civil rights

By Mark E. Smith

At this writing, it’s the 25th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) – and if you’re among my readers who thinks it doesn’t pertain to you because you don’t have a disability, then you should especially keep reading.

See, the ADA isn’t merely about ramps and access to public transportation, but it’s literally civil right legislation. Its intent is to protect those with disabilities from all forms of discrimination. In so many ways, it’s an add-on to the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

The most sweeping civil rights legislation since Reconstruction, the Civil Rights Act prohibits discrimination of all kinds based on race, color, religion, or national origin – but it doesn’t include disability. Hence, in part, the ADA.

In this spirit, on the 25th anniversary of the ADA, I don’t see it merely as a milestone toward social inclusion of those with disabilities, but an opportunity for larger questions: Can we legislate acceptance, and what’s the ultimate solution to civil rights for all?

I’ve spent about half of my life both pre- and post ADA. Yes, I’ve seen vast societal shifts in inclusion and infrastructure toward the positive over the past quarter century via the ADA, just as I’ve seen greater acceptance of all so-called minority classes. The United States is a far better place post the Civil Rights Act and ADA.

However, I personally still encounter those who stereotype me and, yes, the occasional instances of discrimination based on my disability. And, I’m not alone. From in our personal lives to watching the nightly news, who among us doesn’t still witness racism, sexism, antisemitism and every other labeled form of discrimination we’ve ever had?

What I’ve learned in the second half of my life, as a member of a “protected class,” is that while you can legislate socially-inclusive processes and infrastructure, you can’t legislate tolerance or acceptance, you can’t legislate what’s in someone’s mind and heart. Prejudice can’t be legislated out of someone.

I hear rumblings from the local diner to Capitol Hill that the remaining solution to prejudice and discrimination is additional legislation. However, there’s really only one ultimate solution.

As much as we see civil rights as a societal issue, it’s not. Rather, civil rights is a personal issue, and it’s ultimate solution is found within each and every one of us. Yes, we can legislate public policy, and rightfully so. However, we, more importantly, must engage our minds and open our hearts, to where civil rights isn’t just an ethical societal concern, but more so a personal moral standing, where we simply see all others as equal as ourselves.

issues

By Mark E. Smith

We’ve all been there. We’re cruising down the road in our car, and we suddenly hear an odd, consistent noise or feel a vibration or see the temperature gauge rise. Whatever the abnormality, what’s the first thought that crosses our minds? …Maybe it will go away!

But, it never does, right? It predictably gets worse, where we end up with a mechanic’s bill when the problem is so bad that it must be addressed. After all, how often have you seen a real problem fix itself or not get worse with a car? No, the longer we ignore an issue, the worse it gets.

Life is no different. From our relationships to our health to our finances to our careers, when issues arise, they almost never resolve themselves, but actually get worse – that is, until we address them or suffer ultimate consequences.

Yet, again, how often do we simply hope they’ll go away on their own? …We had a brutal argument where hurtful things were said, but it’s a new day, so everything is fine. …I’m having this health issue, but why go to the doctor when I’m sure it will get better. …If I don’t open that stack of bills, I won’t get stressed out about money. …My job is terrible, but a job is a job.

We’ve all dealt with one or more of these scenarios in these totally dysfunctional ways, and it feels reassuring in the moment. I know, I’m guilty as charged! However, what I’ve learned is that denial and complacency are the equivalent of a noose around our neck – the longer we wait, the worse issues get.

It’s taken me a lot of years, but I’ve gotten much better at not denying issues, but addressing them. What I’ve realized is that a lot of why we don’t address issues is fear. Yet, not addressing them actually sustains fear, whereas addressing issues alleviates it. How often do we have serious issues in our relationships and don’t address them out of not wanting to rock the boat or, worse yet, out of fear of abandonment? And, so we pretend as if all is great – till the issue comes up again and we think, “Why do I have to keep going through this?”

Well, we don’t need to. No matter the issue, the only way to resolve it is to address it – and that takes bravery because we don’t know the outcome. Addressing serious issues in a relationship can improve the dynamic or bring the relationship to an end. Going to the doctor for a health issue can deliver good news or bad. Opening a stack of bills can prove that you have more money or less. And, changing jobs can increase your satisfaction or decrease it. Yes, there are unknowns in addressing issues, but it’s guaranteed to bring resolution, as opposed to sustaining fear and anxiety.

For me, addressing issues isn’t about an ideal outcome, but about peace of mind and accountability. I don’t want issues in my life, and when they arise, I want them addressed, good news or bad, put to rest. My daughter’s car was recently acting up, and with a college tuition bill siting on the kitchen table, the last thing I needed was an auto repair bill. If only the car could fix itself! So, with great apprehension, we had it towed to the dealer, and I was presented a monster repair estimate for a blown engine. That car is now in the junkyard, and she has a shiny red sports coupe! The issue could have ruined our summer and finances, but we addressed the issues step-by-step and just took care of it. It wasn’t my ideal outcome – but maybe my daughter’s because she got a new car for college! – but all is resolved. And, it’s the resolution of issues that’s the ultimate goal.

Often, we’re so apprehensive toward addressing serious issues in our lives that we don’t just consciously avoid taking action to resolve them, but we’ll actually subconsciously block them out of our realm of possibilities. We’ve all been in situations where everyone sees the writing on the wall except for the one in the mess. What I’ve learned is that our friends and family are excellent gauges when it comes to recognizing issues that we may not see. When multiple people bring an issue to our attention, let’s not dismiss them as naysayers, but truly listen.

We all have issues in our lives, but how – or if! – we address them is the difference between health and dysfunction, success and failure, contentment and fear. Let us not turn away from issues, allowing them to worsen, but address them head-on, where the only problems in our lives are the ones we’re solving.

roots2

By Mark E. Smith

For 18 years, I’ve run an Internet message forum where consumers can exchange information, as well as ask me questions, regarding mobility technology. I started the forum, in fact, before my careers in the mobility industry and writing took off. Today, both the mobility industry and writing – often overlapping – are more than full-time jobs. Yet, I still run the message forum, routinely addressing needs 20 hours per week or so, often on Sunday mornings or at 10 o’clock on weeknights.

With my career so established and the fact that the message forum has intentionally never generated income, some have asked why I keep doing it? After all, it adds stress and absorbs much of my so-called free time, and 18 years is a noble run.

My answer is simple: I never forget where I come from. See, that message forum originated from my just wanting to use my two passions – power wheelchairs and writing – to support my peers in their mobility plights. Fortunately, my career flourished, but my sense of loyalty to the message forum members has never wavered – it’s a privilege that they’ve allowed me to remain part of their lives through almost two decades.

We often see people, companies lose their roots, and it isn’t pleasant, is it? People become too good for where they came from, companies no longer care about customers. It’s easy to be humble when you have nothing; it takes true character to be humble when you have everything. I believe the ultimate measure of success is staying true to your roots, true to what got you to where you are.

The key to this is reminding ourselves of why we started doing what we do in the first place. I was talking with my CEO the other day, and he said that when he got into the durable medical equipment industry in 1986, he knew nothing about medical goods, but he knew how to treat consumers. It struck me as fascinating because he and I have spent the last 15 years talking about how to forever better serve consumers – it’s why we’re in our business. In fact, in recent years, a key focus is to constantly remind all of our employees – and ourselves – why we do what we do within our company, where we simply strive to improve the quality of life of our consumers every day.

Beyond the boardroom, I see couples struggling and I often wonder, what brought them together in the first place? Do people and life really change that much? Surely some do, but for many couples they simply forgot along the way what made each other special to begin with. It’s a losing of roots, getting too big for each other, you might say. It’s like any success that goes to your head – you take important aspects for granted. If it’s not too late, sometimes a simple remembrance of why you fell in love can be the spark that reignites the flame.

The fact is, humility and success must go hand-in-hand or you’re ultimately a failure. From our careers to our love lives, let us never leave our roots behind; instead, let us humbly plant them deeper as we go.

dreamfield

By Mark E Smith

There’s a counter-intuitive nature to adversity that you can’t understand or appreciate unless you’ve experienced or witnessed it. It’s a realm where, as a complete contradiction, weakness becomes strength, heartbreak becomes joy, tragedy becomes fortune. It’s where life sends you a devastating blow, only to usher in unexpected triumphs of the soul.

Two weeks ago, at this writing, I was involved in the still-unfolding story of a 10-year-old boy. On March 9, 2015, his family was involved in a devastating car accident, the jaws of life employed to remove the 10-year-old. While the parents, fortunately, quickly healed, the 10-year-old was left a C-4 quadriplegic.

Many people casually describe such a spinal cord injury as chest, down paralysis, it’s not. It’s truly chin, down paralysis. See, The fourth cervical vertebra is the level where nerves run to the diaphragm, the main muscle that allows us to breathe. It separates the chest from the abdomen, and when it contracts, air is sucked into the lungs like a bellows. No contraction, no sucking, no breathing. People who survive spinal cord injuries at or above this level need ventilators or machines to breathe.

And, so in a scene unfathomable to most, this 10-year-old boy lay in a hospital bed on a ventilator, his body motionless since March. As the boys of summer ramped up for little league, he wasn’t among them. Then, in the most tangible moment to date of how permanent his disability is, two weeks ago, his new power wheelchair was delivered to his bedside.

No, this wasn’t a typical power wheelchair. It was small, built for his childhood stature. It had a ventilator on the back. And, rather than a hand control, a small joystick was mounted aligned to match his chin and mouth.

It took a lot to get him in the power wheelchair – everything takes a lot at that injury level. Tubes had to be routed, his body positioned and strapped in. And, all the while his parents watched with fear and sorrow in their eyes, not knowing what the outcome would be – what it will ever be. It was a scene no parent can even process.

But, then, amidst all of the logistical and emotional chaos, all became still, quiet. And, with a touch of his lower lip on the joystick, the power chair moved – he moved for the first time in months. A world of tragedy and confinement was transforming before everyone’s eyes into hope and liberation. Soon, he was independently driving up and down the hospital halls, a special version of seeing your son rounding third base.

And, as the clinicians and his parents transferred him back into bed, it finally happened. For the first time since his accident, he screamed and cried. No, not because of the extent of his injury or the realization of all that has been seemingly lost. No, he cried because he wanted his power wheelchair back – it was his freedom – and he wanted to be racing up and down the halls, not back in bed.

Indeed, there is a counter-intuitive nature to adversity, where that 10-year-old boy teaches us that weakness can become strength, heartbreak can become joy, tragedy can become fortune. It’s where life sends you a devastating blow, and you ultimately can experience triumphs of the soul.

The-Wedding-Singer

By Mark E. Smith

Let’s talk about sexy! This conversation started for me about a year ago when I asked my lifelong best friend – both of us wheelchair users – about whether he was observing what I was: there seemed a sudden shift where many of our peers with disabilities were now in amazing relationships. “When did disability become the new sexy?” I asked.

There have always been cultural stigmas around disability and sexuality – the most historic and inaccurate being that those with disabilities are asexual, that sexuality doesn’t exist within the disability realm. Further adding to this is the totally inaccurate message in society at large that physical perfection directly correlates with sex appeal – that is, the better looking you are, the more sexually desirable you are.  Now, we know in our progressive culture that neither of these are true. However, here’s the question: if we know that imperfect physicality doesn’t deter sex appeal, what then actually drives sex appeal?

The science is in, and the results are encouraging for the 99% of us who aren’t supermodels. While most might say a big bosom or bulging biceps are what people find sexy, the true factors are far more complex and equalizing according to researchers.

Firstly, people find integrity sexually appealing – which makes sense because healthy people aren’t attracted to those who aren’t forthright. The deeper the trust, the purer the attraction.

Secondly, people find a smile and eye contact totally sexually appealing. Admit it, when you’re checking out at the grocery store and the checker glances up at you with eye contact and a smile as he or she runs your V8 juice across the scanner, you’re like, “Was that a flirt?” and it feels awesome. So, imagine when someone at a cocktail party smiles and makes eye contact from across the room – that’s hot! And, if you’re the one doing it, you’re hot! And, if two of you are doing it with each other, it might be time to find a closet – the coat closet, that is, where you can exit the party and go have great conversation over coffee (what did you think I was implying?)

Thirdly, wit and humor are huge turn-ons. Wit and humor make us fun, engaging, grounded, disarming, comfortable and charming. Seriousness is like rain: it’s great as needed, but you don’t want to live with it every day. Wit and humor is the warmth and sunshine that draws others to us.

Fourthly, intelligence is seen as very sexually appealing. Intelligent people both make us feel more secure and stimulate us mentally and emotionally – and that’s sexy. People who demonstrate poor judgement aren’t those who attract others. Act with intelligence; be sexy!

Fifthly, compassion is exceptionally sexually appealing – it ties into deep biological reproductive drivers, where we’re compelled toward people who nurture. It’s a huge turn-on when your partner recognizes and addresses your needs, and you, his or hers.

Last, but not least, people find confidence ultra sexy – bring in the alpha! Now, arrogance shouldn’t be confused with confidence. There’s nothing sexy about a narcissist. However, confident people are cool, calm, collected, in control, comfortable in their skin – and who isn’t attracted to someone with such composure? Just be you; that’s confident and that’s sexy.

Now, the fact is, I haven’t shared anything that you don’t know – and researchers on this subject aren’t rocket scientists. Yet, it proves a powerful point for all of us: sex appeal ultimately doesn’t stem from the body, but the brain. And, if your brain demonstrates integrity, knows how to flash a smile, can make someone laugh, demonstrates intelligence and compassion, and is absolutely comfortable in who you are, well then you are exuding sex appeal wherever you go, a love magnet!

Did I just catch you smiling at me?

EMILY_GRADUATION

By Mark E. Smith

At this writing, my daughter graduates high school this eve. She’s the second to do so in our family’s history. I was the first. Great grandparents, grandparents, my parents, aunts, uncles, no one on any limb of my family tree graduated high school.

However, it’s not like everyone doesn’t try. You start out with all of the hope in the world as a child , but in a realm where we know that cycles of dysfunction are so complex – right down to aspects like addiction having a genetic component – it just gets a grip on you, tough to escape as you hit your teens, your adulthood. I know – I’ve been there.

My daughter’s mother came from a family history of addiction, as well, and not with bitterness or anger or resentment, but with sadness, I watched her fall into the grips of addiction. They say that if you come from a family of dysfunction, you’ll either become it or marry it. Ironically, as 27-year-olds, with our daughter born, my ex-wife and I thought that we’d broken the cycle – we didn’t drink, both went to college, and life was on track.

However, as my daughter hit her toddler years, life went off of the tracks, and my ex feel into a life of mental illness and addiction compelled by her troubled upbringing – while I don’t believe in excuses, I do have empathy for reasons. Again, you can’t fault trying.

As the vortex swirled in our family, I consciously chose to swoop my daughter out. We all were in the generational cycle of dysfunction – my ex-wife became it, I was married to it, and, most disturbing of all, my daughter was growing up in it.

Soon enough, my daughter and I were on our own, my sister a major source of support. And, as my daughter grew, thriving year after year, I was both inspired and scared to death. After all, I was the only person I knew in my family tree to stay on the track during high school, and my worst fear was that my past, her mother’s past would become my daughter’s. Yet, as she grew into a young lady, like watching a thoroughbred round the bend, she never skipped a beat. I can’t count how many of her plays, band concerts, honors clubs, and so many other functions I went to. By 2013, she was named among the top 250 youth scholars in the country, and simultaneously was awarded a scholarship to a summer performing arts program for the top youth musicians in the world – literally. And, all the while, I watched not just with a father’s pride, but awe-inspired by what a person can accomplish with dedication, ambition and passion.

Tonight, my daughter will be among the most honored graduates in her class, her gown decorated with more honors – a stole, multiple awarded cords, so many award pins that my sister had to strategically align them – than I ever knew existed. And, as she walks across the stage, she won’t be the second to change our family tree, after all. No, she will be the first.

See, what I’ve witnessed through my own plight, and now my daughter’s, is that it’s irrelevant where we come from. From a lineage of addiction, poverty, incarceration, illiteracy, and mental illness, none of that crosses the stage with my daughter tonight. My daughter, it proves, will cross that stage as each of us can, where the only legacy her life carries is that of her own – and it’s amazing.

Here_I_Am

By Mark E. Smith

The ultimate liberation of the spirit comes when you look into the mirror, realizing that you can’t change who you are – based on any number of factors totally beyond your control – and you just say to the world with pride and contentment: Here I am….