Choosing to Look at Disabilities Differently
“There is no greater disability in society than the inability to see a person as more.” -R.M. Hensel
After an early morning flight from St. Louis, a layover in Phoenix, and a smooth landing in San Diego, it was time to launch into the day. With a couple coffee meetings scheduled and a speaking event that afternoon, there was little time to waste.
Free to move about the cabin once the ding had sounded, I unhooked my seatbelt, slid into my suit coat, grabbed my overhead bag, and raced off the plane.
The bustle of the airport was palpable. The floor gently vibrated; the terminal reverberated with laughter, conversations, and PA announcements. With individuals bustling about everywhere, I swam right into the middle of the sea of activity, tugging my bag, hurriedly moving toward my ride, my meetings, my day.
In the middle of this packed airport a man in front of me seemed to split the sea. Strutting at a casual pace, he ventured directly down the middle of the terminal scattering those both racing toward him from ahead and passing him from behind. Following him for a bit, he seemed indifferent to the chaos around him. He kept a steady pace, never glancing anywhere but forward.
In switching lanes to speed past him, I noticed in his right hand a long white cane rhythmically darting left and right; glancing closer I saw dark glasses covering his eyes. Completing the pass and continuing on my way, I was amazed how what most of us struggle doing with our vision, this gentleman was capably doing without it.
Not far ahead I noticed several sets of escalators and stairs. For the first time since deplaning, and maybe even for the first time that entire day, I stopped racing forward. I stopped trying to get my work done, or to my meeting, or sprint through my day. I slowed my advance, waited for him to get closer, and then greeted the gentleman:
“Excuse me. Hello…would you mind if I walked with you?”
He responded that he’d actually appreciate it.
I stepped closer to him, extended my left arm, he felt for it, took it, and together we continued.
As we made our way through the waves of commotion, down an escalator, past security, and toward the baggage claim we made small talk.
His name was Jesse. He was coming from Colorado and visiting a friend in California. He worked in IT and was comfortable traveling by himself and navigating new places. After all, he’d been doing it since birth.
Having spent significant time with others who have perceived disabilities, I asked if he appreciated the help or resented the request? Jesse shared that for most of his life he turned down any mention of help, any guide, any suggestion that he was less than capable. He then described that refusal to accept aid as stupid pride.
But Jesse shared that since he no longer views what he has as a disability, he is more than happy to accept offers of help.
He added that accepting help didn’t degrade him; it elevated those who helped him.
After successfully arriving at baggage claim and rendezvousing with his companion, I turned to face Jesse, shook my new friend’s hand firmly and told him it was an honor to walk with him.
Seeing his face a bit taken aback by my unusual handshake, I added that if he was wondering why my hands felt a little different than the majority of hands he’d shaken in the past, it was because I lost my fingers to amputation after being burned as a kid.
But quickly added that if he agreed not to see my hands as a limitation in my life, I would agree not to view his lack of sight as a limitation in his life.
He smiled, looked at me and replied, “Well, John, you could have purple skin, orange eyes, and a polka dot tail, and I wouldn’t care. What I CAN see is two guys who aren’t limited by the challenges.”
Open Your Eyes to See Yourself and Others as “More”
My friends, we all face individual challenges.
We endure limiting beliefs, addictions, physical challenges, emotional insecurities, pangs of grief or doubt or anger. Getting transfixed on the challenge, the adversity, the abnormality, of the perceived disability is both common and unhelpful.
And we are as likely focusing on all that’s wrong as we walk through an airport as when we stare into a mirror disappointed by the reflection.
But since there is no greater disability in society than the inability to see a person as more, choose to see the ability, the possibility, the beauty, the good.
It will shape the way you walk through an airport and the way you approach the days, weeks, and life ahead.
This is your day. Live Inspired.
As inspired leaders, we are invited to more fully embrace the adversity we face, encourage others to rise above their limitations, and utilize our collective strengths to rise above our individual weaknesses. Todd Davis is a speaker and writer, he’s a father and grandfather, and he’s a senior leader at FranklinCovey. I visited with him for our Live Inspired podcast regarding how we do a better job tackling the issues listed above. He’s a fascinating guy, sharing practical ideas and you’ll love him. Check out his podcast here and be inspired to see even more possibility within your leadership and life.