episode, Harold Reitman, M.D. speaks with Dr. JR Harding, an author, disability advocate, and instructional specialist at Florida State University. JR’s accomplishments are staggering, with only a few being: contributing over 30 years to National State and Community Policy for the Independence and self-sufficiency of persons with disability, being a two-time presidential appointee, a seven time gubernatorial appointee, being asked to speak on numerous occasions to the US Congress in Florida Legislature, and he is the former chairman of the Florida Commission for Transportation Disable. Dr. Harding discusses the challenges he has faced being quadriplegic, the tools he has used to maximize his abilities, and the importance of understanding and appreciating the resource people with disabilities can be for businesses.

For more information, visit: 

JRHarding.com

www.FSU.edu

Look for his books on Amazon: Now What? and ADA Adventure.

And look for his Different Brains blog here.

 

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HACKIE REITMAN, M.D. (HR):

Hi, I’m Dr. Hackie Reitman, welcome to another episode of Exploring Different Brains, today I have the honor of interviewing one of my heroes, this guy is like a super hero, JR Harding. Now, we met at the Trailblazing 2016 Conference and JR Harding is a disability specialist, an author, an accessibility expert, an international speaker, he’s contributed over 30 years to National State and Community Policy for the Independence and self-sufficiency of persons with disability. A two-time presidential appointee, that’s the president of the United States. A seven time gubernatorial appointee; he’s been asked to speak on numerous occasions to the US Congress in Florida Legislature. He’s the former chairman of the Florida Commission for Transportation Disabled. JR Harding, you introduce yourself to our audience!

 

  1. JR HARDING (JRH):

Well thank you Hackie, really it’s a privilege to join your family and meeting you at the Trailblazing in 2016, and hope to join you again for 2017, I think that will be the next stage in this journey, I’m just a young knucklehead who turned 50 just the other day, and someone who has lived with multiple disabilities for 33 years, I first became a quadriplegic my senior year in high school, trying to do the right thing and walked away from a school yard fist fight and incidentally became a quadriplegic and when I finally figured it out, when I kind of found my way around the school yard, or back into school, at the university, I flipped a van and got it the second time, wasn’t quite ready with running into challenges what was my role in society? Who was I gonna be? What was my identity? ‘Cause growing up I did struggle with dyslexia, I did struggle with substance abuse, I did struggle with self-identity of where was my place in the world, that did not adapt, embrace and include persons with disabilities back in the 80’s.

 

HR:

So, let me stop you right there, so now you are thrown into this whole new world, even though you had dyslexia, you had other disability but this is certainly a dramatic change for a young man, and instead of throwing in the towel, you do what?

 

JRH:

Well, I choose to pick up the pieces of my shattered life and find my way. I knew intuitively that I belonged and that I had something to contribute, like everybody else and so I went off to college because Harding boys go to college but the degree wasn’t the ends to the mean, really it was then being able to tuck my way into the workplace and to show that we had added value and that the accommodations were just reasonable tools that everybody could benefit from.

 

HR:

Now, when we were at Trailblazing in 2016 together, a lot of what you said resonated with me, there was also another speaker who said something that also just really hit home with me; that was Jose Velasco, the global leader for ASP a software company that has programs for autistic and Asperger’s and all the people whose brains are different and all the people with disabilities, and here is what he said: he said in a different way what you just said, he said “this is not a social welfare program, this is a business transition program” this is for the betterment of his business.

 

What you just said was “look, I wanted to figure out and you’ve gone on to help the institutions figure out, what are the accommodations I can do to let this individual help our institution, help society, help themselves, how can we maximize that individual whether he’s got dyslexia, autism, he’s in a wheel chair, you name it, what can we do to maximize his potential, his or her unique abilities?

 

JRH:

Absolutely Hackie, and that’s how I stumbled into this life long role as an advocate, a leader, a trail-blazer to use the Conference term, that started back when I was in grad school in the South, here in Pensacola Florida where I came from the Mid-West, and the North East that have embraced diversities on other spectrums very well, moved down to the South which historically has had challenges, for a lot of integration issues, not to mention persons with disabilities. Ok and then this thing called the Americans with Disabilities Act happened and you know what? the University president came to me ‘cause I was one of three students on her campus and said: How are we gonna do this? What are we gonna do? And I said: “You know what? I don’t know but let’s cross the Rocky Mountains together and figure it out together so that we can all be frontiers men in this unknown charted area”

 

HR:

Very cool and very well said. Let’s fast forward to your present position. Tell us about what you are doing now, there’s so much that happened in between, and so many great things you did afterwards, but now I wanna take Different Brains and this audience up to now, 2016… the end of 2016, tell us what your role is.

 

JRH:

Thank you, this is a great lead-in and now I’m a faculty person at Florida State University, one of the two premier institutions in the State of Florida, with a mission that is not local, not state-wide but literally international is our mission and the president and provost at Florida State University hired me to see: could we do something better with the integration, retention, graduation and success of students with disabilities, so the idea is how could we create a University of choice where students with different abilities, of all types, could excel in higher education and not only become a better holistic person to participate on politics, and our not-for-profits and development of communities but more importantly than being a leader in the workforce and whatever area they choose and the key is in high light red for me is, how do you identify your calling? what are you intuitively good at? and then how do you wrap around some education and skills set to complement that passion that drives you every day.

 

HR:

And that’s what I preach to everybody, whether they have so called disabilities or not, that’s what’s missing in our overall educational system. If you can harness your hyper interests like that chapter in the AsperTools Book no matter who you are and you can find a way to make a living out of it, you never have to work a day in your life!

 

JRH:

Well you know… that’s Amen to that Hackie, there’s nothing better than actually being remunerated for something you love to do!

 

HR:

And you are helping other people while you do it, that’s the trifecta.

 

JRH:

Right, right

 

HR:

Well now, let’s segway into something that we spoke about when we were on the panel together and everything, which is, the way my brain works when I was interpreting a lot of what you were saying and experiencing is that your brain has to rewire itself and quadriplegic to me is another form of neurodiversity because your brain has to adapt to all kinds of technology, to a whole different mind set, to get through your activities of daily living. Tell me how you feel your brain has changed, if at all, to rewire, to meet all of your challenges.

 

JRH:

That’s a deep question and it’s one I’m still learning the answer till today as I’m ageing with quadriplegia and so I think depending upon the circumstance how I’m wired and how my body communicates with me difference, for example, my left hand and my right hand have different levels of sensitivity to them, so if I touch my ear with my right hand vs. my left hand the actual feeling is different, so then when you are talking about how my body is communicating with me…For example, with my first injury, if I was sweating on the left side of my head, that meant the right side of my body had pain, just like the left and right sides of the brain; but now, with my second injury, I only sweat on the left side, the right side no longer sweats, but it will sweat on the front left and on the back left still giving me the differentiation between the left and right side.

 

HR:

Tell us about your use of modern technology.

 

JRH:

Well, that’s something that gets me in trouble with me and my wife because modern technology has given me freedoms that I never before could have imagined. So my computer at home is nicknamed precious ‘cause I spend so much time there. I am now able to interact with the world independently, through Skype, through Dragon dictate with my smartphone, with my i-Pad, I am now connected and no longer things need to be facilitated which were once shared activities, I can have those private intimate moments like we are having now, even though it’s being recorded, this is just between you and I, this is our moment.

 

HR:

Very interesting, now tell us some of the mechanics with which technology helps you with your activities of daily living.

 

JRH:

Well, the mechanics of it is everywhere, first starting with my mobility device, ok? a wheel chair is a form of technology and over the years it gotten very, very fancy to better meet your needs of the world, of your independence like for example, a chair has an up and down elevation component to it, so when I’m at a party or a cocktail arena, I can sit up at 6 feet of height and look you in the eye, rather than feeling like I’m looking up all the time, that’s a major game changer, and for me giving speeches and stuff I might then sit up in front of a class to get everyone’s attention and then they’re like woohhh.

Another form of technology would be my vehicle, I call it the enterprise, you know like Star Trek, I drive with my hands, I control my wipers, my turn signal, my cruise control with my head, I just hit the little button because both of my hands are occupied, the whole video call is built around my movements and my independence. So, I should almost have a sticker on the back around that says: Enterprise. Going where no man has gone before, and that to me it’s really game changing in itself because in those first years I couldn’t go anywhere without a team, it took two people to pick my big six foot five butt up, throw me in the car, fold up my wheelchair, put it in the trunk. Remember we didn’t have disabled parking, we didn’t have access ramps, we didn’t have power doors, so I had to schedule my life around a team, to try and get my hair cut or go get a gallon of milk, or go get the VCR tape at the store, when we went and got the videotape, it was a whole excursion, spent an hour at the video store, now we do that online, and we just load to the Netflix and stuff, as part of my chores, “honey, go find some movies for us” well, I can run over to Precious and I can handle it. I can do it, right, those are some of my independent tools.

I have little low tech things, I wrap around my hand and hold a fork for me, so I can self feed or brush my teeth, those little things they are simply priceless because when you are eating your food, some people like to mix the peas and the corn, other people don’t want to mix their peas and the corn. So that is such a personal business of how do you eat or brush your teeth, or how quickly do you pick up a cup of coffee. These are all how high tech and low tech items facilitate my independence everyday but because of the reliance on technology, you do have a few bumps on the road, like for example my car like your car has a phone, but in order for the phone to work you have to switch it from one Bluetooth to the other Bluetooth mechanism, you follow me, in the car?

Well, guess what? JR can’t switch the button, because the phone is down in my pocket, so I had to come with a work around, so I went and bought a cheap little $10 phone that sits in the back of my book bag, which, so every time I get in and out of the van, it automatically loads to that Bluetooth, right, because I couldn’t have it connected to my primary phone, so you sometimes you gotta’ work around a few little challenges, ‘cause even though technology works well, it’s not perfect for everyone with different abilities.

 

HR:

You know JR, I remember once when my mom was pumping gas at the gas station in Jersey city, our family gas station, she told me… she said “you know you’ve got more lot obligations to work up to your whole potential with the gifts that God gave you, to help yourself, your loved ones and those less fortunate and to have a good time doing it. Let’s talk about the good time, not just in your work which you thoroughly enjoy, but talk about the fun in life, the recreation, doing things for fun, this is a big aspect for all of us whether we have disabilities or not.

 

JRH:

Thank you Hackie, really that’s a deep issue because when I first became paralyzed and the little games we played in rehab and stuff with the balloon in the hallway and volleyball and stuff. That was medical, you know, that was a clinical setting, what I knew to be fun, that wasn’t going out to the ball park, or watching the game having a hot dog and a mustard or getting the Philly cheese steak or getting the hot pretzel now these are parts of the things we do everyday called a barbecue, or a game day. Well for the first couple of years I really struggled mentally and intellectually and physically with not having fun. And I sat down on that chair, I was passive, I wasn’t active, and with the passing of the American with disabilities Act, you know, that light went off. I no longer need to sit on the sidelines and because of the community all around us, I learned to fish again, I went out there and caught that minnow which was the first fish I’d caught in 10 years, you know. Size didn’t matter that day, ok? It’s exciting to have that little baked fish on my hook. Alright, how about getting on the rollercoaster down at Sea World on the (—), or getting on The Incredible Hulk there at Universal Studios, the recreation of jumping in and out of the rollercoaster, sticking hands up in the air right in front row; or water skiing, scuba diving, miniature golf, bowling, all of these things are a part of my everyday life. In fact, this Thanksgiving the young kids who work for me, these 19 year olds, we went and played Wii tennis part of the you know, between dinner and dessert on Thanksgiving meal; and they were like “well I’m gonna take this old man down and his old school game, when we take that Wii mechanism into my hands and I took these young kids down, you should have seen the transformation on their face, they were like nervous, how is this wheelchair guy who barely uses his arm can kicking my ass on a game I should be good at. Right, that kind of enthusiasm, that kind of inclusion it’s priceless. And what we gain Hackie from the self esteem, the barrier removal and the family involvement transforms and relates itself to so many other things as you know well as a former boxer and so forth, that courage to go that extra mile is just something that you just can’t teach, you have to experience it.

 

HR:

Well, and I remember when were on that panel together at Trail-blazing in 2016, a while back, I was remembering when I was honored to be the honorary coach half time at a Heat game, Miami Heat, with a wheelchair basketball team from down south, the two teams, and I gotta tell you, you guys in the wheelchair you are crazy! they were like flying all over the place, diving out of the chair, banging into each other, luckily we got out of there alive.

 

JRH:

Yo! Yeah! it’s almost a violence sport, they talk about football and concussions and all of that, and the NFL. People had no idea that wheelchair rugby or wheelchair basketball or how people crushing each other and how serious it is. So, it’s inside all of us that need for involvement and competition and it brings the best of ourselves out in all abilities, no matter our brain situation, can find that right recreational outlet to empower yourself, both professionally and personal level.

 

HR:

Well you’ve got a real talent because you managed to break your neck twice.

 

JRH:

Let’s hope I don’t do that again, a third time, but yes you are quite right and that is true living life without boundaries. Honestly, I’ve forgotten I was a quadriplegic, that’s why I broke my neck the second time. I was driving from Orlando back to Tallahassee, to finish that dissertation because I wanted to become Dr. JR ok? I was racing back, but what I was doing was I was also playing with the car radio and I took one of my hands out of the steering wheel, and then I ended up hitting little bumps and I couldn’t control the vehicle anymore at 75 miles an hour. So, around we went, and as I began to flip I was like “It will be over in a minute” and it was, it was. And the when the EMT showed up I was like “I’m busted up already, don’t worry guys, just slap me on the gurney and let’s get me to the hospital” they were in complete disbelief that they were already picking a quadriplegic.

 

HR:

You know how to have a good time JR.

 

JRH:

Well, I don’t know if I classify that particular moment as a good time, but you know even during that time of distress I was advocating for myself because I said what hospital I wanted to go to, I said you know “how are we gonna handle this?” and you know of course the medical profession wasn’t certain you know, was I already on too much pain medicine, maybe I was but I was still gonna go to Gainesville and not to Orlando because I wanted to go to their neurological center, because as you know going to the right doctors is important for the right issue.

 

HR:

You gotta be surrounded with “the pros from Dover” as they say.

 

JRH:

How will the audience find out all about JR Harding and your books?

 

JRH:

They can find me at jrharding.com or at Florida State University at www.fsu.edu. The two books are out there on amazon.com — they can be collected through by website and I think there are even hot-links in the blog that you’ve already put out a week or two ago.

 

HR:

Well, it’s been a pleasure speaking to Dr. JR Harding, the instructional specialist at Florida State University, who’s worked with many leaders of our country, and of the world, for those of us with disabilities, JR it’s been a real pleasure.

 

JRH:

Hackie, the pleasure has been all mine, in mediums and shows like this carry the message and remove the barriers for persons with disabilities but more importantly for those without disabilities for better embrace all individuals with different brains.

 

Author Image
Dr. Harold “Hackie” Reitman is the founder of DifferentBrains.com. He is an entrepreneur, philanthropist, children’s activist, retired orthopaedic surgeon, and a former professional heavyweight boxer. He who currently serves as the CEO of Fort Lauderdale, Fla.-based PCE Media, LLC, the multi-platform production company he founded in 2004. Dr. Reitman wrote, executive produced and co-directed the full-length independent film, “The Square Root of 2” (starring Darby Stanchfield of ABC’s “Scandal”), and is the author of the book “Aspertools: A Practical Guide for Understanding and Embracing Asperger’s, Autism Spectrum Disorders and Neurodiversity” from HCI Publishing. He also hosts the DifferentBrains.com interview show “Exploring Different Brains.”

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