Disability Does Not Define Us

“Whether you believe you can do a thing or not, you’re right”

~ Henry Ford


Some of us were born this way, while others acquired their challenge from injury, illness, or other situation beyond their control. Whether we are disabled or enabled has more to do with the way we think than the fact that we depend on assistance to do the things we want to, or need to do. For example, people who use a calculator to solve math problems typically do not consider themselves disabled even though they required cognitive assistance. Why is it that people who rely on mobility assistance generally consider themselves disabled and people who require cognitive assistance generally consider themselves “normal?” This paradox led me to conclude that our attitudes, rather than abilities, define who we are and what we can or cannot do. I emphasized the word “generally” because there are exceptions to every rule.

Although many people who rely on crutches, canes, walkers, wheelchairs, power scooters, or a host of other mobility compensation tools consider themselves disabled, other people consider themselves enabled in spite of their mobility challenges. The following examples prove it is possible to feel enabled even though you have mobility challenges.

Caution: Do not attempt any of the following activities without proper planning, training, preparation, medical approval, or supervision. The following “Stories of Success” are exceptions to the rule, not recommendations to break the rules in dangerous, life-threatening, or novel ways.


Jeremy P. McGhee

One day, while he was riding his motorcycle, Jeremy was stuck by a car. The collision mangled his body and left him without the use of his legs. However, after his body and mind healed, Jeremy decided to pursue his passion again. After receiving a $4,000 device called a SITSKI from the Challenged Athletes Foundation (CAF), assistance from many people, and a lot of preparation (physical and mental), Jeremy achieved his goal to summit Bloody Couloir and ski down the steep mountain which is located near Mammoth Lakes in the California Sierra range. To learn more about his story, watch his TEDx video or visit his personal website by clicking the relevant link at the end of this article.


Sue Austin

When an illness forced her to use a power chair, Sue decided to view the chair as a gateway to freedom rather than prison from which she could never escape. She uses an assistive device to create art and to experience the world much differently than you might think. To learn more about her story, visit her website by clicking the relevant link at the end of this article. Be sure to watch the video titled, “Creating the Spectacle!”


Matt W.

Matt chose to participate in his elementary school’s Track & Field Day, despite having spastic cerebral palsy. Matt participated in the 400 meter event which required two laps around a 200-meter track. Matt’s physical education teacher, John Blaine, stayed with him during most of the race. Most runners finished the race before Matt finished one lap. During his final lap, 5th and 6th grade students supported Matt with the cheer ‘Let’s go Matt, let’s go!’ To learn more about his story, watch a video of the event by clicking the relevant link at the end of this article.


Team Hoyt

During the past 34+ years, Dick Hoyt has completed many marathons and triathlons. That alone is no easy task, but Dick ensured his son Rick completed all the races too. Rick was born without the ability to move or speak, but that did not stop Dick from pulling a raft for one mile, peddling a bike with an attached trailer for 24 miles, or pushing a running stroller for six miles to ensure his son would cross the finish line. To learn more about Team Hoyt, click the relevant link at the end of this article.



The people whom I have described in this article are not alone in demonstrating success. There are many people who have achieved success in spite of the challenges they face. Success depends on many factors, but our attitudes are one of the most important components of success. Whether we believe we can succeed or believe we cannot succeed, we are right.

Jeremy McGhee – www.youtube.com/watch?v=UgYzapi6-mw or www.jeremymcghee.com/
Sue Austin – www.wearefreewheeling.org.uk or http://goo.gl/70bFFD
Matt W. – www.youtube.com/watch?v=o6Alt2DssYc
Team Hoyt – www.youtube.com/watch?v=LgOu3Qwq3kQ

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Scott Friedman
About Scott Friedman 3 Articles
Prior to his battle with brain cancer, Scott Friedman earned a B.A. degree with a focus on Political Science and Economics; worked as a purchasing manager; volunteered on a rescue squad; earned an M.B.A. degree with concentrations in Finance, Accounting, and Operations; managed projects for one of the world’s largest management consulting firms; and built a consulting firm with clients in seven states. After his brain surgeries, chemo, radiation treatments, numerous therapies, and significant recovery, Scott continued working as a consultant and volunteering. He also earned four professional certifications, and began speaking with individuals and groups about overcoming adversity. Speaking led Scott to start a blog (www.beyondinjury.com) where people can share stories about overcoming their challenges. After blogging for several months, he joined Toastmasters so he could learn to communicate more effectively and provide inspiration to others who face significant hardships. Scott plans to write and publish a book by June 2015.