Q: Tell us about the first person you meet with a disability and what that interaction was like? How did you feel? What did you learn from that experience?
A: I guess I don’t know the exact time I meet someone with a disability. From a young age my family participated in foster care so we had a lot of children with both physical and mental disabilities in and out of the house as I grew up. To me I didn’t really think too much of it, it was my reality; I didn’t know anything else. So, to me, all the kids who came into my house were my temporary brothers and sisters and I treated them as such. I think that experience really ingrained a sense of acceptance in me. It taught me everyone is deserving of love and safety – my parents’ commitment to those kids showed me how to be compassionate and caring. The impact of this experience wasn’t really anything I thought about until much later in my life, but I definitely see it reflecting in how I view all people now.
Q: What is the strongest relationship you’ve had with an individual with a disability or special needs?
A: My brother was adopted at the age of one and half, but we actually had him in our house from the moment he left the hospital. I was twelve when I first held him.
He is my only brother and although our age difference is pretty significant we have a really special bond. It has been one of the most challenging and significant experiences in my life being a big brother to someone with special needs, especially one that is adopted and a different race. There are so many daily challenges that come from dealing with that dynamic, but it’s the time we get together that wipes all those things away.
Just recently he joined the track team at his school. I was so scared for him. I knew that was the wrong thing to feel, but I so badly wanted it to go well for him. I definitely didn’t want him to fail. In his mind he was fast and I wanted him to continue to have something he could feel proud of. Being a kid is challenging these days and I didn’t want him to go out for track and find out that he just wasn’t as fast as he thought he was and have that make him feel insignificant. I wanted him to have the experiences I just didn’t want him to fail. My inner parent was clearly raging. I went to his first track meet last week, and he won two races! I was literally in tears as he ran by. I was screaming his name so loud, I was so proud. He taught me something that day – he taught me that he is strong and he can do amazing things even when everyone doubts him. That’s the best part about having a relationship with my brother, he is often teaching me more than I am teaching him.
Q: What is your current involvement in the world of people and children with disabilities or special needs?
A: For me it’s everyday trying to be a better brother. My goal in any charity or volunteer work is to change just one life, if one person is better off than when you started than you did exactly what you were supposed to do. So when it comes to the disabled community I feel like there is no better commitment I can make than to just be a good big brother who is supportive, present, available, and loving. His success is only proving that anyone with any challenges can do amazing things.
Q: What have you learned from being involved in the world of special needs?
A: I have learned that you can never judge someone. It’s a pretty simple concept, but it isn’t something that actually happens until your stereotypes and expectations are shattered over and over again. And children in the special needs world will continuously alter your perception and expectations with the amazing things they can do. I’ve heard over and over again from teachers, evaluators, and doctors, “Your brother can’t… Your brother won’t be able to…” and he always seems to find a way. He’s taught me that anything is possible. And that even if you have special needs you are special and have amazing talents that the world deserves to see.
Q: Tell us about a time when you saw someone overcome a significant challenge in spite of a disability, OR a time YOU overcame a challenge if you’re living with a disability!
A: There are countless times my brother has overcome challenges, but the ones that matter the most to me are the little things like, being able to read, write, make his bed, get dressed on his own, brush his own teeth. All the things that people said he might always need assistance with; those are the things that inspire me. I’ll see him do something on his own and be like, “Dude? You know how to do laundry?” and he’ll look at me all confused and be like, “Ya Josh, obviously!” Haha?! Obviously? I know fifty-year-old men who don’t know how to do their own laundry.
Q: Take a deep breath and read these stats:
i. 90% of children with a disability in South Africa will never go to school
ii. 97% of children with a disability in South Africa will never graduate
iii. 0.5% of people with a disability in South Africa will never have a job, leaving them to either beg or join a gang in order to survive.
iv. Due to a tribal belief referred to as “cleansing,” girls with disabilities in Africa have a 75% higher rate of being raped because it’s believed having sex with them will rid their predator of AIDS.
v. There is an 80% mortality rate of children with disabilities before the age of 5 due to high abandonment rates
How do these facts provided by the UN, World Health Bank and UNICEF make you feel?
A: Sad and sick, the idea of “cleansing” made my stomach turn. It also makes me feel lucky that my brother has been provided the services he has. Although the services in the United States always could use work, some of the programs he has been blessed to be involved in are astounding and have been really impactful. It is really sad to know so many talented and beautiful people are being treated with such disrespect around the globe.
Q: Why do you think that Uphold Global is a good solution to ending these issues?
A: Uphold brings awareness to issues that most people in the developed world don’t have an understanding of. Their focus on education and their follow-up with the schools they decide to help is something that creates sustainable change. It is a tall task to break a culture and it takes the success of a few special needs children to show the world that their lives are worth fighting for. But these kids can’t succeed on their own, especially not in that environment. That is why Uphold Global is necessary.
Q: Why do you think storytelling and awareness is such an important aspect of providing hope for these children?
A: I think changing the narrative around these children is important to getting them the help they deserve and need. Over the past 15 years organizations have shown helpless, starving, or disabled kids on TV with sad music asking for donations; donations that had no name and no plan. We are in a generation that values empowerment, and refuses to give handouts without a sustainable solution. So positive stories of these children taking aid and using it to better themselves is going to only encourage more aid. It is also going to break the stereotypes of special needs and encourage more acceptance.