Growing up with cerebral palsy, I was one of the only students with a disability in my mainstream school. This was not always an easy role to play. Being the student with extra needs means that some people will be perplexed by your mere presence in their classroom. I have long said though, that in a world where so many people can be patronizing, difficult, or downright unaccommodating, there are a special few that just “get it.” These people are the quiet champions who don’t need to be taught how to be “inclusive” because to them, doing so is second nature. Dustin Demmers is one of those people.
I was in Mr. Demmers’ journalism class as a tenth grader. In his class, we had to create a photojournalism project on a topic that was important to us. I chose to gather photos that demonstrated an empowering portrayal of people with disabilities. In that presentation, I finally had the opportunity—and the courage—to speak about my identity as a disabled person with my peers. Mr. Demmers’ class was the first one in which I felt comfortable sharing those perspectives, and I am forever grateful to him for creating an environment that made me feel proud of my disability. With Mr. Demmers’ encouragement, I also published an article about my life with a disability in my mock newspaper project at the end of the year, and again felt the joy that comes with having meaningful conversations through writing.
The confidence that he gave me to share my story has made me the activist and advocate I am today. Now, in college, I have spoken on numerous disability awareness panels, guest lectured in classes about disability, and shared my experiences regularly on my personal blog. Mr. Demmers helped me to see that my story was worth sharing. As I reflect on the hundreds of blog posts, poems, essays, and lectures that have come from that realization, I know that without him I may never have been brave enough to let so many people have a glimpse into my world on wheels.
This is where our story gets extra special. Nearly five years later, after many thoughtful conversations about everything from accessible transportation to navigating the home care system, Mr. Demmers’ son Ethan was diagnosed with Duchenne muscular dystrophy. In a twist of fate, we are now connected in a way I never anticipated. It is almost as though he knew that one day we would be part of the same “tribe” and that lives touched by disability would call on us both to be one of The Mighty.
He has blossomed into an incredible advocate for Ethan and a father who will teach his son to be proud. I like to think that I played some small part in preparing him for his journey, as he has undoubtedly prepared me for mine. We are on this path together now, and I couldn’t ask for better company.