How my disability has made me stronger

By Michelle Steiner

“Women are like tea bags. You never know how strong they are until they get into hot water.” Eleanor Roosevelt
Photo by Leah Kelley on Pexels.com

One of my greatest passions in life is tea. I collect many teapots and tea cups. Every evening my husband and I enjoy a cup of tea together. I love to boil water in my blue butterfly tea kettle and hear the whistle singing its song. For the water to boil it must reach 212 degrees Fahrenheit. Once the water reaches this high temperature, I’m able to pour it into a cup and add my tea bag. Once the tea is in the water, the magic begins. The bag doesn’t break despite the hot water, instead, it infuses its flavoring into the cup and creates a delightful drink. Another significant part of my life has been having a Learning Disability. Having one often puts me in hot water and began to make me a stronger person.

I get into hot water any time that I have deal with math. Math remains to be a foreign language to me. My brain doesn’t comprehend how numbers work. I often miss the steps of how to complete the various steps of problems. I have had teachers patiently explain how to solve them and yet I just can’t get the concept. I can remember doing many flash cards and still not memorizing all of the facts. I’m also clueless when I have to read the face of a clock. I can see the numbers and the handles, but can’t tell you what time it is.

My trouble with math goes beyond the classroom. I get myself into scalding water when I go into the community. It’s always a mystery on how much my items total when I get to the register. All I know is that it has certainly gone up in recent days. Using a debit card is an abstract concept. When I use cash it is a concrete concept and can see the money that I’m spending. I still can’t calculate how much I’m spending, but I have a better idea.

Another way I get into hot water is when I have to give directions. It’s a challenge for me to understand directional terms such as South, East, West, and North. I struggle with giving and processing directions when they are given to me. I’m unable to tell someone how to get to my house. I can give a few landmarks and my house number but can’t tell you much beyond that. Many people don’t understand why I can’t do this. I have had strangers ask for directions and have had to tell them that I’m bad at giving directions. Most people have been okay with this but some haven’t been. I remember a man who asked me for directions to a restaurant. I told him “Sorry I’m bad with directions.” Another person near me was able to guide him. The man then turned to me and said “See it’s not that hard.” It may have not have be difficult for the person who could give directions, but for me it is impossible.

I also have trouble understanding when people give me directions. People will give me them and I will get lost. I can hear the words but have difficulty visualizing what they are saying, especially if it’s one that I haven’t visited before. It’s helpful for me to arrive a few minutes early and be able to figure it out on my own.

I also get into hot water when I have to learn a new task or skill. I don’t pick up on new concepts quickly. I will write down directions but forget the steps. I remember starting a job and being given a manual on entering information into the computer. I read the manual over the weekend but struggled to enter the information correctly. I can remember my supervisor accusing me of not reading it. I have other people who think I don’t get things because I don’t pay attention. For me to learn, I have to teach myself. Instead of reading a guide on a computer, I need to explore for myself how the features work.

Not driving has also put me into boiling water. It can be quite a predicament, when I need to go somewhere and don’t have a way to get there. I have had to turn down jobs that have either required a driver’s license, or have been too far for me to commute to. I have family, friends and coworkers who can give me rides. Living in a central location also helps me to get to places independently.

My handwriting also lands me in hot water. It’s hard for me to make my handwriting legible. I’ve struggled with this since I was a young child. I cried my way through the Handwriting without Tears curriculum. People have judged my character based on my penmanship. I have been told that it looks like a serial killer or has labeled me messy or dumb. Learning how to type was a game-changer for me. Finally, people understood what I wanted to say and didn’t have to interpret my writing!

Having a disability often puts me in hot water. I may not be able to control having one, the hardship of the circumstances, or other people’s actions. All I can do is be immersed in the heated water and handle the task at hand. Throughout all of my struggles with having a disability, being in hot water may have burned me, but it hasn’t destroyed me. Instead, such conditions have caused me to be resourceful and resilient. I also learned to work hard. It has taken many years to find the right blend, that can withstand the scorching temperatures, that I face, but I have found varieties that work. I’m not a weak cup of tepid tea, but a strong tea with a powerful punch!

Having motivation with a disability

The question should be is it worth doing not can it be done.

Alderd K Lowstein
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Having a Learning Disability has often forced me to confront my limitations at a young age. Most children have many big dreams and view their potential as unlimited. Many of them have success and think that anything is possible. I spent a great deal doubting myself and my abilities. I struggled to understand basic concepts that my peers seemed to master with ease. I thought that life would always be hard and I couldn’t have success in my life. Thankfully I have found strategies that don’t cure my disability, but help me to compensate with having one. In school some of them have included a note taker, extended test time, having the test read aloud, tutoring and calculator usage. Having these accommodations helped to me be able to process information and learn the content better. Once I found ways to compensate for my disability, it opened up a new world possibilities. I began to relate to the quote by Alderd K Lowstein “The question should be is it worth doing not can it be done.” As I grew it was more of question of not could if it was possible but was it worth my time.

During college I had to make wise choices about what I wanted to study and the type of job I wanted to have in the future. Many people thought that I couldn’t do anything and didn’t think that college was possible. Many professionals thought that my education and job choices would be limited. They didn’t they that college would be possible and suggested trade school. Others thought that there were not limitations and I could be whatever I wanted to be and pressured me to become a certified teacher. I knew that with my poor test taking abilities, that going through the certification tests, needed to even get accepted into certain programs, wouldn’t be the wisest choice. There was a good chance that I wouldn’t be able to pass them. Instead I decided to study Early Childhood Education and work in either a childcare or a school setting. Some people thought that this was taking the easy way out, but it was far from simple. I struggled to get through many of my classes. Much of the struggle was because I wasn’t using the accommodations because of the stigma that they created. It was difficult but I was able to get my Associates Degree in Early Childhood Education.

I also had to use wisdom when I went to university. I had people who thought that I should try to get a job after I lost my job at a school to downsizing. People told me that I already had a degree and didn’t need any more education. I found a program that interested me and had the least amount of math and Science possible. Most importantly it had disability accommodations that I used. Using disability services were effective in helping me be able to learn and process information. At university I had people who once again thought that being a teacher was what I supposed to do. I remember a person saying that if I just got it together I could do it. Hearing this frustrated me and saddened me. I knew that this wouldn’t be a possibility and chose to a program that focused on the service end of disabilities, rather than teaching. Studying this program helped me to thrive. My grades improved and I found a renewed sense of purpose. I also had a greater understanding of my disability and other types of disabilities. I was able to get my Bachelors Degree.

It was also important when I got jobs that I carefully took my abilities and the job itself into consideration. Many people took my fears about performing at a job as not wanting to work. I had well-meaning individuals suggest unskilled labor jobs such as fast food, stocking shelves, or assembly positions. People thought that they would be easy and couldn’t understand why some of them wouldn’t work out for me. I knew that my slow processing speed couldn’t keep up in a fast-paced environment of retail or a fast food restaurant. My mechanical reasoning and hand dexterity skills made assembly jobs impossible. I can also remember jobs that didn’t work out because I couldn’t pick up on the job fast enough or not having the right accommodations at the job. It took a long time to find one that is the right fit for me as a paraeducator in a school.

Another wise choice that I had to make was transportation. I’m unable to drive because of my visual perception. Many people thought that I could drive if I really wanted to. People would ask me if I was driving yet and said that I would want my independence. The issue isn’t in my eyes but in my brain. My brain has trouble coordinating movements and my reaction time is delayed. If I drove I would be worried that I could not only hurt myself but others as well. It wasn’t worth putting my safety and the well-being of others at risk, simply to have a license. Instead of driving I can get rides from people or walk where I need to go.

Choosing to live in a central location was another decision that I had to make. I knew that by not driving, being in a rural area wouldn’t be a wise choice. I’m blessed to have rides to where I need to go, but at times when my ride is unable to take me, I may be without transportation. I need to have another plan when I can’t get a ride. Living in a central location helps me be able to walk to the store, the gym, or wherever else I need to go.

Having a disability has caused me to have to make choices in all areas of my life school, work, and home. Despite having success in many things some things are simply not possible. It’s not worth the time and effort to invest time and effort into things that can’t do. Dwelling on what I can’t do is frustrating and defeating. When I focus and put my energy into what I can do I feel accomplished. It can be scary to try something new with a disability. The fear of failure always looms in the back of my head. The best way for me to confront this is to remember that I have the choice to decide if it’s worth it or not. If I decide to pursue the task at hand, I know that I will put all my effort into it. My Learning Disability was good for creating a strong, hardworking person. I just need to seek what is worth doing and find a way to do it.

Blooming in my own time with a disability

By Michelle Steiner

“A flower doesn’t think of competing with the flower next to it, it just blooms” Author Unknown

One of my greatest passions is growing flowers. I love to watch many growths blossom from the ground. The blooms grow alongside each other in harmony. They don’t worry about who is blossoming the quickest or who has the biggest blooms. When I was a young child I wanted to find my talents and shine. It seemed like all of my peers were good at something. Some of my peers were good at academics and were considered smart. I struggled with school and often didn’t feel smart. Other peers were amazing athletes, and shined in gym class. I struggled to coordinate my body and would flinch when a ball came near me. I tried to compete with my peers and was disappointed when I wasn’t successful.

My parents assured me that there were things that I was good at and were quick to point out what I could do. I will never forget my dad reading a story about a dinosaur I wrote as a young child and saying it was good. I also had people tell me that I was a good reader and speaker. Hearing those words of encouragement helped to guide me into the person that I am today.

Competition has also hurt me when people have compared my progress with others. Many times people will look at me and don’t think that I have a disability. My disability may be hidden, but it still creates limitations. Many people don’t understand that everyone experiences a disability differently, even if they have the same type. Some people with Learning Disabilities struggle with reading, while others struggle with math. When you meet one person with a disability, you have essentially met one person, and not an exhaustive list of people with it.

Much like the flowers I love to tend, I had to learn to bloom in my own time. I no longer wish to have the skills or talents of another person. I’m quick to encourage or applaud another’s good work when I see it. I generally peruse the things that I enjoy and am good at. I’ve learned not to waste time trying to engage in a futile pursuit of competing with another person or taking on an activity to be the best. Instead, I’m my own competitor. I set goals and try to be the best version of myself. The motivation for competing with myself is not to be better than someone else, but to make myself a better person.

Not competing with others has also improved my relationships with other people. When I tried to compete with others I spent more time being frustrated, angry, and envious of the other person. Competition left more animosity, rather than peace with other people. When I dropped the competition and acknowledged the strengths of others, it built the other person up. Others also saw the strengths that I had and encouraged me.

Competition is not entirely evil or entirely unavoidable. Certain things such as school, jobs, or awards mean having to compete against other candidates. Learning how to manage competition is key. I have things that I’m good at, but there will always be someone better and worse than me. I simply need to do what I’m good at and ensure that I’m doing my personal best. I also have to acknowledge the achievements of those around me. I will bloom and thrive in my own time alongside the blossoms of other people.

The winter forest of having a disability

By Michelle Steiner

Photo by Michelle Steiner

During winter, my husband and I love to hike in the woods. We put on our warm coats, boots, hats, and gloves and explore many trails. The journey during winter is much different than during spring and summer. The weather is much colder and fewer things are growing. Gone are the rainbow of colorful flowers and the canopy of leaves from the trees. Not all life is lost though. Some plants and trees such as Holly Berries and Evergreens can endure harsh conditions. Having a Learning Disability has often felt like walking through a forest. I have had to walk through this during all seasons, but the winter can be the harshest and the most hopeful if I look for it.
The Evergreen tree always remains green year-round. The snow or freezing temperatures won’t stop the tree from being a lovely shade of green. Despite the wind, the tree roots remain firmly in the ground. Evergreens also have different uses for the seasons. During the summer they provide shade, but during the winter is when the real magic begins! People often decorate them for Christmas. Similar to the roots and color of the Evergreen, my disability remains. For so many years I hated it and wanted to cut the tree down. I had deep roots of insecurity, shame, and sadness. No matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t chop it down or untangle the roots. I didn’t realize that the roots had value to them, strengthening other trees around them. 
Evergreens also come in a wide variety of trees. Some of the trees are short and others grow tall. All of them produce pine needles and cones. Learning disabilities are also similar to Evergreens. There are many different types of this disability. Some people with them have trouble reading and others struggle with math. Others have difficulty processing what they hear or how they speak. When you meet one person with one, you have simply met one person. Each person experiences it differently. Many times, when I tell people that I have a math-based disability, people don’t believe it! They think that I must struggle with reading because that is the only type they are aware of.
Holly shrubs are another thing that grows despite the cold. Beautiful bright red berries burst forth against green leaves. I often felt that my disability made me stand out like a scarlet holly berry. The small school district that I went to made it impossible to hide. Everyone knew that I went to learning support for classes and to have support services such as extended test time. The tiny town didn’t appreciate diversity and feared those who were different. The community was often described as close-knit, but only if you were one of them. It was clear from the beginning that I didn’t belong and stuck out negatively.
Interestingly the berries that a holly shrub produce can only be produced by female shrubs. Learning Disabilities don’t discriminate and affect people of all genders, races, and socio-economic backgrounds. I may have felt alone growing up, with having one, but they are quite common. It is estimated that 1 in 5 people have a Learning Disability. I didn’t realize this growing up. I didn’t know any other individuals with them except for the other learning support students. Most of them struggled with reading, not math. I also didn’t know successful adults who had them either. Thankfully as an adult, I have had the chance to meet other people who have them. Not knowing that I’m alone has given me a sense of comfort.
Having a Learning Disability wasn’t initially the path that I wanted to walk. Winter may not always produce the best walking conditions and isn’t the easiest season to be in. Nevertheless, I continue to walk, no matter what the conditions. I’ve also learned that like the steady Evergreen, I will always have a disability. I’ve learned to work with this tree and appreciate all the varieties that are out there. I’m also not ashamed of the crimson holly berry of having a disability. I’ve been told that red is my color and that it compliments my fair skin and dark hair. I’m no longer ashamed of my disability, but view it as a symbol of pride. Life is too short to live cowering in a dark corner of the world. I may not blend in but embrace standing out. I chose to stand steady as the Evergreen and be as vibrant as a Holly berry bringing color to a bleak winter forest.

Photo by Michelle Steiner

Don’t limit me because of my disability

By Michelle Steiner

Photo by Marina Solis on Pexels.com

One of the most challenging parts of having a disability often isn’t the disability, but the limitations that other people place on me. When many people hear the term Learning Disability, they think that I can’t learn or be successful. The term may be confusing and indicate a person incapable of learning and begin to put limits on my potential. It seems like from the beginning people have put limits on what I could do.

When I was in school people thought that I would be limited educational choices in the future because of my difficulties with my disability. I always knew that I wanted to go to college work with kids, and be a writer. I can remember telling someone as a child that I wanted to go to college and I was told that college was for people who liked school. What many people didn’t understand was that I liked to learn. I didn’t like the frustration that came with not being able to perform in math. I also didn’t enjoy the bullying my peers inflicted on me.

When I got to college, professionals would try to put limits on me as well. I had a Physiatrist who told me that I most likely wouldn’t go beyond a community college. I also remember one who told me that my job choices would be slim because of my math difficulties. I knew that some programs weren’t worth, perusing because of my disability, but it terrified me that I wouldn’t be able to the degree or the job that I wanted.

I also experienced limitations in the workplace. I can remember getting connected with a social service agency that helped people with disabilities to get jobs and provided job coaching. Most of the assistance was little to help to me. I remember having one appointment, where I circled jobs in the newspaper, that interested me. I recall thinking I can do this at home. When I would tell them that I got a job interview, they asked if they could do with me for support. I declined on that and went on my own. I was able to find employment on my own as a substitute worker in daycares and schools. I found it difficult to make it to appointments because I was often working, during those times. Most of the people that the agency served were people who had Intellectual Disabilities and had more service industry jobs. The services they provided were more of a frustration than a help and I never found employment through them.

Other people have tried to limit me with job choices as well. I have been advised to seek work in fast food or stocking shelves because it is considered easy work. This type of employment may seem easy, but would present challenges for me that the average person may not experience. I would struggle with trying to take orders, and prepare food. I also wouldn’t be able to run the cash register because of my math disability. I also don’t think that I could move at a quick enough pace to be able to stock shelves. I’ve know people with disabilities who were trained to do this and were let go because they moved too slow. Most importantly I wouldn’t have the heart or the desire to do these jobs. I knew they wouldn’t be the right fit, but because of my disability people automatically assumed that is the only kind of position I could handle.

People try to box people into neat little boxes based on their abilities. Nicely wrapped packages are great for shipping products. A person places an order and they are delivered to them. In reality, placing people with disabilities in boxes doesn’t work as well. Individuals with them are people, not products. Each person with a disability will experience it differently, even if they have the same type. We don’t expect people without disabilities to fall into neat categories but understand that each person has different strengths and weaknesses. Yet when someone has a disability, we expect them to all be the same. When the person with one doesn’t fall into the neat box they are often shamed. People often try to cure them or put them in yet another box.

Having a disability does come with limitations. I have had to carefully make choices regarding what I struggle with. I have may have things that I struggle with but there are also many things I’m good at. It’s often not that I can’t do something, I simply haven’t found a way to do it. It may take me a while, but I will find a way to do it. Expecting me to fit in a box or placing limits on what I can’t do isn’t helpful. I’m well aware of what is hard for me and putting extra restrictions discourages me. When people limit me solely on my abilities it also squelches my dreams. When people support and gently encourage me to find a different way I feel empowered to try again and break through limitations on my terms.

How Accommodations aren’t cheating but are valuable tools

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One of the biggest misconceptions about disability accommodations is that they are an unfair advantage. Many people view them as cheating or taking the easy way out. Individuals with disabilities who use such valuable commodities are considered to be using their disability as a crutch or enabling the person, not to work to their full potential. What so many people fail to realize is that these services are ways for people with disabilities to be able to learn, live, and participate in society. November is assistive technology month. During this month we highlight adaptive equipment that people with disabilities can choose. Some of these include speech-to-text, screen readers, IPADS, and reading pens. Using these types of technology and other accommodations can help a person with a disability to succeed. However, due to the negative thoughts that surround them, many people with disabilities are hesitant to use these services. When a person chooses not to use these accommodations, it makes life frustrating and difficult.

I can remember not wanting to use disability accommodations because of the stigma that they created. From Elementary School to College, I have heard my peers say that it wasn’t fair that I got extended test time or had the test read aloud to me. Many of my peers thought that I was getting the answers given to me. What they didn’t realize is that no one gave me the answers or hints. Hearing the test read aloud, helped my brain to be able to process what was being asked on an exam. Taking the test in a separate room also helped me to have the extra time to be able to go through each question and not feel like I was being rushed. Plus I didn’t have to hold the rest of the class up while I tried to finish it.

I also had peers who thought that it wasn’t fair that I made the honor roll in academic and learning support classes. I can remember another student asking what I was really learning in those classes. She suggested that I take Advanced Placement Biology. Science and Math were always subjects that gave me a lot of problems. I needed to have a learning support class that was tailored to my individual needs, not the goals of the class or grade level. To be in a regular ed science, I needed to have accommodations and supports in place for learning. In regular education, I was expected to learn what my peers did in my class. It was hard at times, but I could perform well with the proper support.

When I got note taker in college, I recall people who thought that it was unfair. They said that someday I would have to take notes .Others thought that it was a skill that should be taught and not have others write things down for me. Many people didn’t realize that I was still writing down information, but having someone else take notes, was helpful in case I missed something. It was also hard for me to focus on the lecture and write down the information in class. Not all professors put information on the board to copy. Some would knock on the table if it was important. My notes were often identical to the note-taker’s . Another advantage of having aa notetaker, was that my handwriting is poor. Many times when I would have someone quiz me on information, they couldn’t read it .I also couldn’t decipher what I wrote, which made studying more difficult. Having a note-taker made it easier to review and read my notes. I tried recording the lecture, but found it was more effective to study a few minutes of notes each day rather than listen to an hour-long class. Another helpful tool was having a copy off the power point to review.

Calculator usage was another way that people thought I was cheating. I can remember a professor who said they used their minds not calculators in class. I can remember being upset when I heard this, but because of my disability, I was allowed to use one on tests and homework. I didn’t use it in class because my peers wouldn’t have understood. A calculator did little to help me with my math. Having a severe form of Dyscalculia, I don’t understand how numbers work. I can remember being frustrated when I put the numbers in the calculator but got the wrong answer. You still need to know the steps and how to correctly solve the problem.

Another piece of technology I use is a digital watch. The math portion of my disability, also makes reading an analog clock impossible. I cringe when I hear someone say that a person who doesn’t know how to do this is lazy and that digital clocks make people lazy. Despite many hours of education and attempts I simply can’t do this. A tutoring session isn’t going to help me. What is effective is looking at my Fit Bit or other digital clock to tell what time it is.

I’m also unable to use a manual can opener. A seemingly simple piece of equipment is like rocket science. I can try to use it but the can won’t get opened. When I would tell people that I can’t do it, they would look at me like I was an alien. Instead, I use an electric can opener. When I use an electric one I’m able to open cans by myself.

Assistive technology doesn’t cure the disability or give an unfair advantage to the person. Using accommodations or devices helps to level the playing field. It may not be appropriate only when someone is testing to get a baseline on what someone knows. Unlike regular tests, standardized tests and evaluations don’t have accommodations. When they were testing me for a Learning Disability I wasn’t allowed a calculator or a computer. The evaluator needed to see what I knew. I never walked out of an evaluation with someone declaring I didn’t have difficulties with learning. After they got how I performed without these services, I was also given a list of things that would help me learn. Having this has helped to guide me in knowing what services I need.

One of the greatest lessons I had to learn was to use the accommodations. Using these services wasn’t cheating, but providing me with the essentials I needed for success. I also had to learn to shut out the voices who were telling me otherwise. Very few of them knew what it was truly like for me. Hearing those remarks also did nothing to help me. What was helpful for me was using the accommodations. When I utilized them I had a much easier time. My grades improved and life didn’t seem as hopeless or frustrating. November may be one month devoted to highlighting assistive technology, but for a person with a disability, it’s something they face daily. Throughout the rest of my life, I will have to find new ways to do things and not listen to the voices that say accommodations are cheating.

How I really can’t do every thing I put my mind to.

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One of the most frustrating parts of having a disability is when people think that I can do anything. When I have vented to others of the struggles of having one, people would often used motivational quotes such as “you can do anything you put your mind to or to shoot for the moon, if you miss you’ll land among the stars.” One of the most frustrating ones had to be You can do whatever you put your mind to. When I would hear this I would think that this would be the time that I would master math, learn how to drive and be able to do all the things I wanted to do. I would put forth the time and the effort, and would be disappointed when I made little to no progress. People would tell me to try harder or that I could perform better. The pressure to perform to other people standards, made me feel ashamed of my disability and even more frustrated on the limitations it had on me. It wasn’t until I accepted that I couldn’t do all things, that I began to accept my Learning Disability.

The idea that everyone is good at everything, isn’t a reality for anyone. Each person has different strengths and weaknesses. What may be easy for one person, may be difficult for others. Most people also tend to not invest time in something that is difficult or frustrating for them. I don’t enjoy activities that require math. You won’t find me doing SUDOKU puzzles in my free time, but I love unscrambling words. I also tend to not participate in team sports, due to my lack of eye hand coordination, but I like group exercise fitness. My limited hand dexterity makes knitting, and folding crafts difficult, but I love to paint. I’m sure that if I did these things, I may improve, but most likely it would be short lived and wouldn’t live up to the expectations others would have for me. Most importantly I would spend time feeling frustrated and in adequate. Avoiding activities that are stressful helps me to enjoy my spare time. I have also had to do this in other parts of my daily life. I can’t avoid math completely, but I can limit it and find ways to deal with it. If I go out to eat I can use a tip calculator to help show me the tip that I need to give.

Many people also think that a person with a disability has super human powers, fueled by their disability. The media loves to present characters that have savant like abilities, or stories of people with disabilities that can do all things. People see those narratives and expect a person with a disability to perform to unrealistic standard. I doubt that most people without disabilities would like to be help to such unattainable standards of holding super powers.

Another unhelpful narrative is comparing what people with disabilities can and can’t do. I can remember being compared to other people who could drive or do math well with a disability. The narrative was if they could do so could I. In reality driving and math are the big areas of my life that are a struggle. Hearing others say this caused more frustration and wasn’t helpful to my situation. Each person with a disability, will experience it differently even if they have the same one. I’m glad that the person with a disability has the ability to do something well, but it’s not helpful to place that pressure on another person.

When someone with a disability doesn’t perform to the expectations of others, they are often shamed. People will view them as lazy or unmotivated. Others will say if they really want to do it they could or they are told to try harder. In reality the person with a disability may be indeed doing the best that they can. The issue is not the disability, but the society that is created that everyone can do what they put their mind to.

Admitting that there are things that I can’t do has kept me humble. I used to feel less than because I couldn’t read the face of a clock or understand how numbers worked. I focused on what I couldn’t do that I almost lost focused on what I was good at such as reading and writing. Sharing my vulnerabilities, also helped others to share with things that they struggle with. All of us have some type of thing that is hard for us. Some people may have disabilities, others may have addictions or traumas that have happened to them at some point in their lives. Many people show it and others are good at hiding their issues.

I also had to learn who to trust with my story. When many people hear that I struggle with certain things because of my disability they want to cure me. People will tell me if I just got my act together or prayed harder I wouldn’t have a disability. I can remember telling a person from church about how I was struggling and her response was “Well didn’t you pray about it?” I did pray about it but God had other ideas for how my life was to go. Thankfully his plan was far better than the one that I had in mind.

In my life there will be some things that I cannot do, no matter how hard I try. There will be limitations because of my disability and will have to use creative problem solving to compensate. . My personal best may not be good enough for the world and people will try to perfect me. I have made my peace with the things that I’m unable to do. I may not be able to do every thing that I put my mind to, but there are many things that I can do. I need to focus on what I can do and find creative ways to do the things that are difficult.

Living life like a camera with a disability

“Life is like a camera. Focus on what is important. Capture the good times. Develop from the negatives and if things don’t work out take another shot.”

The English Student 2015

One of my newfound hobbies is photography. I love to take pictures of flowers on my many walks. I also love to take photos of the interesting places that my husband and I visit. Another major part of my life has been having a Learning Disability. Having one has been a way of life for me as I was diagnosed as a young child. Looking back on having one I can see many pictures. My disability hasn’t changed, but how I view it has. The quote life is like a camera from the English Student was something that I could relate to how I saw life with a disability. The quote is “Life is like a camera. Focus on what is important. Capture the good times. Develop from the negatives and if things don’t work out take another shot”.

Focus on what is important has been key for me to be successful. For so many years I worried about being accepted with my disability. I wanted to hide it like it was a shameful secret. Being bullied and rejected by my peers didn’t help me to feel proud of it. I wasted so much of my time wanting to be a part of the in crowd, that I almost lost being myself. I also was too concerned about what other people thought about me getting disability services and accommodations. Many of my peers thought that using those services was cheating, or giving me an unfair advantage. When I didn’t use a note taker or extended test time my grades suffered. I had to put my effort into what worked for me. I also needed to focus on what was good in my life. For many years I was sad about what I couldn’t do and the limits that my disability placed on my life. I didn’t see the things I could do well such as reading or writing. I felt like a failure because I couldn’t get math no matter how hard I tried. When I keep the focus on what I can do it makes me feel happier and satisfied. I also feel more empowered to look for other ways to do things such as driving, that aren’t possible with my disability.

Capturing the good times has also helped me with having one. At times it can be frustrating, when events are not going the way that I want them to be. Looking back I was frustrated when I couldn’t learn or was rejected. I have those photos of despair burned in my mind, but when I go through more photos I can also see good times as well. I can see a loving family who helped me with my disability. I can see my imagination developing, to compensate for not having peer interaction. I can remember when we first moved into my childhood home, making toast out of cardboard to put in my play toaster. Having the ability to entertain myself has helped me find activities that I enjoy doing as an adult. I also can see that as I grew I had more control over creating the scene that I wanted in the picture. I got to associate with more people I wanted to be with and to go out and achieve the dreams I wanted.

Developing from the negatives was also important for me in dealing with having a disability. I had to learn that there were going to be things in my life that I simply couldn’t change. Some of what I thought were my greatest disappointments turned into my greatest blessings. A negative in a dark room doesn’t start out as a picture, it has to endure many changes. The picture appears like a blurry blot that slowly begins to take shape. I can now see that having one has helped me to develop empathy for the students that I work with. I’m also able to think outside of the box, when there is a problem. I encounter situations every day, where I need to be a problem solver. Having a disability doesn’t always give me a default option, I have to think of initiative ways to do many things.

The most important lesson has been when things don’t work out to take another shot. I have failed at many things in my life. I experienced failure early on in my life. I had to redo Kindergarten and always had that fear in the back of my head. I have failed many tests and classes. I chose not to let the failure stop me from doing what I wanted. I had to get back up and try again many times using different strategies. I wanted to give up, but I found a different way.

Looking through the pictures’ of my life I wouldn’t trade my disability i for anything. At times it would be more convenient for me not to have one, but I would miss out on so much beauty. Having one has made me to center on what was important and let the less important stuff fade in the background. I had to capture the positive things, that I almost missed. I also had to learn to turn my negatives into positives. The most important thing was not giving up, and attempting to take another shot after a set back. Having a disability will always be in the picture of my life, but it’s a beautiful one that I’m proud to display.

How I can’t shut off my Learning Disability

Photo by Mikhail Nilov on Pexels.com

  Recently my husband and I went to an Asian Lantern Festival at our local zoo. We got our tickets scanned our tickets and made our way to the event. The only choices we saw for entering were an escalator or an elevator. I’m unable to use an escalator because of my visual perception issues, so I need to use the elevator. The line for the elevator was long and wasn’t moving. Someone in the front said one of the elevators wasn’t working. You would press the button; the doors would open but it wouldn’t go up. I nervously scanned the escalator praying one of them was broken, so I could walk up it. Much to my dismay it wasn’t but thankfully someone went on the escalator and pressed the up button and we were able to use the other elevator.  How I wished in that moment I could turn the off button on having a disability. One of the hardest parts of having one is that there is no on and off switch for it. It’s constantly on and can create difficulties in my life.

I wish that I could find the off switch when I need to get somewhere. I’m unable to drive due to my reaction time and visual perception. I’m lucky to have people to give me rides and live in a central location where I can walk where I need go. It takes more planning and doesn’t allow me the opportunity to take spontaneous adventures. I have also had to turn down good jobs, because I couldn’t get there or they required a drivers license.

It would also be nice to turn off my disability when it involves math. I have trouble with understanding how numbers work and calculating them. I have had to carefully research educational programs and jobs that interested me but had the least amount of math possible. I can remember struggling to get through my high school math classes. Any time I encounter numbers it’s going to be a challenge for me. Having a math disability goes beyond just being poor at math. It also effects my ability to understand directions, or read the face of a clock. How I wish I could turn it off to be able to perform those tasks.

I also wish to flip the switch of my disability when I struggle with my body awareness. When I’m in public I often bump into people and block entrances. I struggle to coordinate my body when I play completive sports. I also blink whenever a ball comes in my line of vision. When I was growing up it was more difficult for me. High school gym class was a nightmare and I was often bullied. I have found noncompetitive physical activities such as aerobics, weights, and walking that I enjoy doing. Having a curved spine and feet that turn inward when I walk also don’t help me move with grace. I wish that I could turn that switch off, because people often stare and wonder what is wrong with me.  

It would also be nice to turn off the button of having bad handwriting. I have always struggled with writing neatly. I can remember getting a ‘W’ indicating weakness of my report card in grade school. I can also remember people judging me on my handwriting. I have had people tell me that my handwriting was interesting, or tell me that I had the handwriting of a serial killer. I’ve also had people tell me that it was messy and surely my room looked that way. I also had someone tell me that if I wanted to be a writer then I would have to be neat. After learning to type, I was finally able to have people understand what I was saying.

There are many times I long to be able to turn off the button of having a disability. At times it is like a child’s loud toy you can’t turn off. I can’t change the disability, and I have to work with it despite the blaring noise. Other times it is people’s reactions and expectations of me. People have often thought if I just worked hard enough, prayed harder, or got my act together, then I would be able to overcome it. I also had people who tried to cure me with basic adult education programs and telling me to just think positively.

None of these activities helped me to switch the button off. What has helped me is accepting that I can’t shut the button off when it creates difficulty for me. I have also had to use creative problem solving to teach myself new ways to do many things. To my surprise I have found that I can find different solutions to a problem.

It may not be the way that is always easy or how I intended it to go. I may also get there slower than I wanted and that can be frustrating as well. I will also encounter people who won’t understand why I can’t turn it off. I won’t be able to meet their expectations. I simply need to block out the noise and move forward to find a way to do what I need to do. A solution is always out there, I just need to find it.

Making the broken pieces beautiful

Photo by rotekirsche 20 on Pexel

Having a disability has caused me to deal with brokenness. When I was first diagnosed with a Learning Disability I felt like I was given a box of broken glass. The glass was beautiful with a rainbow of colors. The pieces also came in a variety of shapes and sizes. I was lucky to have supportive parents and help at school. Despite the supports I received, I had to figure out how to place each broken piece together. Facing brokenness at young age wasn’t easy, often the glass would pierce my tender skin causing me to bleed. Other times the glass of my dreams was shattered into even smaller pieces. Looking at each piece of broken glass has lead to acceptance and healing.

One of the biggest pieces that I had to deal with was that my brain wasn’t wired like a neurotypical person. In order to learn, work, and complete other tasks I have to find different ways to do things. When I was a young child, I simply wanted to be like everyone else. I didn’t understand why I couldn’t learn like my peers could. I felt jealous of the ones who didn’t seem like they had broken pieces. The pieces of glass they did have seemed to be smooth and clear. Little did I know that many of them had broken areas in their lives as well. Some of them were able to disguise it easier.

Along with accepting my brain had a neurodiversity, I had to also accept there wasn’t many hard set rules on how to lay the pieces. I was given general strategies, accommodations, and a service plan to compensate for my difficulties. I wasn’t given a manual that would have all the answers to the many different challenges that I would face. I wasn’t given a set of rules or a sheet of directions. People could guide me, and I had many people give their opinions. It was up to me to set the broken pieces where I thought they should belong, and often had to teach myself how to put them into place.

Learning where to put the pieces wasn’t always easy. Sometimes I would make a plan and it wouldn’t work out how I expected. There were also times when the plan we were following was working, only to have it not work. Regression often happened more in math than any other subject. I can remember having a teacher who’s goal was to have the learning support students on grade level with the regular ed students in math. She commuted with a math teacher who said that we only did easy work, and she wanted to prove her wrong. For a time it worked and I was able to complete simple equations. I can remember the day that things began to regress. We had a student teacher, in our class and she was getting evaluated by her professor. I began to be able to work the math problem. Everyone thought I was simply nervous, and proceeded forward. I tried to explain I wasn’t nervous and knew the professor was observing her student not me. The learning support teacher never evaluated where I needed the clarification. She proudly announced that we were on the same level as the regular ed students in math. I wasn’t on grade level and was falling behind. The teacher also told us that learning support math was not offered at the next level and had me sign up for a basic math class. I had anxiety all summer on how I was going to handle a math course. I struggled in the class and the regular ed teacher didn’t know what to do with me. I found out there was learning support math. How I wished she would have told me the truth, it would have saved so much aggravation.

As I got older I had an easier time putting the pieces together. I realized that having an all or nothing approach didn’t serve me. I could make a mistake or struggle to learn something, without having to break every piece apart and begin again. I could appreciate the small imperfections that gave it character.

I also had to learn that how I designed my glass, would not always be understood or accepted by everyone. I have had people who didn’t think that accommodations or service programs for people with disabilities were fair. Many people could only see what was broke, that they missed the beauty. I’ve been told there were so many things that I couldn’t accomplish. Other people would try to cure my disability, rather than celebrate it. Once I became successful, many people couldn’t see the pieces, but the product.

To my surprise what I once thought was broken, became beautiful. I created the design I wanted. On good days I could even see prisms of color that went through the glass.

Truly it didn’t matter what other people thought of me. I had to do my best to place the broken pieces together, and learn what works best for me. I didn’t ask for the pieces I was given or to have a disability. I can only try to work with what I was given. I can create beauty from what was once broken.