Ashamed to Proud
My name is Doug and I have a progressive form of Muscular Dystrophy. It took me a long time to admit that to people. There is such a demoralizing stigma about disability. Growing up on a dairy farm in south central PA, I didn’t know anyone else with a disability. You better believe I hid mine as long as I could. People would notice my walk was a bit off and asked if I was okay. I’d respond, “Oh yeah, I just pulled a muscle working on the farm”. In college, sometimes I’d be late for class because I didn’t want anyone to see me struggle going up a set of stairs. As my body got weaker, I couldn’t hide it anymore, but strived to continue living a “normal” life. People started calling me inspirational. This was a nice compliment, but deep down it reinforced that my disability was a defect to be overcome. I continued to be ashamed about my disability and would dread situations where it would be on full display.
Then one day I stumbled across an article about a man who overcame a severe stuttering problem to build a successful company. Early in his career he had a critical sales presentation that would make or break him. Despite his intense preparation, he stuttered throughout his presentation and left feeling like a complete failure. However, the customer later awarded him the sale. He realized he’d been much more self-conscious about his stuttering than the customer and he just needed to focus on doing good work. It suddenly hit me that my own self-consciousness was the issue! How could I expect others to be comfortable with my disability if I wasn’t comfortable with it. I started becoming open with people about my disability. I began actively learning about disabilities and found out about adaptive sports. You name it and I’ve probably done it: cycling, surfing, skydiving, skiing. I’ve kayaked through the canals of Venice and did a two-week whitewater rafting trip through the Grand Canyon. I organize an annual outing for people with disabilities to 6 Flags where I met a blind man that loves roller coasters! Who would have guessed that?!
Diversity & Inclusion
I’ve learned that disability doesn’t define a person. We shouldn’t be pitied, but we also shouldn’t be called inspirational just for living our lives. Everyone has things they are good at and things they are not so good at. We all just do the best we can with the hand we are dealt. I now advocate for people with disabilities and set high expectations for myself and others. I have a successful career at a Fortune 500 company and even drive a Porsche with hand controls (the preferred car for disabled ex-dairy farmers!). As a side job, my company invites me to speak to different divisions around the world to share my story and discuss the value of diversity and inclusion. What I thought was my biggest weakness has turned into my biggest strength!