Picture this; a nine-year-old boy, lying unconscious, in a coma, in a hospital room for six weeks. The picture is bleak. The chance of a normal life outside of the hospital is small.
This was me almost 17 years ago. Today, I live a relatively normal life for someone who had such an accident at a young age. After having a traumatic brain injury, I was in a coma for six weeks and hospitalized for five months. After that I was still even barely able to hold my head up for a few months. I learned how to do everything over again: walk, talk, tie my shoes, even eat. After leaving the hospital five months after the accident, I used a walker to get around, but not for long.
I graduated from Butler University in 2007, completed a two-year fellowship, and am now back in Indianapolis doing Graduate work at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis. I owe this to many different people, from the EMTs who saved my life on the accident scene, to the doctors who made me stable during the coma, to the therapists, and most importantly my family and friends.
Not surprisingly, I have learned many different lessons in the time since the accident. First and foremost, communication is key. In my experience, telling people about my abilities and limitations has undoubtedly led to a better relationship with that person, both in terms of respect and help when needed. When I tell people about my accident, everything I've gone through and how I came back from that dire situation, the receiver of the news has usually taken that in stride, and respected me for it. This should be the case for all people with limited abilities; these people deserve at least as much respect as others get. They have overcome challenges that others have not, and have thus led much tougher lives than other people without those challenges.
Additionally, undoubtedly, communicating about my abilities has led to more help when it's needed. More importantly, communicating about my abilities has led to the correct levels of help. People with limited abilities do not want to be doted on; just allow me to live my life like any other person. I may need extra help in some circumstances, but don't act like I can't do anything. Help such as this is considered reasonable accommodations. Offering help is great, but too much help can hurt. Unreasonable accommodations may mean more accommodations than necessary, and can have a damaging affect on a person's ability to live a dignified life.
Maybe the most important thing I have learned throughout life is to never settle. It may seem like a cliché, but never settle. Life may through you curves, but you must regroup and battle back. In a time such as this, in the "Great Recession," many people are going through rough spots in their lives, unemployment, lost savings, and even assets. In a recent article about Condoleezza Rice, she was quoted as saying to never be a victim. Although she was talking about what it was like growing up with racial tensions, her quote can be translated to my situation and the situations of so many more people who are living lives with limited abilities.
Going along with the idea of never settling, always remember to work hard. Hard work does pay off and can bring you to that next level that you never thought was possible. In the immortal words of Jim Valvano, "never give up, don't ever give up." In my case, I owe my parents for instilling that in me during my recovery. But now when life gets tough, I know to never give up, because life can throw you curves, your ball can land in a divot, or the path can be bumpy, but giving up is not an option.
My story might not be the exact norm, but the lessons I have learned throughout my recovery and subsequent rehabilitation are lessons for a lifetime. Communication, hard work and continuous improvement, and respect for yourself and others can lead to nothing but positive things for your life.