Koshka & 3.2.

How you make sense of a tragic situation can say a lot about who you are as a person. I’m saying…in terms of perseverance. I deeply, deeply admire perseverance, as a human trait.

And, too, optimism and gratitude are two qualities that I do my best to practice on a daily basis. Especially amidst tragic situations. Tragic doesn’t have to mean something life-threatening, but it can. And one of the most grueling, life-threaetening, tragic situations I’ve ever been “near” … is April 16th, 2007. Last year I wrote at length, on that day, about my emotions and feelings toward 4/16/07, so I won’t belabor the point. You can check out that blog post here. Nonetheless, every year, there are different memories and feelings that I associate with that day – some positive and some negative. This year, two of the biggest feelings are optimism and gratitude.

Hokie HOW Loog
neVer, EVER, forgeT.

Read more after the jump …

Inclusion.

You know, there’s a huuuuuge difference between inclusion and diversity.

I believe that the idea of diversity simply gets at the idea of people being different. That difference can be defined in many different ways. It can include difference of race, skin color, ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender identification, where someone grew up, what their favorite color us, what their social class is, what their physical abilities are…

That definition of “being different” is, simply, not enough. 

There are so many different ;) ways to define the word “different” that the concept of diversity can become a bit convoluted and valueless. Simply being different is not good enough. You can be as diverse as you want to be, but that doesn’t mean there is meaning or anything else good being derived from that difference. 

That’s why the idea of inclusion is so much more important to me, and one that I definitely prefer to communicate to others through my daily interactions and especially through motivational talks and speaking. And especially when it has to do with community.

The idea behind inclusion has everything to do with your attitude and your mindset.

The idea behind inclusion, from where I sit, has everything to do with your attitude and your mindset. Yes, I know I talk about mindset a lot here on HESONWHEELS – but deal with it. :)

For example, I absolute loathe it when people say “oh, I don’t see skin color,” or, “I don’t see race.” I think that’s a complete joke. No, I do not equate that with ignoring racism like a lot of people do (that’s a much larger, separate issue), but I think it’s simply a lie for the most part. People say that they don’t see skin color becuase they feel as if that observation would make them racist or otherwise “bad” in the eyes of others or even in the opinion of themselves. But it’s not the observation that is the issue. It’s the assumptions that come with those observations… 

Read more after the jump …

Universal Design & Access.

Universal access. Think about it. What do those two words really mean?

As a disability advocate, those two words are immensely important in the work that I do. I am constantly reminding others, especially those who are able bodied and may be required to provide some sort of accommodation, that the foundation behind universal access is the idea of making something accessible to everyone and not just a select few. In other words, a design that is “universal” provides access to everyone.

Consider the idea of a long, wide flight of steps. Our nation’s monuments that I frequent provide a great example. Here’s an image of the Lincoln Memorial, constructed in 1922 – 94 years ago:

IG_LincolnMemorialSteps

Now, let’s be realistic: it is an almost-100 year old national relic. It was built at a time where there weren’t many people with disabilities in the public eye in our country. However, fast-forward 100 years, and the ADA is real. There are stringent laws that regulate policies on what accommodations must be provided to people with disabilities, especially in public places. So, yes, there is now a route that a patron with a disability could take to get some great photos with and inside the Lincoln Memorial – however some of the most scenic and well-known photographs are essentially made impossible because wheels don’t meet steps very well.

Now, consider this image:

stair with ramp

It not only provides steps for those who would prefer to take them but it provides, built into the design, universal access to those who may be using wheels. And let me be clear: I’m not just talking about myself or someone like myself when it comes to this design. What if a user is using a bicycle? What if a person is temporarily injured and using crutches? Let me reiterate that universal design is a principle that makes access available to everyone – not just a select (able-bodied, in this case) few.

Universal design is one of the biggest reasons that I am a big fan of Apple, even when it may not be popular to be. There devices are expensive, their software engineering is restrictive, and many don’t believe with their company principles. However, Apple is a company that has been, consistently, on the forefront of accessible and universal access for years. The company often incorporates many accessibility features, by default, into their devices. I have many friends who are deaf/hard of hearing or vision-impaired that use an Apple iPhone seamlessly, even without being able to hear a chime or view the touch screen. The ideas built into these devices that can be turned on straight out of the box are incredible. Their commitment to accessibility through universal design is unparalleled in what I’ve seen in the technology industry and, really, anywhere else in the business world for that matter.

And these features don’t just help the folks who may have hearing or vision impairments – they can help us all. I’ve seen many older users turn the magnification on their text wayyyyyyyy up. :)

Recently, I reached out to the manager of the condo building that I live in, to inquire about the Condo Association’s potential ability to purchase an arm ergometer. It’s the main way that I exercise and the machine itself allows me to get a really great cardiovascular workout. I haven’t used one regularly since I graduated from college 2 years ago, when I would use one 3-4 times each week for an hour. Talk about a great workout!

As I began to research and provide the facts for a legitimate request – I realized something. Why should I request a machine that is simply an arm bike? Yes this would be available and useful for all users, even if they were able bodied – everyone could use a great upper body cardio workout! But what if there was a machine that acted not only as an arm bike, but also as a recumbent leg bike? Lo and behold – there was! Instead of providing details solely on arm bikes, in my research I also included links to machines that other users would be able to use to workout many areas of their bodies – and not just their arms.

To round out my thoughts on universal design, I want to include a short video from the GRAMMYs that I watched a few weekends ago. Consider what point Mr. Stevie Wonder is trying to get a across as he says, “Y’all can’t read this. You can’t read this, you can’t read Braille,” and “We need to make very single thing accessible to every single person with a disability.”

Thanks for reading!

American Crime: Endorsed.

I’ve never been and still am not a big believer in watching a lot of television. I get most of my energy from other people so as I’ve grown older I’ve insisted on real-life interactions, and not watching characters on the tube. Lately, though, I’ve given TV entertainment more of a chance. Especially when it comes to cable television. I feel like we’re almost in the midst of a “TV renaissance” of sorts, where there are so many great options – and some shows even feel like full-length feature films. From the storylines to the production quality; after taking an “Intro to Film” course in college many years ago, I’ve gained a sincere appreciation for well-shot and well-written stories.

That appreciation brings us, today, to American Crime. First things first: if you prefer content that is easy to swallow, light-hearted, and not dealing with very, VERY real issues, then American Crime is likely not for you. But if you prefer shows that make you think, question your own ideas and values, and are dealing with very real, present-day issues that you could easily see if you walked down Main Street of any American town…then American Crime is probably just what you’re looking for.

Here’s a sneak peak at one of the most powerful questions from Season 2 of American Crime. Read more inside:

Read more after the jump …

12 great reasons to learn American Sign Language.

I was first introduced to American Sign Language (ASL) as a kid in elementary school. Those are the earliest memories that I have of encountering someone who couldn’t hear or speak. My cousin – my aunt’s daughter – was born deaf. Over the years, while I strived to communicate with her in a more authentic way, I settled by writing notes back and forth. And, no, not writing a note and sticking it in the post mail, but having full-on conversations while sitting in front of each other, writing paragraph upon paragraph onto a post-it note, notebook, or other piece of paper.

As I grew older, I decided that I wouldn’t settle anymore. The instances in which I saw other people using sign language became more frequent, and it made me realize that not just with my cousin, but also with thousands and millions of other people I was missing the opportunity to communicate. I didn’t want to continue missing this opportunity just because I didn’t want to endure the challenge of learning another language.

So, in high school, I decided to enroll in ASL I. At the time, I didn’t know how profound of an impact this decision would have on my life but it would soon become very apparent. Over the course of that year, I learned to “fingerspell” (the concept of spelling out a word that you may not know the sign for) with the best of them and continued learning new signs through class.

Later that school year, I was on homebound instruction due to some health issues. One would assume that my ability to learn sign language would be stifled without the ability to learn from the instructor, in-person, but I was in a very unique situation. That same cousin that mentioned, along with her husband and daughter, came to help take care of me while I was on month-and-a-half long bed rest prescription after a very invasive surgery. How fortunate was I to not only be learning sign language, but also immersed in it at the same time?

There were many instances during that time where my livelihood would be affected by whether or not I learned and used the right sign. Did I want orange soda or did I want water to drink with my dinner – the signs for the two are very different.

Their daughter, Sha’nelle, was only 3 years old at the time. Those months that we spent bonding, though, I will never forget. She taught me so many different signs, and we learned alongside eachother. To this day, Sha’nelle and I remain especially close becuase of the time that we spent together – that’s one of the greatest, most loving memories I have.

Over the years, using sign language has opened me up to so many more great relationships that I would not have had access to if I didn’t learn ASL. From Liberty and Triton at a summer camp that I was the speaker for to my co-worker, Brandon, who is a tireless advocate on behalf of deaf/hard of hearing people and their culture … I am amazed at the amount of culture and pride that deaf people, and for all the right reasons. I know many that don’t feel as if being deaf is a disability at all – it’s simply a different way to communicate.

So, now that you understand my passion toward learning sign language and the importance of people who are deaf in our society, and their culture, check out this somewhat tongue-in-cheek infographic that shares with you 12 other reasons why it’s great to learn ASL.

And, yes, if you speak another language, then your signs would be different too. I don’t know anything about that, though!

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Paralysis vs. Blackness

For laughs, first, check out this recent skit from SNL. It is SPOT on, if you’ve been paying attention to the popular media lately.

As I wrote earlier this month, as I’ve gotten older, I’ve learned that my identity as a man who has paralysis living with him is much stronger than my identity as a Black man. While MMDI will give you a great explanation of how you can have many social identities, and I definitely do hold many, my identity as a man with a disability is by far the strongest identity that I have.

I think a lot about both identities, especially in terms of how they impact the role that I play in the world and how people perceive me, too. Now, don’t take that to mean that I would want to change myself so that others perceive me differently – it simply means that I am conscious of the fact that people may assume certain things about me based on those identities.

That’s one of the major reasons I accepted the invitation to speak at the 3rd Annual Virginia Tech Uplifting Black Males Conference this weekend. It’s sponsored by the Black Male Excellence Network at VT. Not only was the conference essentially founded by a friend of mine, Reggie S., during our years in graduate school, but I think it’s extremely important to give Black students at Virginia Tech but one example of what being a “successful” Black Virginia Tech alum looks like.


Truth is, a lot of black students feel like they were the recipient of “bait and switch” tactics during their recruitment to the university. They felt like they came for Gateway, and they got to meet just about every Black student on campus, but when they got here – they finally realized that that was just about every Black student on campus.

Unfortunately, it’s not a stretch at all to see it that way. But that also means that I should, can, and will do what I can as an alum to help that transition and their time at the university come along a bit more easily.

More than anything, I’m excited that the goal of this year’s conference is to give examples of the many diverse stories that Black males have to share. My story, I like to think, is somewhat unique – heck, that’s maybe why I’ve been able to make somewhat of a living by sharing it with other people. But more than anything and most importantly I hope to be a model of a different path that you can take toward success during your time at Virginia Tech. Come to the Uplifting Black Men Conference on Friday to learn more.