The blessings and challenges of being a new Bush Fellow and embarking on a new learning journey will not leave you the same. During my application process I had the privilege of working with two previous Fellows. They told me this process would change me and teach me so much even if I did not become a Fellow. They were right! From the very beginning of thinking, "Could this be for me? Can I challenge myself to this level? Whom am I and what do I truly stand for?" And then being ready for the drafts, rewrites, helpful criticism, more rewrites and the final push of the submit button. The freedom of knowing the outcome is no longer in your hands. Just being courageous and vulnerable enough to look at those questions, think through your initial answers, and then put your words to paper or screen. These are powerful first steps to changing your learning journey and your life.
Who knew the far reaching impacts of this pandemic and yet we still have no idea. To be honest, this has been some of the hardest parts of the Fellowship journey. Going through the gut wrenching questions and self discovery during the application process was hard and then the equally hard work of making your plans and budgets was exciting but daunting. For this type A, playing it safe, thought through, risk management style decision maker, "Think bigger. Think differently." was a huge stretch. So thinking about doing international travel when I have never wheeled into plane was monumental for me. I had made plans to meet people and travel to places that I have only dreamt about and they were now a reality...almost. There was such a season of grief after receiving this amazing honor. I had spent months of planning and seeking and dreaming big. I had been stretching my thought processes and letting my heart lead while starting the details of the plans, supports, and needs I would need to accomplish to be a successful first time traveler. But COVID-19 rocked our worlds. In thinking about writing this I realized that all Bush Fellows have experienced these seasons of loss and grief in their time of fellowship. Maybe not on the worldwide level of a public health pandemic, but they experienced it in unmet expectations, failures of plans that seemed so great and solid, or in complete life changes.
The goals of my fellowship are to learn and practice better self care, learn more leadership skills, learn more about disability culture and my role in it so I can help create a more inclusive community in my town and surrounding areas for people with physical limitations. In the past 6 months I have been learning that doing self care is not selfish. That life isn't about being a human doing. That one has worth and value beyond what others think, say, or do. When others judge me for my perceived limitations they miss out on the courage, strength, passion, and abilities that my wheelchair brings to me. I have been engaged in courses that challenge me to grow in my leadership skills and stretch me to practice new approaches in everyday leadership roles. I have began hard work with an executive coach and an additional coach to continue my work with my IDI so I can uncover and work through my biases. I have been able to take part in amazing virtual Abilities Expos and other opportunities thanks to COVID removing the travel and many times financial barriers to these events. I have also been reading books by well know disability advocates and learning about the paths that others have paved for so many like me. They have inspired me to continue to speak up and stand up for myself and the communities I am a part of. I have continued to work with the local government and business to increase awareness of accessibility needs and to encourage us to go above and beyond the ADA to make things more inclusive physically and attitudinally.
In the past 6 months and more, some of my fields of my life have been tilled up and are ready for seed. Some of my fields are already planted and some great people have come along and watered them. And yet some of my land is still wild forests with limitless possibilities. The work is hard. The work is good. The work is worth it. I am worth it.
In closing, I want to ask you to stand up to the injustices around you. We are in a turbulent times where many injustices are visible and in our faces each day. But there are many unseen injustices in the the laws, rules, and policies that impact the daily lives of people with disabilities. In accepting this Fellowship I ran into policies that made me choose between my independent living supports and adequate health insurance or this great opportunity for my personal and professional growth. The irony in this whole story is that I desire to help create community that is more inclusive and accessible and yet I have to choose between my own wellbeing and helping others because of policies written that do not allow people with disabilities to achieve more and excel due to the antiquated and unintentional forced poverty levels these policies create. As with other visible injustices I ask you to be a strong ally to learn more about the unspoken and unseen injustices and limitations that are impacting the lives of people with disabilities.