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Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation Blog: “International Day of Persons with Disabilities,” December 11, 2019

I can’t remember the circumstances surrounding our dinner conversation the other night, but at some point, I told my husband that his information wasn’t accurate. It was not shared with an accusing or angry or even sarcastic tone–just objective observation. However, our son became very defensive of his dad, and said, “Mom, that’s not fair, you are showing Dad that you don’t believe in him,” which was an interesting interjection for an almost 10-year-old.

Heather Krill and her family“Just because I sometimes disagree with your dad or believe he is wrong does not mean I do not believe in him, honey,” I explained. Carver’s intuitive sense that I would argue a case in point with his dad who happens to use a wheelchair and has for almost 25 years stems from his empathetic, sensitive heart. I like that he wants to stand up for his dad, but his dad doesn’t actually need someone to stand up for him since he stands taller in his chair than many people who are actually standing. I very much believe in my husband because he is my husband, not because he is disabled, but rather in spite of his spinal cord injury.

This is why each year I try to take a different approach to understanding International Day of People with Disabilities. Why do we still have to celebrate a day? We celebrate a day for the same reason we honor Martin Luther King, Jr. Day in January. We celebrate a day for the same reason someone started Black History Month all those years ago, Women’s History Month, LGBTQ History Month, Mental Illness Awareness Month, respective Breast Cancer and Pancreatic Cancer Months. I could go on and never run out of months or days, national or international, that someone or some group put their energy behind because of one reason: There is still work to be done. There is still work to be done. That’s not a typo; I wrote it twice on purpose. Let’s do the work. Let’s improve our quality of humanity, which will improve our quality of life. I tell my AP Language and Composition students that any sentence that begins with “Let’s” is a hortative sentence, which means it’s a call for action. Let us do something. Let us begin. Let us continue the work that needs to be done.

This year’s theme is ‘Promoting the participation of persons with disabilities and their leadership potential.’ According to the IDPD website, there is also a spotlight event on “the theme of ‘Sport for all for peace and development’, which will be the opportunity to discuss sport as a powerful enabler of peace and sustainable development through the empowerment of persons with disabilities.” This is cool because sport was also one of the first areas of pop culture to break the color barrier, in addition to music, theater, art, and literature.

Helping others to achieve their leadership potential is a challenging task regardless of one’s ability but those trails are always made smoother by those who travel them first. Sometimes the most difficult part is just getting people to the trailheads, making access easier for those potential leaders who are quieter or aren’t even sure yet what they have to offer the world. We see this every day in young people in our schools. They can’t know possibly what they don’t know yet. We show them by holding up mirrors, nudging them to different choices, helping them to see what trails are available, and hoping against hope that doors remain open regardless of ability, gender, race, creed, socioeconomic background, etc.

Geoff is an international leader–both in the world of both adaptive sports and Professional Ski Instructors of America. He is a professional. He leads others to trailheads. He encourages young leaders and guides those who don’t yet recognize their leadership potential. He is the “poster person” for this year’s International Day of People with Disabilities. He is all these awesome qualities and more, yet he can’t actually create a spreadsheet, complete an expense report independently, or use a calendar effectively for meeting deadlines. He too is a work in progress, like the rest of us. So, LET’S reach out to someone we see potential in. LET’S get them to their next trailhead despite their strengths and weaknesses. LET’S make the world a better, stronger, and more compassionate place for everyone.

Heather Ehrman Krill is a writer-wife-teacher-mom who lives in the White Mountains of NH with her husband, Geoff, a paraplegic and professional skier, and their two children, Carver and Greta who are 9 and 8. Please check out her novel True North, website www.heatherkrill.com, author FB page Heather Krill, and @heatherkrill1 on Twitter.

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