Living, surviving and thriving with a disability


Disabilities need not stifle our hopes and dreams


Hello, it’s me, Kenneth Brown. Do those of us with disabilities dare to dream? Do we have the right to have hope? Fear not, yes we do.

Without hope and dreams we have no future. We believe in nothing. We cannot find a way, because we are stuck in our own way.

Before I grasped the limitations of my disability, I dreamed of being a policeman or a fireman. Once I became fully aware of my physical limitations, I also became aware of the mental and emotional limitations being perpetrated that a disability brought with it. These limitations did not deter me from dreaming and having hope.

I knew when I was 12 that I would one day own my own business and hire persons with disabilities to work with and for me. I believed I would be wealthy and retired by the age of 40, and spend the rest of my life working with children with disabilities, especially African Americans.

At the time, I had a limited view of persons with disabilities (physical impairments that could be seen). People have many different types and forms of disabilities, including the unseen. There are mental, emotional, psychological and social disabilities. Some are self-induced addictions; some are perpetrated and perpetuated by others and society at large.

This listing is not the full depth of disability, because we don’t know everything about everything yet. No one can decide if a person has a “disability.” Our humanity should tell us to honor and respect all persons by who they are, not by what we perceive them to be.

Food for thought: American and Black history shows and tells us little to nothing about people with disabilities. If I were to believe the history lessons taught, no one with a disability ever created or invented anything of value.

As I reflect on this thought, I believe it was intentional and purposeful by those writing the slanted half-truths of the real history of this nation that “crippled” people were the condition bestowed upon them, not a “human being.”

The history lessons I learned told of one African American with a disability that did or created something of note. This person was Harriet Tubman, conductor of the Underground Railroad, who lived with narcolepsy.

In spite of my disability, I grew up believing in the “American dream.” Get your education, find a good company to work for, do your best, try your hardest, and you will be noticed, rewarded and successful. I did not realize that having a disability would allow others to create false walls, concrete ceilings, and other insane, unfair obstacles placed on my path in many instances.

It took me a while to grasp the reality of discrimination. I learned to adapt to these negative situations. I knew I had to work twice as hard as others to “make the grade.” It was clear that if I made a mistake, others with disabilities would not get an opportunity, especially any minority with a disability.

Working twice as hard did not bother me. The injustices I experienced bothered me. I made up my mind early in my professional life: I can work with you, I can work for you. If you put obstacles in my path, I will go over or around them, tunnel underneath them, or just knock them down, but I will not kiss your or others’ back sides to get ahead.

When we listen, we hear the buzz words and phrases: “I forget he has a disability. He speaks so eloquently. He is always angry. Who gave him all the power? You should only do what you are told. You don’t belong out here — you’re crippled.” These are keys to failure if you abide by or believe in them.

In my 20s, many people thought I was in my late 30s or early 40s. I think it was due to the positions I held in corporate America and the way I presented myself. Now, in my mid-50s, most people think I am in my early 40s. This is, I think, due to how I present myself.

I intentionally take excellent care of my health and physical well-being. I take care of my social, emotional, psychological and physiological health to make sure I can be productive and true to my blessings and gifts.

What about you?


Kenneth Brown is a disability advocate/consultant and welcomes reader responses to Read more about him on his website: