Growing up with multiple learning disabilities I was frequently reminded of the things that I couldn’t do, or what I was not good at. One time in high school my geometry teacher told my parents, “Amy’s disability prevents her from understanding the way I teach.” THE WAY I TEACH!? Well, there's the problem! I was constantly forced to adapt to my surrounding environment, instead of the environment being inclusive and adapting to the way I learned. Today I am thankful for all the obstacles and adversity I faced growing up because from a young age I learned to adapt frequently and advocate for myself. I feel that my obstacles made me stronger and more resilient.
But first, let me back up a little bit and introduce myself. My name is Amy Ader. Today I am the owner and founder of disXABILITY, a disability awareness brand that empowers individuals in the disabled community to overcome the limiting beliefs that society has placed on the word “disability.” I do this by providing our community with the tools to create conversations around self-advocacy, acceptance, and personal growth.
Throughout my life, I have had the opportunity to experience a variety of diverse perspectives that have brought me to where I am in my career today. I have 10 years of experience in teaching early childhood education and special education, where I taught in a self-contained autism & emotional disabilities classroom. I was a family support advocate and human services case coordinator for “at-risk” families and families with children with special needs. I represented a grant for a non-profit organization and engaged in community development and outreach, speaking to multiple schools, and county departments. I was chosen to sit on the board for The Mental Health Community Action Council in my local county. I am trained and certified in trauma-informed care, crisis prevention & intervention, mental health first aid, adverse childhood experiences, and stages of trauma & recovery. Lastly, I was inducted into three international honor societies and graduated magna cum laude from Colorado State University Global. Now I am the owner of disXABILITY.
I also have multiple learning disabilities including dyslexia, dyscalculia, a slower executive processing speed, and attention deficit disorder. It’s important to follow my professional accomplishments with my personal reality because the biggest thing that contributed to my success has been the ability to overcome the greatest challenge and obstacle of my life; my learning disabilities Growing up was not easy for me. From the age of five, I had to work twice as hard as my peers and still couldn’t keep up. I struggled with being different from my peers. I battled with emotions of failure, frustration, guilt, shame, and defeat. No matter how hard I tried, I always felt like I was coming up short, left behind, and different.
Each day through disXABILITY’s social media I share the stories of different individuals and families from all over the world who have one thing in common; they all are a part of this thing called the “disability community.” Chances are if you are reading this blog post that you know the community I am talking about. The disabled community is a diverse group of people that do not look the same, love the same, vote the same, talk the same or even believe the same. BUT it’s because of all the differences that we are able to come together and see the humanity in each other, and in that humanity, we find the greatness and ABILITY that lives inside each and every person. I think that's why I am so passionate about disability acceptance, advocacy, and it's how my small business - disXABILITY was founded. All of the obstacles, challenges, and adversity that I faced and fought led me to my purpose, and through community, I learned that I was not alone.
Today I tell my story to strangers around the world to let them know they are not alone. I struggled with the same emotions you may be processing and experiencing. This community understands and can relate to how you might feel because we all have so much more in common than we will ever know. Whether it's a physical disability, an invisible or mental disability, it doesn’t matter. Through community we are able to share stories of the adversity we are facing, the new diagnosis our child just received, the emotions of grief, pain, joy, and relief. Through community, we share our life experiences, and perspectives with an open, raw, and vulnerable approach. Community and fellowship bring us a sense of comfort and hope for the future, something this world needs more than ever right now. We are all human and we all experience and process emotions, and we all want to know that we aren't alone in this journey that no one gave us a manual for.
I now know it’s God's purpose and calling for me to support, advocate and teach others living with disabilities and family members with disabilities. I recognize that I was put on this earth to be a lighthouse for those who feel lost, unworthy and unheard. I am here to be a voice and shine light onto others along their journey and show them that they too can overcome their biggest challenges and obstacles. I believe every person was put on this earth with a purpose. Everyone has their own strengths and skills that are unique and valuable to the world. We have to reach inside, find our passions, find our strengths and skills and APPLY them.
Tips & Tools That Helped Me:
1. First you have to deconstruct and change the narrative in your head that “because you have a disability you aren't capable of greatness or achieving your goals.” Yes you are! You have to shut out every person that is telling you that you won’t go far, or that your life has limits. You have a purpose in this life.
2. Next it’s important to understand that if something isn't challenging you then it isn't changing you. You must be willing to step out of your comfort zone and reach for something more. You can't experience pride unless you're willing to be uncomfortable. Nothing that I am proud of in
life has come easy to me. Consistency and hard work will always pay off, you just have to persevere.
3. You have to stop focusing on your weaknesses and start focusing on your strengths. Change your mindset from “I have a disability, I CAN’T do this”, to “Okay, HOW can I do this?” Consider what methods you need to use. What support do you need? What tools or resources do you need to complete the task or goal? Try thinking outside the box with a growth mindset.
4. This brings me to my last and most important tool - DEVELOP SELF ADVOCACY SKILLS. When I learned to advocate for myself everything changed. I became so much more confident as a person and student, but this skill didn’t just fall from the sky. It took years to learn and develop…
Here are a few steps to developing self-advocacy skills:
A) You have to accept that you have a disability and that you may need help. It's easy to be angry, upset, or anxious about having a disability, especially if it influences your everyday life. Please know that a disability is not a bad thing. Learning to accept it as part of you, but knowing it is NOT who you are is a big step to take. Your disability does not define you and it's okay to ask for help, it doesn't make you any less.
B) Understand WHY you may need help. Learning and understanding your disability is important to being a strong self-advocate. You can then become more confident in explaining what you need and why you need it.
C) It takes a village! Understand and know what help is available to you; whether you are in high school, college, at a job, or in your home - having a support team is vital to your success. Maybe it's family, friends, your teacher, a resource specialist, your coworkers, HR department, an organization, a social media tribe, anyone! Surround yourself with people who lift you up, support you and can provide you value, tools and resources to help you be successful.
D) Learn when to ask for help and how to ask for help. Speaking up can be scary, but you have to ask yourself whether your pride is more important than your well-being. Are your pride and comfort more important than understanding something you want to know or need to know? You don't have to make asking for help a big public ordeal either, it can be done in private. State what you need help with, tell them what you have already tried, and lastly tell them what you need them to do - that is the perfect formula for self-advocating to memorize.
From the bottom of my heart, I thank you for allowing me to share my story. I pray that it offers some encouragement, guidance, and support. I encourage you to share your story as well because you never know whose life you could impact. The courage it takes to share your story might be the very thing someone else needs to heal and open their heart.
If you would like to learn more about my story or disXABILITY please follow @disxability on all social platforms. I’m rooting for you and I’m advocating for you! - Amy Ader