Brilliant minds lie Beneath the Surface

Published 7:31 am Wednesday, August 16, 2000

By By Donna Everett and Jack Wright
Guest Columnists
It was one of those life changing experiences that are so very rare.
We flew to Washington D.C., Friday, August 4, 2000 to attend a conference where a book titled, aptly, Beneath The Surface was being launched. The conference was hosted by the International Society for Augmentative and Alternative Communication (ISAAC).
A conference where the 51 guests of honor were all "disabled" … where all of the guests of honor were "verbally impaired" … where some of the most brilliant minds we've ever encountered hid beneath the surface of severe cerebral palsy, muscular dystrophy, Parkinson's disease and an assortment of other more mysterious ailments.
Some of these people brought both of us to tears … not tears of sadness over the injustice of it all … not tears of joy that we are not so handicapped that we're not able to walk, speak or feed ourselves (because one of us is).
No, these were tears brought on by astonishment at the bravery of people who can laugh in spite of the adversity that life has placed in front of them.
The little girl from Germany who giggled constantly … as she expertly traversed the halls of the Hyatt Regency … in an electric wheelchair that she steered with her elbow, as her body spasmed.
The man who has bachelors and masters degrees in fine arts, a bachelors degree in computer science and is a research scientist at a prominent university in the northeastern United States.
This man has cerebral palsy so severely, that he can't hold a glass of water. He communicates using an electronic letter board that resembled an oversized computer keyboard.
He types in planned responses such as, "I'm very happy to meet you" and "Where are you from?" But, laboriously chit chats at a speed of one word per minute, laughing the entire time.
The man who is an editor and father of two wonderful children. He was born with cerebral palsy and grew up communicating via his father's old manual typewriter.
The man who types with his toes and autographed our copies of the book with a pen attached to his head by a strap.
The man who, at the age of 33, developed Parkinson's disease and now can't feed himself, walk or speak. Yet, writes some of the most astonishing prose you're ever likely to read and hee haws at the smallest thing.
And the list goes on and on.
With everyone having at least three things in common.
The inability to speak, the gift of laughter and the firm belief that they are not heroic.
We, Donna and Jack, purposely wrote our part of this article completely independent of each other, but remember, we told you that one of us was disabled, unable to walk or talk.
Can you tell who?
Donna or Jack?
Well, if you can't, then our point has been made.
The answer to the question [which one of us is disabled] is WE ALL ARE. We just show it in different ways. Some of us can't write, some of us can't draw, some of us live totally dysfunctional lives.
Sure, we may be healthy, but we all have some sort of disability. Always remember to look past the body that we see on the outside. There are so many people out there with so much inside – just remember to give them a chance – you'll find yourself very amazed!
When you look at somebody who can't walk or can't speak … look a little deeper.
Look Beneath The Surface.

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