Loving parents with daughter.

Recently, I found the huge folders full of my medical reports. Inside were pages full of evaluations from doctors, therapists, and psychologists. Flipping through the piles and piles of notes was like getting to sort through my own little time capsule. In the hours I spent reviewing my life with cerebral palsy during the late 90s and early 2000s, I couldn’t help but think “Wow. Everything I went through, Mom and Dad went through too.” `

Thinking about the medical world I was thrown into brings back so many emotions. Mom and Dad, thank you, first and foremost for allowing most everything we did to feel “normal.” I never realized how often one of you was taking me to doctor’s appointments. In these settings, I was surrounded by adults who tended to speak around me rather than to me. At times, I felt like a little spy keeping my ears open and watching everyone like a hawk, trying to figure out if anything was going to hurt that day. With three surgeries under my belt by age 5, no one could fool me by saying that little cup full of medicine “tastes like cherry!” or that by giving me a teddy bear, I would somehow be distracted from the needles that were about to be put in my legs!

But if there were two people I could always look to for reassurance, it was you. Thank you for never hiding anything from me. You understood how I always needed to know what to expect, and your honesty provided a sort of comfort. Thank you for the reassurance, even when it meant answering my same questions over and over again. In those moments when pain couldn’t be prevented, you stayed next to me, squeezed my hands tightly, and gave me permission to let my agony out. I can only imagine what it must have been like to watch me cry. Dad, thank you for being my rock in those moments. I’ll never forget you scooping me up, hugging me tight and making it all better with a milkshake.

As an adult, I understand the decisions you had to make on my behalf were not taken lightly. All that “stuff” we had to do at home: physical therapy, night splints, the eye patch, and that awful electrical stimulation machine! On plenty of occasions, I remember getting frustrated and trying to negotiate because I didn’t want to be stretched… again, or put on my eye patch… again, or wear the “tickle machine” (news flash: those electrical pulses were far from tickles)… again. 

Thank you, Mom. You were so incredibly patient on the days when I thought all my whining and arguing would break you down, and yet it never did. Thank you for all those times you both said, “We know it stinks kiddo, but you gotta do it anyway.” I couldn’t see things with a long-term perspective, but I am so grateful that the two of you were always looking ahead so I could reach my full potential.  All those times you said, “Annie, one day you’ll understand why you have to do all these things you don’t want to do,”  I hated hearing it. But I’m here to say “Yes, I understand now.”

Thank you for being my best advocates, teachers and friends in the doctor’s office and beyond. There were so many things that went unnoticed to the rest of the world: the meetings, phone calls, and car trips all over the place. You spent many hours insisting for me to start, stay, and thrive on a mainstream educational track in school. You reminded me the importance of finishing what I started, even on the days when I cried wanting to quit ballet. And most importantly, you always reassured me that as long as I was doing my best, nothing else mattered. Everything you taught me, whether directly related to my CP or not, has inspired me to give 110  percent in everything I pursue and to live life with an open mind and an open heart.

Most importantly, I am grateful that God gave two amazing parents. I’m blessed because all I’ve gone through has only strengthened our family bond. I know that all you’ve done for me, even when it was tough, has been done with love.

Thank you for everything.

We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here.

Thinkstock photo by Liderina.

RELATED VIDEOS


I’ve seen countless stories about other individuals with disabilities, and I appreciate all  they have accomplished. In my book, a win for one is a win for all.

I realize how blessed I am, and my faith in Jesus Christ is very important to me. I was born weighing 1 pound, 8 ounces. The doctors were unsure if I would make it. By the grace of God and with my family’s love and support, I am here today. I was born with cerebral palsy. I was in and out of the hospital a lot growing up and spent time in physical and occupational therapy.

Being born with cerebral palsy hasn’t been easy, but my family instilled in me the importance of accomplishing my goals despite having this disability. Having that mindset propelled me to succeed at many things including graduating high school as Co-Salutatorian, graduating college with my Bachelor’s and Master’s degree in journalism, and becoming an author, blogger, and ghostwriter.

I appreciate all I have accomplished and feel as if I have so much more to do. My passion is to inspire others to achieve their goals are and not let any negativity deter them from their full potential. If sharing my story can inspire someone to attain a goal of theirs, then I feel I have done something wonderful. It took me some time to understand and figure out my purpose and potential here on earth, but even though I have my days of uncertainty, I believe God makes no mistakes and I am meant to help others find the courage within themselves to accomplish what they want in their life.

I’ve been very fortunate to write and interview some amazing individuals through the course of my career as a freelance journalist, and I know the best is yet to come. For me, writing is a way to evoke emotion, start a conversation, and to be informed about something or someone you wouldn’t have known. Writing is my form of expression. As people with disabilities, we may not feel comfortable sharing our story with others. It can be difficult talking about the stares from other people we may get when we go out, being upset over the inaccessibility certain places have regarding people with disabilities, and discussing our own personal struggle for acceptance within ourselves.

But just as we have struggles, we also have many triumphs, and I am fortunate and thankful to have accomplished the things I have. I thank God every day because I believe He has allowed me the opportunity to do what I love.

Read Morgan’s work at Morgan Lee Reviews.

We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here.

Thinkstock photo by Alex Raths.


I have a confession. I used a walker  starting in pre-school until I was 10 years old, when I walked independently without it for a few years. Throughout this time, I remember feeling very embarrassed and ashamed of my walker.

While feelings of embarrassment are a part of life for everyone, feelings of shame about disability, at least for me as a child, were difficult to process. I’m nearly 22 now, and even though I’ve been lucky enough to walk primarily on my own more than most of the time, my recent struggles have caused me to reach for and embrace my walker. It’s a far cry from the shame I felt as a child.

As I write this, I wonder if kids today feel shame about their mobility devices. From what I’ve seen, they have some pretty neat and cool-designed walkers, wheelchairs, braces, etc. I had some of those options as a kid, but they were not nearly as nice as some of the ones I’ve seen in recent years, and they were definitely harder to get.

I will admit I did drag my feet when the mention of using my walker again was brought up during a physical therapy appointment, after I informed my physical therapist of two falls I had that week and the difficulty I was having walking outside on my own. I dragged my feet, but I knew it was for the best and would help me until I got well again.

The first thing I did when I went home was consider what I would need to function independently with my walker. I went to Pinterest looking for accessories. I bought a cup holder, clips for my purse or other bags I carry, a bag for the front of my walker that can double as a purse, and some tennis balls with smiley faces on them for my walker. (All but the walker bag came from Top Glides, and the walker bag was from Amazon.)

Another thing I did was have a friend of my mom’s duct tape my walker in a cool wolf pattern. You can do this, too. Go to stores like Target or Walmart. They usually have large selections of designed duct tape — quite cheap! By simply changing the appearance of your devices to a customized accessory, it makes you more keen to reach for them when needed. After my devices got a makeover, so did the way I thought about them.

Of course, I don’t think it’s that easy. A lot of growing up has happened between being 10 and nearly 22. So, things just change with time. I started to realize how useful my mobility devices were, how much they helped me and enabled me to live my life and do the things I want to do. In time I learned my assistive devices were things to help me, not things that were forced upon me.

This article originally appeared on CP News Today.

We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here.


When I was around 4 years old, I was watching “The Little Mermaid” with my mom. We had reached the final scene of the movie where Ariel and Eric are getting married. All of the sea creatures Ariel had befriended, such as her best friend Flounder, celebrate her love with her. My mom jokingly asked me as we watched the credits, “Ashley, will Flounder be at your wedding?”

“No, I am not going to have a wedding,” I answered simply but firmly.

My mom immediately became confused. After all, most young girls dream of their wedding day – especially with the way all the Disney movies I was obsessed with romanticized them. “Why will you not have a wedding, Ashley?”

“I don’t think anyone would ever want a wife with cerebral palsy,” I responded. Somehow, at the young age of 4, I had already received this societal message that people with physical disabilities do not find their Happily Ever After. I was already convinced I was not worthy of anyone’s love.

This happened nearly 20 years ago, and yet the message still haunts me like a looming shadow just over my shoulder. I still worry about whether or not my future girlfriend will love me once she understands the extremity of my disability – of just how much it already limits my capabilities and how much it will continue to do so as I get older. I worry she will never be attracted to my body that trembles with spastic muscles. I worry she will be repulsed by my disability in the same way I can be.

Whenever I go on a first date, I slightly dread that talk where I have to explain what my disability is – and the way my date’s eyes carefully scan my body, as if looking for it. Whenever I have sex for the first time with someone, I am weary of what my muscles will do and of the possibility of my muscle spasms turning them away. I still have work to do with my self-esteem after nearly 24 years of living with cerebral palsy. How can I expect someone else to see my beauty and worth in a significantly smaller amount of time? But through being in various relationships, I have learned what it means to be in a relationship with someone who has a physical disability, specifically cerebral palsy.

Loving someone with cerebral palsy does not mean you overlook their limitations. It does not mean you ignore the imperfections that make their body unique and different. Loving someone with a physical disability means you love them with their disability. It means you recognize that their disability is a part of them, nestled within their muscles and bones. It means you know every aspect of their disability, and it only makes you want to be that much closer to them.

It means you hold them when they are having muscle spasms or when their joints are
on fire. It means you walk a few paces slower than most other folks do so your partner does not have to walk alone. It means you are with someone who may sometimes loathe what their body does to them, who may be ashamed of what their body looks like – and you cannot overlook that.

Loving someone with a disability means you understand that nothing in life is constant – including our own bodies and very beings. We are always changing and weakening. But when you are dating someone with a disability like cerebral palsy, those changes may happen at a more rapid pace, and loving them means you are attracted to their body during every stage.

Loving someone with a disability means you may be their advocate. It may mean you need to jump on a subway ahead of your partner so you can reserve a seat for them in the crowded car while they are still a few paces behind and boarding. It may mean you sometimes help your partner do daily tasks like cutting their fingernails or opening cans. It may mean you help them find accessible entrances and places to sit, and offer an arm when they need to go up or down stairs. It may mean you fight to make places accessible if they aren’t yet. It may mean you massage their limbs while you have sex so they do not cramp up. It may mean you remind them often of how wonderful their body is despite their limitations, even when they do not see it themselves. It means you become a physical and emotional support for your partner – just like any partner in any relationship.

Loving someone with a disability may mean you understand your own body more clearly. It may mean that you end up completely reevaluating and redefining how you understand bodies, strength, beauty and what partnership looks like. This love may allow you to expand your understanding of sex, intimacy, and co-partnership in a really beautiful way.

Most importantly, loving someone with cerebral palsy will mean something different for every person and couple. But no matter what, we are all worthy of love and marriage if that is the path we choose for ourselves. Even though we all deserve this option, many of us came to believe from a very young age that this life milestone will never be attainable for us. And it takes years to deconstruct that notion and recognize it for the lie that it is.

Loving me means you kiss my scars, help me throw away these problematic misconceptions society has taught us, and we learn and grow together every step of the way.

We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here.


Every person who lives with a disability faces challenges in this world. I believe the core issue that stands in the way of those with disabilities having a voice that’s heard is simply how the world defines what a disability is. For instance, Vocabulary.com states that a disability is the condition of being unable to perform as a consequence of physical or mental unfitness. The definition itself bothers me because it is so vague and leaves room for someone to make the unfair assumption that those who have a disability can’t function at all. That is both unfair and untrue.

I’m here today to provide my own definition of the word disability. I’m here to tell you that while cerebral palsy is a part of me, it does not define me at all; I’m a perfectly normal college graduate who is just trying to make her way in society. I haven’t been dealt the smoothest of cards, but I have accepted life for what it is and I’ve made the best of what I have. I feel I can offer three very important qualities to the ever-growing disability community: a voice, encouragement, and a spirit of boundless determination.

I cannot use my voice to speak for every disabled person, because each situation is unique and everyone has their own specific sets of challenges to face that vary vastly in types and severity. I do not understand what another person is going through, and they can’t perfectly understand me. But I can and will advocate for others.

First of all, I want to do whatever I can to rid the world of the stigma that tends to be placed on someone automatically just because they are “different.” On my journey, I have done whatever I could to let people know they can accomplish anything they set their mind to. I graduated from college with a 3.6 GPA. I don’t drive, but I don’t let that stop me. I have to rely on family and friends to go where I need to go. I still live life. I cook. I clean. I do laundry. I do everything I’m physically capable of doing.

Encouragement is my main purpose and hope in terms of writing. I used to be very shy, but it has opened doors for me and given me the confidence I need to speak up and help others. I have always lived my life to inspire others. When I was in the seventh grade, I wanted to be on the girls’ basketball team, and I am so thankful that my mom let me dream. Knowing I probably wouldn’t make the team, she still happily took me for a physical, let my sign up and try out with every ounce of love and support she had. I did not make the team, but I was the team manager for a little less than half the season. I had so much fun.

I hope to encourage others to keep dreaming and keep going, because you never know where life can take you. I make accommodations wherever it is necessary; another example besides the driving is that I cannot use a broom. I’ve tried. I can’t hold it right in my hands. My mom solved that problem by buying me a Swiffer Dry Sweeper. I love it. I believe there is a solution to every problem. You’ve got to work with what you’ve got and learn to work around the hard stuff.

Lastly, as an advocate I hope to instill in people a sense of determination. As I’ve stated, I know each situation is different, but anyone can benefit from really being aware of the opportunities that lie before them. Many people are unaware there is a whole community dedicated to advocacy, disability rights, and activism. I am determined and focused on lending my voice to speak on issues, spread the word about all of these organizations, encourage others to get involved, and inspire as much as I can.

We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here.

Thinkstock image by Victor Tongdee.


Back in high school, in addition to my academic studies, I also had physical therapy once or twice a week. Jim was my physical therapist and our sessions were held on the first floor in the main hallway, where people could see me as I followed Jim’s instructions on how to walk.

One day while I was having therapy, my school counselor passed by and saw me walking back and forth, trying to step with my heel down. The counselor approached us and asked me if I preferred to go to another spot where I would not be seen. When I replied that I would, I had no idea what that would lead to. She looked for a hidden place by the auditorium, where I could hardly be seen by others. Jim and I followed her to the spot.

A couple of minutes later, when the counselor left, Jim set up two chairs, one for himself and one for me. I saw the expression on his face and realized he was not happy. Jim looked me straight in the eye and asked me if I was satisfied with my counselor’s suggestion. I replied, “Yes.” I didn’t know much English yet, but Jim’s body language said it all. He was very upset. Then he told me, “Tomorrow, don’t come to school. Stay home.” At that moment I realized I shouldn’t have accepted my counselor’s suggestion.

The next day, Jim came back and apologized. We continued our sessions in the hallway. From that moment on, the counselor didn’t mention anything, even if she saw us in the hallway. As a young adult, I had just learned one of the most important lessons of my life. I learned that although I had cerebral palsy, I shouldn’t hide myself from others. I have to accept myself in order for others to accept me. Now, I realize the irony of the situation, because in spite of having been accepted by my family, at that moment I didn’t accept myself and I wanted to hide.

Jim passed away a few years later. I wish I could go back in time and thank him for what he taught me. Back then I was immature and took for granted the valuable lessons he tried to teach me. Jim wasn’t just a therapist. He was also a friend who always accepted me for who I was.

Ironically, 18 years later I had another personal experience, which makes me think of the day when I wanted to hide. I have big teeth and most of the time, my mouth is partly open, probably due to my CP. I never saw anything special in my smile, but it has always attracted attention from others. People often tell me I have a nice smile. Once, someone told me, “Don’t let anyone prevent you from smiling.”

Since I have a few risk factors that can contribute to the decline of my physical health – CP, my age, and my gender – it is important for me to remain physically active, so I go regularly for physical therapy. One of the other clients at the therapy facility, a sweet lady named Virginia told me recently, “What a nice smile. I love your smile.”

That day after therapy I went back home. I kept thinking of her words and asked myself, how can a stranger be able to see the beauty hidden in my smile, when others tend to only see my disability? The answer was very simple. Virginia focused on my ability to smile and not on my disability — unlike my former high school counselor.

Juana Ortiz’s book “I Made It” is available at www.juanamortiz.com and on Amazon.

We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here.

Real People. Real Stories.

8,000
CONTRIBUTORS
150 Million
READERS

We face disability, disease and mental illness together.