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Inner Strength insights from the world of sports, disability, entertainment, business, politics and everything else I’d like to share with you.

Monthly Archives: May 2015

Disability Emoji are Here!

 Why I’m all “emoji” about it and why you should be too!


By Greg Smith

I’m excited to announce that I’ve partnered with iDiversicons, the world’s first diverse emoji keyboard, to introduce new “Disability Pride Emoji” in celebration of the 25th Anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act. iDiversicons is adding 14 disability emoji to it’s existing line of diverse images that offer a new seamless iPhone and iPad keyboard.

The cost of the app is $1.99.  If these 14 emoji demonstrate a market demand, hundreds of other disability figures will be created and added to the upgrades, covering the full range of disability diversity.  If your disability isn’t represented yet, fear not, and purchase the ap anyway to show your support.

Why does this matter?

Disability Pride Emoji give people with disabilities the opportunity express ourselves as we celebrate our civil rights.  The concept of disability today refers to a lifestyle, shared by millions of people who are fully engaged in community life. And that includes on-line and wireless community life!  If everybody else is expressing themselves with emoji that look like them, so should people with disabilities!

For too long, we’ve been left out of the mainstream mirror of society.  We never see the “fan cam” on the wheelchair section at ballgames.  We never see stars with disabilities saving the day, in slow-motion, rolling away from the explosion in the background.  But thanks to iDiversicons, we are on the cutting edge of a growing trend.

iDiversicons is the brainchild of Katrina Parrott, a former NASA employee who got the idea from her daughter Katy, who expressed a desire to send her friends emoji that looked like her.  So iDiversicons’ emoji encompass various races, biracial and gender equality, religion, animals, holidays, sports, mascots, fraternities, sororities and now, disabilities. As a pioneer for diversity and inclusion, iDiversicons’ revolutionary new iPhone and iPad keyboard features truly diverse emoji, satisfying a void that current emoji lack and what the public has been asking for: “more faces of color and diversity.” There are over 900 iDiversicons to choose from, including an unmatched five different skin tones.

Emoji are on the rise!

Emoji are rising fast in popularity.  Here’s a graphic that represents their usage since the were introduced on Apple’s iOS in 2011.


The iDiversicons’ keyboard is fluid, seamless and very easy to use. All diverse emoji are contained in the keyboard like a font. Emoji can instantly be made larger for easier viewing and selection purposes. There is no limitation in the number of iDiversicons you can select and send at one time. This first batch of Disability Pride Emoji is just the beginning of what will become hundreds of images when the funding becomes available.

We’re interested in your ideas for images too.  Download the latest version of iDiversicons as a vote for inclusion of people with disabilities in a rising form of expression.

What additional emoji would you like to see added?  Post in the comments section below and we will make it happen in the next version!

Hear my interview with founder Katrina Parrott on “Timeout with the Strength Coach,” my weekly podcast.

“Aim High in Steering.”


By Greg Smith

When I was a 16-year-old driver’s education student, my teacher repeated those words over and over. Young drivers tend to focus on very short distances in front of them and continually make steering adjustments to keep the vehicle within the lines.

The result is the vehicle jerks back and forth. And for the driver, the experience is stressful because of the constant life/death decisions made with each slight turn of the wheel.

Instead, as you know if you drive, you should focus your attention much father down the road. If you do that, you’ll learn to trust that the vehicle will get you there in a straight line.

At the age of 16, I was devastated to learn that because of muscular dystrophy and my weakened arms, I would not be able to drive a normal vehicle. But all hope was not lost. I learned of a technology called “zero effort steering” which helped people with reduced strength turn the wheel with much less force. It was technology that was developed for astronauts to use on the lunar rover and was applied to the real world to change the lives of people with disabilities on this planet.

In 1987, I got my first set of wheels, a Dodge Ram mini-van and I’ve been driving with zero effort steering ever since! Four vans later, I’m still free to go wherever I want.

I can still drive skillfully, but because of muscular dystrophy, my body has become a lot weaker over the years. In situations where I have to turn the wheel around and around, such as making a 3-point turn or in tight parking garages, it tires me out.

I have always accepted that there would come a day when I would no longer be able to drive. I have “known” that day was coming and dreaded the loss of freedom that would result.

As fate would have it, I wasn’t aiming high enough in steering! The technology has advanced to the point where the simple movement of a joystick can operate a vehicle with precision. I now know that day of losing my freedom will never happen because I’ll always be able to move the joystick.


This week, Jim Kennedy from Atlanta’s Shepherd Center came to visit me to evaluate me for new driving technology. I learned that driving a vehicle with a joystick is nothing like driving a power wheelchair. Press the joystick forward and hear the engine rev. Pull backwards to apply the brakes. Move your wrist an inch to the right and watch the steering wheel quickly whip around and around to the right.

Sounds simple right? When I get used to it, it will be. But I took the van up and down my neighborhood street about 20 times and still wasn’t comfortable taking it out on the main road.

But Jim encouraged me. I pulled up to the intersection. Looked both ways. Moved my joystick to the right and slightly forward… ever so slightly. And suddenly, I found myself in panic mode on Government Street in Ocean Springs, Mississippi! It is a very narrow curving road with lots of traffic and has no shoulder. You have to “thread the needle” to keep the vehicle in the safe spot between having a head on collision and rolling the van in the gutter. And then I heard the voice of my high school driver’s ed teacher.

“Aim high in steering.” It calmed me down and it worked.

The next day, I was whipping the “green monster” all around Ocean Springs until I reached a sharp turn on Government, misjudged it slightly and ran on the “drunk alarm” ridges on the side of the road. The sound was loud and I was scared, but I remained calm and in control. I didn’t overcompensate and in a mater of seconds, I was back in command.

“That scared me.”

“Not me, said Jim.”

“Why not?”

“Because you didn’t jerk the wheel,” he said. “I’ve flipped upside down because…”

“Don’t talk about that sh*t!” I yelled quite seriously! Jim chuckled.

Aim High in Steering

It is a phrase that it applies to my goals and dreams just like it applies to keeping the car on the road. Look far into the future and see yourself where you want to be. Keep your eye on your destination and trust that your vehicle will keep you on the straight and narrow road to success.

Hear my interview with Jim Kennedy from Atlanta’s Shepherd Center this week on “Timeout with the Strength Coach.” The show will be available Sunday night/Monday morning at 12am Eastern Time, 11pm Central time. 

Guest Blog: From Poster Child to President

Shut-down of MDA Telethon inspires former ‘poster child’ to reflect and share vision

By Emily Wolinsky


In 1984, at age seven, I was selected to represent the Muscular Dystrophy Association as its Greater Rochester Area/New York State “Poster Child.” This was a big year for me. My smile was spread all over the area in photos and local commercials.  I met a lot of people, and I was sent to camp for a week with other kids that looked just like I did.

This was also my earliest memory of disability. Before the MDA Jerry Lewis Labor Day Telethon, I didn’t know  being different was a problem, or that I needed to be cured. I also didn’t realize that I had a life ahead of me of being different.


The Cure and Santa Claus

As the years rolled by and I grew to become an adult, I soon realized that the “cure” my family was promised was a well-positioned fantasy, and that the true “disease” that I “suffered” from had nothing to do with Spinal Muscular Atrophy, but rather a general dismissal of disability by the greater society that I lived in; a society that never really found out what happened to Jerry’s kids after they grew up and didn’t care.

So what happened to “Jerry’s Kids?” Where did we go after attending MDA summer camp? What happened after Jerry Lewis sang, “You’ll never walk alone” at the conclusion of the telethon? Did we suffer and die? Or did we flourish and shine?

Well, I suppose it depends. A lot of it came down to our access to great medical care and technology, our support system, our education, our financial stability. Yes, some of us suffered and died. And yes, some of us flourish and shine. But very little of it had to do with the dollars that were dropped into a fireman’s boot or the shamrocks that were purchased. In fact, for me at least, I figured out as a teenager that MDA was more about idealism and childhood than the reality of living day to day with a disability as an adult.

After many years of disassociating myself from MDA, in 2012, I had the fortune of invitation. This invitation was as close to a “cure” for my “disease” as I will probably ever get. Jeff K. Hoffman, an adult with Spinal Muscular Atrophy from North Carolina, started a Facebook group called “Living with MD”, and a group member, who knew I was eager to meet and connect with others who were living as adults with neuromuscular disabilities, invited me to join.

This group changed my life in fantastic ways. The power of connection, advocacy, and empathy has made every single day better. The 794 members from all over the world remind me that I am not alone and reinforce the belief that with access to great medical care, a solid support system, education, and financial stability, barriers can be broken down.

In this confidential support group I’ve learned much about what Jerry’s grown children now face. The transition to adulthood was not easy for many of us. The knowledge to make the transition to independent living is severely lacking, along with access to personal attendant care, housing, transportation, therapies, technology, education, and employment. Yet, within “Living with MD,” hundreds of experienced and brilliant advocates post daily with advice for living.

Within this group, I’ve also come to realize that the MDA is not a big, bad, terrible thing, but it is has evolved into an organization that is missing a huge mark. That mark is the MDA’s forgotten kids who can contribute in ways so much greater than any we were credited for as children. We are educated, we are skilled, and we understand more than anyone else what a neuromuscular disability does.


Jeff Hoffman – Founder of “Living with MD” Facebook Group

Only 17.6 percent of people with disabilities are employed, whereas the employment-population ratio for those without a disability is 64.0 percent. I have met so many adults with neuromuscular disabilities (NMDs) who have degrees and are looking for meaningful work, yet the majority of MDA local offices do not have a single person with a NMD working at them!

Why is this? I suspect employing adults with NMDs would be bad for business.  If these poster kids now adults were put to work, we wouldn’t be perceived as incapable or suffering.

I will not support the MDA until it puts people with NMDs into inclusive, leadership, and management roles within the organization. I’ve grown tired of non-profits that exist for the alleged benefit of a population, but who do not employ the very people they supposedly exist for; who see us as a disease.

We are so much more than a disease. This is exactly why I helped start NMD United​ because our goal is to hire as many qualified individuals within our community as we can and serve our own. I am confident that NMD United will be able to do great things for people LIVING, not dying, without reducing our abilities to contribute and participate.

NMD United has a current board of 6 individuals with NMD – TK Small​, Alex Landis​, Greg Smith​, Lorinda Gonzalez​, Jeff K. Hoffman​ and me. Our attorney, Kevin Fritz​, who helped us to set up our 501c3, has a NMD. Our web designer, Latish Jack Vohra​, who we have hired to design our new website (coming soon!) has a NMD. Jenna Luzzo​, a LMSW and our volunteer Counseling and Peer Support Coordinator, has a NMD. Our contracted Project Manager, Lauren Sanford​, will help us with setting up programming this summer, has a NMD. And finally, our summer intern, Katherine Landis​, a student at NYU who has a NMD, will focus on research and development.


It’s not going to happen overnight, but my goal is to one day see NMD United become a household name, like MDA, but without the protests, tears, and inspiration porn. I believe we will help thousands upon thousands internationally without having to resort to diminishing our existence to a medical problem that needs to be erased. We have grown to be so much more than that.

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