My dear friend Danielle and I only see each other once in a blue moon these days and we laugh about how old we are getting. We live several hours apart and while I wish I could bring her with me to train and equip leaders and staff to understand and work with our friends who are nonverbal, Danielle still helps me in spirit through this beautiful piece we worked on many years ago. This past month I shared it with our entire assigned team as we prepared to welcome friends with many different abilities to camp, and Danielle became a voice for others. I am so proud to call her my friend and to have her ‘join me’ in ministry from afar!
Who am I? My name is Danielle Taylor and I have Cerebral Palsy. I am a person that has what lots of people like to call “special needs.” I am not able to speak with you using my own voice or words. I am not able to walk, run, skip, or jump. I am not able to do any of my own personal care- including bathing, dressing, feeding, or toileting. I cannot run away from unpleasant circumstances, because, in a lot of ways, I am a prisoner in a body that doesn’t function “normally.”
I am a person, and I do the best I can with the abilities that God has given to me. I do have feelings. I do have opinions. I get angry, feel happy, giddy, selfish, hurt, frustrated, and even at times ignored and forgotten. I hate to sit and wait with nothing to do and no one to respond; it may look like sitting and waiting is all I can do, but my mind doesn’t just “sit and wait,” its ready for action and challenge! I answer “YES” with a smile and my head up, and I answer “NO” with a nod of my head and putting it down (when my body cooperates). Sometimes people perceive my movements to be stubbornness, when most of the time, they are just something that my body does without permission from my mind. I can also let you know by my facial expressions if I am happy or uncomfortable, or by using this really fancy machine called the Dynavox. My Dynavox is really the first voice I have ever gotten. Just like you had to learn to use your voice as a baby, I am slowly but surely learning how to use my new voice, so please be patient with me and try to allow me enough time to express what I am trying to say.
I enjoy lots of the same things that you do. I love to swim. I love to read and listen to good books. I love to eat pizza and chocolate any time of the day! I love good movies! I love to get all dressed up for proms and dances- you ought to see me in this chair when I get going! I love to go to Young Life and church to see all my friends and learn more about God! I love to have my hair look pretty, and I love it even more when people notice and tell me how great it looks. I have a great sense of humor, and I love sarcasm and any kind of joking around or pranks; when you have a disability like me, you have to laugh to make it through life!
I am not “retarded.” I know my addition and subtraction, and I even know my multiplication and division tables. I have known my ABCs for many, many years, and I am tired of having to prove it to people. I can write a sentence using my Dynavox, but it may take me an hour. I can read, but the physical aspects like holding a book, turning a page, or even vision make it very impractical, so I just listen and let you read.
I am a person with hopes and dreams. I want to be challenged. I want to show you who I am and what my abilities are! I want to be treated with respect. I need love and understanding, kindness and caring, maybe even sympathy, but I do not need pity. I am not a child, but a young adult, and oh how wonderful it would be if people would believe me when I say that, and treat me like a young adult. Please try to get to know me, and please, look past this wheelchair and these flailing arms to see the person inside. Do not talk about me when I am there, talk to me. My disability doesn’t affect my hearing or my ability to understand what you are saying to me. Listen to my Grandparents, friends, and assistants who truly know me and know my needs- they are my voice. Put yourself in my mind and get to know me, let me get to know you. Believe in me. I can do many things that may surprise you if you just allow me to. Have faith in me, I deserve that. I have no hidden agendas and I will not lie to you. Treat me as you would want to be treated- I am someone just like you- someone with weaknesses and strengths, abilities and disabilities, hopes, and dreams, but most of all- a person with HOPE. My hope lies in knowing that someday, I will leave this “handicapped” body behind, and my spirit will be free for eternity with God in heaven- and then you will see!!