Yes, I run a social media campaign that encourages those with disabilities to #BeUnstoppable and reach for their goals.
Yes, I tell these individuals that they can do anything.
Yes, I believe these kids can succeed in classrooms.
Yes, I believe society has taught them that their disability defines them and prohibits them from having the same kind of life others have, and yes, I believe that needs to change.
No, I do not believe we should simply tell these individuals to "try harder".
My message to those with and without disabilities has always been to be unstoppable. I have told these individuals for years that I believe they can do anything in this world, because I have seen it happen. I have seen children with dyslexia become the top readers and writers in their school. I have seen a man born without eyeballs and with some mental disabilities become a musical savant and live on his own in the house that he built. I have seen two beautiful women crowned "Miss Unstoppable" and become representatives of The Arc, speaking at various functions. I watched a woman with Autism compete on the Miss America stage as Miss Minnesota. I have seen incredible things, because these individuals knew they were not defined by their disabilities.
It probably took some hard work for these individuals to accomplish these things, just as it would take hard work from any of us. It probably took a certain level of confidence to keep going, and it probably took a great support system encouraging them each step of the way. What it didn't take, was "try harder".
It is so important to remember that while it is great to encourage these individuals to push for new limits and be unstoppable, they still need help. Part of each of these individuals success stories is the services, support, and encouragement that they each received. Whether it is special education classrooms, paraprofessionals, or an interrelated schedule, there were services and help put in place to help these students in school. It was caseworkers and family members helping these individuals live on their own and truly find independence. It was coach's, directors, family, and friends who helped those girls earn the crown.
To tell a person with any kind of disability to simply "try harder" without offering any help or support, is just as useful as telling a dehydrated child to "get water" while leaving them in the dessert. The responsibility lies on all of us. Will we tell these individuals they are unstoppable? Will we encourage them to keep pursuing their dreams? Will we offer our help to make sure they succeed?
Will WE be the ones that "try harder"