Thursday, April 19, 2007

STRATEGY 1: You Got to Have a Dream!

Do you remember being a child? Children know how to dream. They don’t have any stumbling blocks. They don’t know the words, “I can’t.” The world is full of unlimited possibilities. If you ask a child what he/she is going to be when grown up, chances are the child will answer without hesitation “a doctor,” “a teacher,” “a fire fighter,” or “a police officer.” They know of nothing that could prevent them from becoming what they want to be. And yet, many 18 year olds enter college without a clue as to what they want to be when they grow up. What happens to the dreams of the 6 year-old child? Where do they go? How are they lost?

On January 11, 1949, Irene Thompson gave birth to a stillborn female child. A nurse informed the father as the doctor said a prayer and baptized the lifeless child. As the doctor prayed, the child showed definite signs of life. Even though the child was alive, it was not expected to live through the night. That child was named Linda, who is now 57 years-old and is writing this article. Of course there were effects caused by the lack of oxygen to the brain. I was diagnosed about 18 months later as having a condition known as cerebral palsy, which affects the muscle movements in both my legs and arms, as well as my neck. But I was alive and that was all that mattered to my mother. She was determined I would have as much of a life as my sister and brother before me. And she made sure I understood that.

From the 40’s through the 60’s, people with disabilities were hidden from society Children with disabilities were bussed to segregated schools. There were no “inclusion” or “mainstreaming” programs. If a child made it through the eighth grade—as far as the schools for the “disabled” went—he was sent home until he was old enough to go to a sheltered workshop where he would be paid 10 cents an hour to separate and count nuts and bolts. There was no public access to high schools or colleges. A person with a disability was not expected to become a productive member of society.

My mother was light years ahead when it came to visualizing the possibilities in my life. She drove positive affirmations into me, “You can do anything you put your mind to,” “If you don’t succeed, try, try, try again,” and “Anything is possible.” She made me feel if I wanted something bad enough and was willing to work hard, I could accomplish anything.

When I was eight, we drove my older sister to her dorm room at Kent State University. I was impressed and excited as I blurted out to my mother, “Do you think I can come to Kent State someday?” I was oblivious to the roadblocks that stood between me and that possibility, but I am sure mom knew what they were. Not wanting to destroy my dream, she answered, “Anything is possible.”

I graduated from high school in 1967—one roadblock down—but there were very few universities in the country that accepted students with disabilities and none were in Ohio. However, five years later, in 1972, Kent State University established a program to support students with disabilities. I started at KSU in the fall of ’72 and graduated with a journalism degree in 1975.

If you don’t have a dream, find a safe place, search for the child within you, ask your childself what he/she wants to be or do when it grows up. If you rediscover your dream, hold on to it and don’t let anyone steal it from you. Like the song from South Pacific says, “You have to have a dream. If you don’t have a dream, how you going to make a dream come true?”

Linda Thompson, MSRC, has 30 years professional experience serving people with disabilities as instructor and advocate. As a keynote speaker, she addresses audiences of parents, professionals, care providers, students, congregations, and business administrators/employers on the importance of recognizing the individual and abilities rather than the "labels" of disabilities. "People with disabilities are people first. Our disabilities are second."