Seeing Beyond the Surface

Two months ago I corralled some friends together and we attended a Cleveland Indians game at Progressive Field. While the outing occurred in June, a conversation from the night still echoes in my head time to time. Begin scene, set in the car waiting to drive out from the parking garage onto the street.

Indians Game Outing June 2013

My friends and I take a picture together after an Indians victory.

Friend: My legs are sore.
Me: Be glad you can use your legs.
Friend: But at least people in wheelchairs always have a seat.
Me: Yeah but they also are more likely to get ulcers and have other secondary health issues.
Friend: Zach hates me.

Now the conversation’s tone remained relaxed and fun. I’m not easily offended or quick to jump on the able-bodied population’s tendency to take abilities for granted. Rather I felt good and I wanted to josh around.

Plus earlier in the week I completed this The Mobility Resource article, “Engineering Assistive Technology: Developing the Wearable Robot Indego.” Interviewing engineer Michael Goldfarb left on my mind the secondary health issues people using wheelchairs encounter.

So yeah I guess a serious message did arise through my playful talk, hence the reason I feel the above story proved worth sharing. That message, often life embodies more complexities than what may appear at surface level.

Really such a lesson extends beyond the disability community too. Anytime you feel envious, whether due to somebody’s relationship, financial situation, or what not, know somewhere headaches, frustrations, and issues exist. These troubles your envy blinds you from recognizing.

Hopefully two points stay with you as you finish reading my post here today. First, remember to appreciate life’s small gifts which frequently go unacknowledged. Secondly, realize the fallacies associated with jealousy.

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Why isn’t There a Disability Channel on Television?

Earlier this week fellow author John W. Quinn (Someone Like Me: An Unlikely Story of Challenge and Triumph Over Cerebral Palsy) proposed an interesting question during his weekly video blog. Why isn’t there a disability channel on television? He notes such a channel could help raise disability awareness. Now rather than relying on me to recount Quinn’s points, perhaps you should watch the video blog post.

Personally I prefer to see an entertainment company dedicated to disability programming versus an actual disability channel. The latter I feel risks segregation. Certainly people with disabilities and those closest to them will tune into a disability channel. Yet does this really work to spread disability awareness? After all, most likely these individuals already maintain knowledge about handicaps.

Instead I suggest an entertainment company dedicated to increasing disability awareness through an inclusive programming approach, distributing shows to already existing channels. Travel Channel’s Armed & Ready offers a model. People interested in travel will tune into the show. When they see Kevin Michael Connolly embarking on his many adventures despite having no legs, they will hopefully rethink what living with a disability means.

So imagine a group of individuals focused on taking the Armed & Ready strategy to new heights. Maybe the organization could find a chef who uses a wheelchair and pitch a cooking show to the Cooking Channel featuring said chef. Or, the group seeks stories involving athletes with disabilities. Record different documentaries on these athletes and pitch them to ESPN or other appropriate sporting networks.

Basically by appealing to a common trait or interest between people with disabilities and their able-bodied counterparts, disability awareness improves in effectiveness. Such a strategy I bet could reach more people than a segregated disability channel buried amongst many other cable channels. What do you think? Sound off with a comment below!

Spotlighted!

Every month the Yahoo! Contributor Network (Y! CN) hands out Spotlight Awards, one to a writer and then five honoring “five exceptional pieces of content.” I’m excited to share my Yahoo! Health piece “Living with It: Student Life with Cerebral Palsy in Mainstream Classrooms” received a Spotlight Award for March 2013. In the monthly Spotlight Award winners blog announcement Y! Jelena writes the following about my chosen article.

“Often, the stories of students with disabilities are told by their parents and teachers. Zachary sheds a first-person light on his experiences in school as a young man with CP, including his fight for an identity beyond his visible disability and his mother’s struggle to keep therapy from interrupting his academic education. This Yahoo! Health piece is a matter of fact, frank look at life as a ‘special education’ student who is integrated with able-bodied students while straddling the line between mainstream classes and an Individualized Education Plan (IEP). Parents, teachers, therapists, school administrators, and fellow young people with CP could benefit by reading Zachary’s take.”

Spotlights

Y! CN spotlights five exceptional pieces of content every month. Photo: Andrew Hurley/Wikimedia Commons

Now I feel privileged the Yahoo! Contributor Network spotlighted “Living with It: Student Life with Cerebral Palsy in Mainstream Classrooms.” Y! CN produces much content monthly so to stand out as exceptional proves no easy task. Personally I believe the fact my article accomplished this challenging act emphasizes the importance held by Off Balanced, my blog here, and ultimately firsthand accounts documenting lives with disabilities.

Bottom line people with disabilities possess insights which can help everyone better understand handicaps. Certainly the takes from parents, teachers, therapists, and other appropriate professionals deserve consideration. However a comprehensive dialogue will not emerge until people with disabilities offer their perspectives.

Book News: Continuing to Share My Story

Off Balanced came out close to 13 months ago, thus marking close to 13 months dedicated to sharing my story and increasing disability awareness. Specifically I’m motivated to increase the human element involved in perceiving disabilities. After all, many times a person’s focus targets the disability’s medical side rather than addressing the person with the disability. The following highlights the publicity I garnered over the past few months. Enjoy!

WHEELIE cATHOLIC
In November the blog WHEELIE cATHOLIC picked up on my previously released Off Balanced cyber reading, including the Youtube video within the post “Teen Memoir: Off Balanced.” Personal experience inspires WHEELIE cATHOLIC blogger Ruth Harrigan to blog about disabilities. Her blog’s tagline, “Encouraging Prayerful Efforts Toward Social Justice and the Inclusion of People with Disabilities.” If this sounds interesting to you, visit the blog at www.wheeliecatholic.blogspot.com.

We Connect Now
As my teenage memoir Off Balanced documents, college proved an instrumental time for my personal growth. Therefore I eagerly welcomed the chance to express my own insights to current and future college students with disabilities via We Connect Now. To use the blog’s own words, “We Connect is dedicated to uniting college students with disabilities in access to higher education and employment issues.” You can find my insights on the “Stories” page. Many thanks goes out to Chris Miller at The Mobility Resource for arranging this opportunity.

MyChild at Cerebralpalsy.org
MyChild calls themselves “the ULTIMATE resource for EVERYTHING Cerebral Palsy.” The website found my story valuable and decided to interview me. I’m truly honored they incorporated their write up on me on the “MyChild Inspiration” page, placing me amongst other creative and ambitious individuals such as standup comedy star Josh Blue and bodybuilder Jack Runser.

Through My Eyes
Wrapping up today’s recap, my newest guest blog post for Through My Eyes. You might recall my previous guest posts there, “How Cerebral Palsy Helped Shape My Work Ethic” and “Online Dating and Cerebral Palsy.” Most recently I piggyback on a topic blogger Laura Forde explored, disability triggered social anxiety. Take a couple minutes and read my thoughts on the topic, “Eliminating Disability Related Social Anxiety.”

 

Exclusive: Brent Poppen Interview Extras

Last month I enjoyed the opportunity to interview Paralympian and fellow author Brent Poppen (@booksbybrent) for The Mobility Resource (TMR). Poppen proved an interviewer’s ideal subject, thoroughly answering questions in great detail. In fact he provided so much wonderful insight, I decided to split my TMR article into two parts (links below).

Part One: “Paralympian Showing There’s ‘Life After Disability'”
Part Two: “Discussing Disability Awareness with Author Brent Poppen” 

Even while extending the published piece into two parts, I didn’t get to share everything I wanted which leads us to today’s exclusive interview extras post. However before I proceed, I wish to mention The Mobility Resource’s book giveaway. You can enter to win either a SIGNED copy of Brent Poppen’s autobiography Tragedy on the Mountain A Quadriplegic’s Journey from Paralysis to Paralympics or his kid’s book Playground Lessons: Friendship & Forgiveness: Harley and His Wheelchair. Here are the rules.

Tragedy on the Mountain by Brent Poppen

Follow The Mobility Resource on Twitter (@SweetMobility) and tweet #PoppenAutobiography to enter to win Poppen’s autobiography, SIGNED!!!

1. Follow The Mobility Resource on Twitter at @SweetMobility
2. Tweet @SweetMobility letting us know what book you want to win, using hashtag #PoppenAutobiography or #PoppenKidBook
3. On Friday, January 4th, 2013 TMR will select two random winners for each book.

Moving on, the first part to my TMR Brent Poppen interview features the athlete talking about his journey from newly disabled to Paralympian. Something the word count prevented me from incorporating includes a reoccurring debate amongst Paralympians. Poppen explained, “There’s a lot of athletes born with disabilities and a lot of athletes who have disabilities later in life, like myself, and we always have that discussion. What is harder?”

He continued, “Is it harder to be born with a disability like CP or something where you never get the chance to compete in able-bodied sports? You never get to tackle someone in football, or pitch in baseball from a mound. Or, you know play able-bodied basketball or stand on a surfboard. Or, is it better to at least have that like myself for 15 years and then have that snatched from you?” Overall Poppen admitted, “I don’t have the answer to that but it’s something we debate a lot.”

The other story I plan to reveal in this special Off Balanced blog post corresponds with my second TMR Brent Poppen article. Regarding his work in schools, Poppen recalled one specific experience following a two-day, 10-assembly series. “At the end of the second day a third grader came up to me when we were the only ones left in the room. He came up to me, shook my hand, and said, ‘Mr. Poppen I acknowledge that last year I was a bully and after you being here and hearing your program I’m going to choose to not be a bully anymore.’”

Instances such as the aforementioned keeps Poppen motivated to work with kids. He noted, “That kid can affect 10 or 20 kids at his school and that is going to just spiderweb out.” Brent Poppen’s books can create a similar affect. So, to wrap up let me take a minute and encourage you to enter The Mobility Resource’s book giveaway. Who knows, you could start 2013 off right by winning a signed copy of Tragedy on the Mountain A Quadriplegic’s Journey from Paralysis to Paralympics or Playground Lessons: Friendship & Forgiveness: Harley and His Wheelchair.

One Year of Blogging, Reflection

One year ago today I launched this blog, aiming to build anticipation towards my then forthcoming book Off Balanced. Now I entered this endeavor knowing I wanted to do more than just talk Off Balanced and myself. After all, I think we all at some point come across a self-centered and egotistical cyber user who posts about nothing but him. That’s not who I desire to be. Instead my goal focuses around the blog’s tagline.

“Putting the ‘cerebral’ in cerebral palsy”

In other words, I wish to stimulate discussions on cerebral palsy and disabilities in general. Using reader feedback as a barometer, mission so far accomplished. For instance, take the Off Balanced post from April 3rd “Sixth Grade Choir Photograph, Evidence of Discrimination?” Some users commented enraged at me for “excusing” what happened to Alex. Others thanked me, appreciating my refusal to rush judgment. Me, I enjoyed seeing a passionate conversation occur.

Another highlight involves blogging via WordPress. I never really used WordPress before so the platform’s different tools intrigued me. I especially like how WordPress can track traffic based off search engine inquiries. One post which seems to acquire continuous visitors thanks to search engine inquires, “Breaking Down Barriers with the Mentally Challenged.” Searches revolving around how to treat mentally handicap individuals lead to these views. Hopefully readers find my insights shared helpful.

Glancing ahead I look forward to continuing this blog and continuing “putting the ‘cerebral’ in cerebral palsy.” Of course besides starting engaging dialogue regarding cerebral palsy (which Off Balanced the book also aims to do), I will keep using this blog to inform readers on my book’s latest happenings.

Off Balanced offers a different perspective to life with cerebral palsy, a social one.

Book News: New Guest Posts, Interview

As August comes close to an end I want to take some time and share my most recent guest posts and interview.

Life of the Differently Abled Blog, Guest Post
August saw my first guest post in a series for Laura Forde’s Life of the Differently Abled blog. The slogan incorporated on the website’s header perfectly describes Laura’s blogging goal, “removing the fence around social barriers one post at a time.” Over the next few months my guest posts will share some personal experiences not included in Off Balanced. To start I explore how CP influenced my work ethic. Take a read, “How Cerebral Palsy Helped Shape My Work Ethic.”

The Ability Center of Greater Toledo Blog, Guest Post
Northeast Ohio met Northwest Ohio when I penned a guest blog post for The Ability Center of Greater Toledo. The center serves the disability community with the mission “to assist people with disabilities to live, work, and socialize within a fully accessible community.” My post, “Empower Yourself and Not Your Disability,” focuses on turning your handicap into an asset through a positive mindset.

A Place for Writers Blog, DIY Interview
Writer Julie Jordan offers a great service to fellow scribes with DIY interviews on her A Place for Writers blog. You fill out a questionnaire and she posts the interview. Anyone interested in the behind the screen work which went into Off Balanced should checkout my DIY interview, “APW: DIY Interview- Zachary Fenell.”

Stay tune to future posts for more Off Balanced related content. I’m continuously seeking new interview and guest blogging opportunities. If you wish to interview me or want me to provide a guest post on your blog, please contact me at contact@zacharyfenell.com.