Would you Could you, in the Dark?

A few nights ago, my seven year-old and I read the Dr. Seuss’ classic Green Eggs & Ham, and it struck me.   “Sam-I-Am” is not as cute as I remember him.   Maybe he has become too much like the obnoxious uncle most can relate to: that embarrasses everyone at Christmas dinner after drinking too much?   It seems that Uncle Sam has become “that relative” who can’t take a hint, doesn’t listen, pushes his politics, and you know inevitably, will puke on the carpet, and expect us to clean up the mess.   We put up with it and we enable because, after all we still love him, and feel we have few options.   We hope it ends well, like in the storybook version.   After badgering the ignorant, grouch on trains, boats and planes, he gives up.   To his surprise (and better judgment) he likes green slop.   The didactic lesson taught to children is: “Your parents know best: now sit down, shut up and eat your green veggies.”  But I wonder what lesson would be taught; if Dr. Seuss had told his story with the more likely ending of Salmonella poisoning?
We all need to wade through a maze of conflicting opinions, but as for me and my house, eating green meat has never been a smart idea.

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Deaf Culture, a Starting Point?

Several years ago I heard a story of two men who were returning home, and while on the plane, the conversation turned from common ground in business, to whether or not God was real. I know, typically when traveling religion, politics, and race are topics to avoid — especially considering there is no where to hide if things turn ugly. But the conversation in this case was cordial and concluded, when the individual who did not believe in “spiritual notions” suggested that it was impossible for anyone to really “know” of such things. The other passenger then asked an odd question: “Well then, have you ever tasted salt?” To which he responded “of course.” The believer then stated: “I don’t believe that you have ever tasted such a thing, describe it to me – prove it.” Needless to say, describing “the taste experience” of salt to one who claimed to have never tasted it, presented a challenge. The message from the story to me was clear. Some principles and concepts are, by definition experiential, and have to be lived or “tasted” to be understood.
Although “understanding” may always begin with wanting to understand something different, it’s obviously not guaranteed. On a grander scale, another’s culture, may present similar challenges. I think it can be hard for those, who are not part of the deaf culture to navigate successfully across the cultural divide. Having acknowledged some of the challenges, I thought it best to try, and share some ideas outlined by members of the deaf community in several resources below:
“Many hearing people have ideas about what it is like to be deaf. Hearing people may think it is only about not being able to hear. However, few hearing people realize that there is a deaf culture that is unique from the hearing culture.
The deaf culture is the art, politics, attitudes, shared language, and common activities of the deaf community. Some deaf culture facts can provide insight into what it really means to be deaf.
Some hearing people believe that people who are deaf would like to hear if they could. This is not necessarily true. Some deaf people do seek medical treatment for their hearing loss. Some receive cochlear implants. But, many deaf people have no desire to be hearing.” http://www.mydeafness.com/deaf-culture-facts/
Another excellent resource is www.nad.org (the National Association of the Deaf) website, where the following was obtained:
“Culture. We value the right of deaf and hard of hearing Americans to share similar beliefs, sense of belonging, and experiences as a signing community.
Language. We value the acquisition, usage, and preservation of American Sign Language
Linguistic Rights. We believe that American Sign Language must be preserved, protected, and promoted.
Human Rights. We believe that acquisition and use of American Sign Language is an essential human right
Civil Rights. We believe in equality, dignity, and justice for all deaf and hard of hearing Americans.”
Another suggestion for AbilityNews readers
for more information is a website called
http://www.alldeaf.com as one can chat online with those with various opinions and positions on many topics. The fact is, no culture has a monolithic viewpoint. So the best starting point may be one of respect, and a willingness to learn something new.

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Message From Vern:

Hi, my name is Vern Anderson, and this month I am going to talk about my family and my disability. I was born in Billings, MT. in June 1967. At the time my dad was a paralegal and my mom was staying at home and raising a young family.
When I was two, we moved to Missoula, MT. My dad attended school to become a lawyer while working with a local attorney. Mom got a job at the Speech and Hearing Clinic. Dad decided he didn’t like his career choice, so decided to work toward becoming a teacher instead.
Later, we moved back to Billings so I could get the special schooling I needed. Dad realized his goal and became an elementary school teacher, and several years later, mom became a special education teacher. They both helped me with my learning, and the exercises I had to do everyday. Without my family I could not have become the person that I am today. They helped me overcome many of the trials in my life. Family has been the strength that has tied my life together and has given me the direction that I needed to work past some of my everyday challenges.
I am always looking for articles, so email them to me at:
vern012@bresnan.net. You might find your words in print! You can also call 208-5354 with ideas you might have.
–Vern Anderson, Owner

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A Life Insured

Chris Fuqua knows first-hand the importance of having a good life insurance and disability policy.
Chris was almost killed on May 27th, 2005 when he was assaulted in North Dakota while attending a wedding party. Chris was not drinking, but a fight broke out between several others, and Chris was hit without provocation from behind by an unidentified assailant. As a result Chris sustained a severe brain injury that left him in a coma.
Shortly after the assault Chris’s mother wrote:
Given Chris’ initial Glasgow Coma Scale of 4, statistics show that only 20% of patients emitted to an emergency room come out alive with his condition. Chris has survived the crisis phase. There are still many factors that can affect the morbidity of a person with Chris’s injury.
Chris’ first danger is Hypoxia or Anoxia (getting little or no oxygen) due to the very high pressure that built up in his brain between the time he was injured and the time his first surgery was performed. This time was about 7 hours. In this condition, the pressure in the brain can be higher or equal to the blood pressure, thus no or little oxygen flow to the brain. There are NO tests that can tell us if this condition has occurred.
Weeks after the initial accident Chris’s mother was told (by one of the staff in a North Dakota hospital) that she should send her son to a nursing home, and that he would likely spend the rest of his life in that type of setting. For three weeks Chris was in a coma, and needed a ventilator to breathe.
After recovering to the point that he could start therapies, Chris participated in inpatient rehab for many weeks in North Dakota, until be was healthy enough to go back home in Billings to live with his parents. That’s when Chris took the next step, quite literally as he was still using a wheelchair to get around. Chris first started rehab with the Headway Program brain injury recovery program in September, 2005. After four more months of physical therapy, occupational therapy, speech therapy, and counseling through Headway which is a service offered through Saint Vincent Healthcare in Billings, MT Chris built up his strength and coordination to walk again, and speak clearly.
But Chris’s journey didn’t stop there. Chris continued with outpatient therapies, and hard work at home improving his skills. The case manager with Headway worked with COR Enterprises to help Chris return to employment.
Now two years later Chris is not only walking and talking – he is selling. Chris knows first hand the importance of protecting oneself through having good insurance, and those customers who buy a policy from Chris quickly come to understand that Chris is not just in it for “the sale.” As a certified life insurance agent Chris had to pass an exhaustive 6 hour test covering all aspects of the health insurance industry, policies and state law regulations. Chris passed his examines a few months ago and is now working as an independent agent and can sell life insurance policies, long term disability insurance, long term care policies and final expense policies.
Chris can be reached at 698-5317.

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An Interview with Ron Tussing, Mayor of Billings, Montana

On March 17th, 2008 Vern Anderson, owner of AbilityNews had an interview with Ron Tussing, mayor of Billings, Montana. The staff of AbilityNews would like to thank Mr. Tussing and found him to be very approachable, honest and generous with his time.
What are some things that you have learned about being mayor that you did not expect when you took office?
Mayor Tussing responded by sharing that he was surprised about the time commitment that it took to be Mayor. “I thought that perhaps mayor Tooley was exaggerating when he told me, but he wasn’t.” Mayor Tussing went on to explain that being the mayor of Billings “is almost a full-time job” and just last week, he had 16 meetings. Mayor Tussing also shared that he was somewhat surprised about the number of lawsuits that have been brought against the city of Billings.
If you could go back and do something differently as mayor, what would that be if anything?
“I think that I would been more involved in the input of the process of monitoring lawsuits,” He went on to explain that the mayor position does “not have any real power.” But that he has been effective in appointing various committees “the way I get things done is through the citizens” he explained. Mr. Tussing also spoke about his involvement in the Homelessness Committee, and the good work community members are doing in this area.
What do you like about being Mayor?
“I have enjoyed working with the citizens of Billings mostly.” Mayor Tussing explained that he enjoyed “helping people and trying to solve problems.” It was during this part of the interview when mayor Tussing shared one of his guiding principles that “If you are going to do something – its important to do it right.” He also shared that he felt that it was important as mayor to “welcome folks to the business community” and that he enjoyed participating in event like the recent Saint Patrick’s Day Parade, and also in events like “ribbon cuttings” for new businesses. He felt that public displays of support by the mayor and other leaders were important in developing a community that was strong.
Are there some things about your police job that you have missed?
The change in job positions “was easier than I thought it would be.” Mr. Tussing explained that he did not miss his old job as much as one would think, as both jobs as police Chief and as mayor are “administrative in nature,” and both jobs at their core are about public service.
What would you tell the voter with a disability about why it is important to vote?
“If you want your voice to be heard” a person needs to vote so they “can have an impact.” It is important for the voter “learn about what the important issues are “ and to find out if those running for office will listen to what you have to say. Mayor Tussing also explained that it is important for elected officials to listen to what the disability community has to say, even if there might not be the finical resources to do certain things. The mayor stated that he had been involved in the past and enjoyed his time working with different community activities that involved people with disabilities including PLUK, and the Special Olympics.
On a related issue mayor Tussing felt that it would be important for the disability community to spotlight some if the issues around accessibility for people with disabilities, and has considered ways to get out the information to the general public. He spoke with Vern about this important issue, and offered several ideas and his support.
Recently you have announced that you were running for a seat on the state Public Service Commission. What are some reasons you have decided to make this change?
Mr. Tussing explained that there were several reasons he felt it was time to move on to something different, although he has enjoyed his service as mayor very much. He shared that he was interested in environmental issues, and felt that it is important to start thinking “long-term” about some of the challenges we face. Mr. Tussing stated “If we always do what we have always done we will always get the same result” and that he one can balance environmental issues and the economy and consider alternative energy sources that are out there. Another honest consideration in running for a different office is that the position of mayor pays about $800.00 per month, and financially it would be “hard to afford running for mayor again.”

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Confessions to my Father

According to the Brain Injury Association of America 1.4 million people every year sustain a brain injury in the United States. Of that number 235,000 are hospitalized and 50,000 die from their injury. There are an estimated 3.17 million Americans that are living with life-long affects from a brain injury according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. My dad happens to be one of the growing numbers of Americans who acquire a brain injury later in life. Several years ago, he was diagnosed with a brain tumor that developed in his cerebellum (the part of the brain that deals with movement.)
After being in the “disability field” for years the word disability, and its meaning continues to change for me. I can still define it in a academic sense but when “they” words (like disability may mean to most) rightfully and really turn into an inclusive word, it can be a bit like when one begins to feel mortal at some point: it should have been an obvious, comfortable fact all along. I guess some facts we have to grow into. We may be wired to live in the moment, but as disability is part of the human experience that many (if not most) will experience at some point the “they” part of the definition that separates is an illusion. This is my confession: I was immortal until a few years ago, but I doubt I’m the only one who has been slow to get it.
As disability is part of my own experience doesn’t mean I don’t still struggle with the parts that don’t feel right, or feel different in my relationship with my dad. It is always hard to watch someone you love go though something that is painful. Professionally, I see those with newly acquired disabilities almost every day try to “redefine’ what it means to be who they are. I watch how loved ones work to support those they love to heal from brain injuries and to be “strong” for them. All while being physically and emotionally exhausted. My own opinion is that being a part of the process of helping: as a son, as a case manager, or as a friend or to allow others to be a help us is part of a sacred cross-roads experience, after a serious injury. Even with all of the chaos going on during a crisis — ironically, it can be the place where we can for a brief moment “see” others clearly, and they can “see” us for who we are. It’s a hard confession to admit to others (or to oneself) that we are fragile human beings who need support and understanding from time to time. But realizing we need others is not a sign of weakness or that we are “giving u.” It is waking to our humanity that is found in interdependence, again another example of something that should be obvious, but maybe is not.
My dad searched to find meaning after no longer being able to keep his job as an engineer (of forty years.) There was nothing wrong in that struggle, we all find some of our purpose in the things we do at work, or play. Most want to get the gold watch and go into retirement on our own terms, to still be able to do all the things we have always have done, and do it the same way.
So that leads me to my last obvious point — there are no guarantees that some of our abilities won’t be recalibrated against our will, or that it can ever happen at a convenient time. My hunch is that what will matter most to us then, would be no different than this moment — if we paused, stood still, took a deep breath and asked the question: “What efforts should I make, and what time spent will matter most to those that love me?” The answer for me personally is to make memories, and to see those I am with now more clearly, to take some time to show love, and to call up my dad – even if it is just to ask how his day went. Disability, death, and even taxes can’t take away the investment we make in new memories. If my dad can’t remember them, I can. If I forget, my children will remember, or my wife and they will feel their affects like ripples of expanding immortal influence.
So maybe in that sense the things that matter most of our humanity are not mortal after all?

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The Paradoxical Commandments

by Dr. Kent M. Keith

People are illogical, unreasonable, and self-centered. Love them anyway.

If you do good, people will accuse you of selfish ulterior motives. Do good anyway.

If you are successful, you will win false friends and true enemies. Succeed anyway.

The good you do today will be forgotten tomorrow. Do good anyway.

Honesty and frankness make you vulnerable. Be honest and frank anyway.

The biggest men and women with the biggest ideas can be shot down by the smallest men and women with the smallest minds. Think big anyway.

People favor underdogs but follow only top dogs. Fight for a few underdogs anyway.

What you spend years building may be destroyed overnight. Build anyway.

People really need help but may attack you if you do help them. Help people anyway.

Give the world the best you have and you’ll get kicked in the teeth. Give the world the best you have anyway.

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Expectation + opportunity = full participation

U.S. Labor Department announces ‘Expectation + opportunity = full participation’ as National Disability Employment Awareness Month in October.

WASHINGTON — The U.S. Department of Labor today announced “Expectation + Opportunity = Full Participation” as the official theme for October’s National Disability Employment Awareness Month. It is intended to urge employers, as they seek to fill positions, to embrace the richness of America’s diversity by considering the talents of all workers, including workers with disabilities.

This year’s theme emphasizes the vision of the Labor Department’s Office of Disability Employment Policy (ODEP): a world in which people with disabilities have unlimited employment opportunities. Early selection of an annual theme for upcoming National Disability Employment Awareness Month helps the private sector; federal, state and local governments; and advocacy organizations plan events and programs that showcase the abilities and skills of job seekers and working Americans who have disabilities. ODEP is the nation’s first assistant secretary-led office that addresses policies that impact upon the employment of people with disabilities.

The office provides national leadership on disability employment policy by developing and influencing the use of evidence-based disability employment policies and practices, building collaborative partnerships, and delivering authoritative and credible data on the employment of people with disabilities. As background for National Disability Employment Awareness Month, Public Law 176, enacted by Congress in 1945, designated the first week in October as “National Employ the Physically Handicapped Week.” President Harry S. Truman designated the (now former) President’s Committee on Employment of People with Disabilities to carry out the law. Congress changed the name to “National Disability Employment Awareness Month” in 1988. The responsibility for leading the nationwide recognition was transferred to the newly created ODEP in 2001.

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Message From Vern

AbilityNews is a newletter that I created because I wanted to help people by talking about my life and others who have disabilities. Life can be hard sometimes, but I have always had people around me that believed in me, and supported me. I have also come to understand that my wheelchair is a good part of my life that helps me access the community and meet new friends. I do not let my disabilities stop me from living my life. I can only be the person that I want to be by working through difficult things, trying my best, and deciding to add some good to the world.

I enjoy my most important job as a father — my family has shown me how to do it and I am very grateful for that. When I was little boy I had hard time with my disability and did not understand why it seemed that my challenges were different than many others – why I could not do some of the things others did easily and I thought took for granted. But, as I get older I am seeing more similarities in others than differences. Sometimes differences may stick-out more like using a wheelchair, other times, differences are hidden. Sometimes the hardest limitations to deal with are when we falsely think we have no limitations. Perfection is a burden only God can shoulder well – but for the rest on planet earth disability is a part of the human experience. Life’s experiences that are hardest (for us) have the power to teach us the most, that can help us grow, and can help connect us to others we thought were so different. 

Thanks for reading.

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Skipper’s story

Having spent 35 years of my life living quite independent of government services and support systems there came a day when my lifestyle irrevocably changed. A new medical
condition increased my level of disability to the point where even previously simple tasks, such as transferring on and off the bed, or into the shower, or car, became too
difficult to do alone. At that moment it felt like my life, as I knew it, was over. In an attempt to remain free of external support and care I placed the onus and responsibility for my extra care on my wife. Ignoring the fact that her health was on the decline, what with heart surgery then cancer, she took on the extra burden without questioning it.

Eventually, however, the early morning rituals, the day-time support and the night-time needs, all became too much, even for someone as determined as my wife. I actually thought my family life was over. My independence gone and I seriously contemplated taking steps to go into a nursing home or the Quad Centre. It was a terrible thought. No more waking up in the sweet silence of my own bedroom with the sun shining through, then, later, with a fully charged chair heading off for an early morning excursion through the park or along the coast with my dog, no afternoon tea on the patio, being alone, or setting my own timetable for the day. It was a frightening time in my life.

I had known that it might come to this one day. I had friends who had made this hard transition, some by choice, others by necessity. But like each of us I thought of myself as different.
It was a telephone call from a friend who knew I was struggling that made all the difference. She suggested I contact the LAC in my area and ask for some help. Despite having worked for the government I had little knowledge of what was available by way of information, support, advocacy, funding. It took the LAC a long time to convince me that he was not going
to interfere, or take over my life – he was there to help; he was there to set in motion actions that would keep me in my home with a quality of life that, even with the best of intentions, a
nursing home cannot offer.

His knowledge and determination to diffuse my fears and help me retain the life we had built was overwhelming. Together over weeks of regular phone calls and home visits we  dentified each problem, each concern and found the answers to my needs and our needs as a family. One by one systems were established, timetables were set out and my transport problems were addressed. Today, some four LACs later, I still wake up in my own bedroom, I still walk my dog each day, I can relax in my own garden and I can reflect on just how
much my life has changed, and not changed. Thanks to the creation of a unique system of holistic care infused with incredibly caring and creative individuals – my life is still

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