On June 17, 2009, I had an extremely inspiring and motivating experience. The obvious expectation is that I would be referencing my high school graduation, which took place that afternoon; but that’s not the case. While the majority of my peers were busy primping for the pomp and circumstance to come, I spent my morning in a different part of town with ABILITY Corps, helping other volunteers from Habitat for Humanity of Greater Los Angeles to refurbish a house through their “Brush with Kindness” project.
There was an endless amount of work to be done that day, ranging from roof repair to prep work for painting. The other ABILITY Corps volunteers with disabilities and I hammered away, repaired the roof, pressurewashed the walls and did whatever we could to lend a helping hand. Daily, hundreds or maybe thousands of volunteers are working on Habitat for Humanity builds across the nation, but I always thought it would be impossible for me to actually have that experience.
As a person with cerebral palsy (CP), I am not afforded good hand coordination and, consequently, have never done much physical work. As a matter of fact, my muscles won’t allow me to cook, clean, speak clearly or even write on my own. But with the use of assistive technology, I am able to access my computer to submit this article. Regardless of my disability, I have always loved community service but have never found an agency where I could serve the less fortunate alongside my peers.
I used to be involved with a social group for teenagers who used wheelchairs, that actually fed into the stereotype that we were helpless victims of our disability. At a recent holiday party, well-meaning firemen were brought in to deliver new toys to us, even though most of us were between 14 and 18 years old. It felt absurd to be treated like young children rather than being provided with the opportunity to give to others, which would have been far more rewarding.
With events like the graduation party on my mind, the ABILITY Corps experience was like walking into an alternate dimension: where people with disabilities are valued as much as any other individuals. Being in a wheelchair, I have always been nervous about new environments. However, at the ABILITY Build, I immediately felt comfortable, because I was treated with nothing but respect. The crew leaders on site saw past my disability and focused on what I could do rather than what I could not. Although it took some creative maneuvering from a couple of ABILITY Corps team members, we were able to position the power washer tool in a way that made it possible for me to hold it between my legs and use my hands for support. The set-up worked and the team would not even let my aide help me as I prepped an entire wall to be painted. This felt empowering and freeing!
One huge benefit of this phenomenal program is that it gives people with disabilities a chance to give back to the community, by bettering the lives of impoverished families. The ABILITY Corps is providing people in the disability community the opportunity to soar above society’s expectations by giving us the chance to actually participate in making the world a better place.
I learned two invaluable lessons about myself that day. When I was able to independently manipulate a pressure washer, I proved that my body can do more than I thought. In addition, this experience taught me that any dream has the possibility of becoming a reality. I now know for certain that people with disabilities can do whatever they may desire if presented with the right opportunities and support.
by Blair Webb