I Ain't Askin for Permission!

There they go again, Easter Seals MA - helping to lead the way in an area where not much work has been done in. As I've learned the organization's history, I admire their forthright and forward thinking pattern. Whether it's advocating for early childhood intervention, or creating a program that loans adaptive technology, or training babysitters to care for children with special needs - Easter Seals MA leads the way off the beaten path. And I'm pretty sure it's not just because they are a bunch of liberal-Massachusetts-radicals - but because they know it's the only way we'll ever really be able to make progress together. They've always been brave enough to get a little uncomfortable and that is something I quite admire. So this program & conference I helped to coordinate was really not too surprising from many other trailblazing tendencies the organization pursues.

Two weekends ago I had the privilege of spending the weekend with sixteen other women, twelve of whom were members of a one-to-one mentoring program to empower transitional age young women with disabilities. Oh and let's not forget we had ten guest speakers too!
In a previous post I admit in a video that I don't really have a defined understanding of what it means to be a woman with a disability. To be honest? I don't think I'm supposed to have a set answer. 

For someone who likes crystal-clear-cut answers, structure, and adores excel spreadsheets - the fact that there was no epiphany moment where I came across the answer was a little difficult for me to get around my head. From our adaptive yoga instructor I learned that being a young woman with a disability involves being okay with who you are right at this moment. Whatever your body can or cannot do doesn't matter, because when we are mentally in-tune with our breath there is an attention to being connected with our limbs that (for me) wasn't always something I jumped to do. From our speakers on advocating for health care needs, I learned that being a young woman with a disability means that when we know what works for us - we fight for it and we ask for it, not because we're conceited pain in the ass patients, but because that's our right. From the author who read from her memoir, I was relieved to find out there is someone else who knows what it's like to be raised by a mom who wanted to "correct" those "weird" physical habits that come with having a disability; and someone who struggled to connect with the woman who looks back at her in the mirror. From our presenters on overcoming ableism, I learned that being a young woman with a disability means I need to be more attentive to the society I live in, and to the structures that are in place. Just because systems are in place doesn't make them right, and it certainly doesn't mean I don't have a role in changing those systemic behaviors.
The list of take-aways goes on and on. And outside of the presentations and workshops I learned loads from the mentors and mentees! There is a young woman who is trying to find a way for her passion as a motivational speaker to be a bigger part of her life than it currently is. There is a young teen whose excitement at being surrounded by other women with disabilities was something I wish I was brave enough to have owned up to when I was her age. There is a young woman who is thinking about being the next Ms. Wheelchair. There is a young woman who kept telling me that she felt like she was with family, though this was the first time we were all together.

As I was writing training manuals, various program hand-outs, emails and inviting guests to speak, I always felt like I was overusing the word "empowerment." I cannot tell you how many times I opened Thesaurus.com and typed in "empower" "empowerment" "empowering" only to be incredibly disappointed. Because none of those words Thesaurus popped up were good enough for me! None of them captured what I thought it meant.. which of course led me to think that I didn't know what the word 'empower' means! In my mind I was not out to create a mentoring program/conference experience that "allows" or "authorizes" or "validates" or "establishes" a young woman's ability to lead her own life as she wants. And nor was it about "permitting" her disability and her gender! Because I can tell you in one sentence what this conference was not about:

It was absolutely not about young women with disabilities asking permission to do whatever she desires with her life.

So that's why I began and ended the conference with the same activity. At the beginning I asked each attendee to fill in the blank "An Empowered Woman Is..." with one word, and then at the end of the conference we did the same activity. The point isn't necessarily what word that was written, it's that the individual fills in the blank for herself and for her own reasons. Little did I know that by planning that activity I was actually, in the end, telling myself the answer for what it means for me to be an empowered young woman with a disability.

This is a community of incredibly strong willed individuals, they've taught me that there is no square box that we were each meant to fit in. And maybe the whole point of being an empowered young woman with a disability is that I am brave enough to face the unknown, be in control of my own definitions, and life direction... Whatever that might mean and wherever it might go - it means that I am resourceful, opinionated, strong, and wise enough to call my own shots and do whatever I wish to do. Because ultimately, I know I need no one's permission to try.

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5 Responses to I Ain't Askin for Permission!

  1. What an awesome blog entry. You are pretty awesome Sandy Ho :) You did a great job with the thrive program and conference! well done.

  2. Sandy - you are AMAZING. You truly captured the spirit of Thrive. I just cut and paste a piece of this blog entry into my report for Thrive. THANKS for your wonderful leadership and insightful perspective.

    1. Aw shucks, thank you thank you thank you!

  3. Really great, Sandy. You know I will be looking for a presentation on this.


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