Greg Smith Keynote Speaker

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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.

Category Archives: Diversity

“Super Crip” Author Kills It On Philadelphia Radio Airwaves

Philadelphia Sports Radio Listeners Get “Schooled” During Groundbreaking Radio Interview

Rob Quinn, Author ofThe Adventures of Red O'Ryan:The Birth of Super Crip

Rob Quinn, Author of The Adventures of Red O’Ryan: The Birth of Super Crip

Gotta give a shout out to my fellow journalist colleague Rob Quinn. The Philadelphia writer, who happens to have cerebral palsy, has shattered a significant barrier and his accomplishment needs to be more thoroughly acknowledged.  So click “share” and “like” and “retweet” for the good of society! 

Gotta start with a little personal background:  

Many years ago during the rise of my nationally syndicated “On A Roll” radio show, I did a remote broadcast at a disability conference in Ohio.  One of the organizers of the conference was a man with cerebral palsy.  His speaking was difficult for me to understand.  He wanted me to interview him on the show.  I rejected him.

My rationale was that the conservative decision makers at the news/talk radio stations to whom I was marketing the show wouldn’t be receptive. I was trying to “expand the voice” for people with disabilities by increasing the number of affiliates and I made the difficult judgement call to not allow him as a guest.  I’ve long regretted that decision, made nearly 20 years ago.  

So, fast forward.  

On February 25, 2016, Quinn broke new ground by commanding the airwaves during a 15-minute (that’s a hellava long time) live radio interview on a top sports radio station in Philadelphia!  He was promoting his new book. John Marks of 97.5 FM “The Fanatic” was the host.  

While listening to the stream, I closed my eyes and put my brain in a very familiar place: right between Marks’ headphones. In the first 30 seconds, I cringed twice.  

My first cringe was in reaction to how Rob was introduced: (“Rob suffers from cerebral palsy…”)  

The second cringe was my reaction to the way Rob spoke and the fact that I couldn’t understand him!  I had never heard him speak before.  All of our communication had been online. 

Of course I continued to listen and what transpired next was self-revealing:  I started to listen more intently. I started to pick up on his speech patterns.  I couldn’t understand every word.  But I understood enough to realize that I was enjoying the interview!

I could tell that Marks was reacting similarly because at first, he seemed too controlling of the dialogue, pulling from Quinn’s bio as his “GPS” to a destination he had in mind for the interview. But as the conversation went on, he began to relax and let his guest make points that struck a chord. 

Like a true public relations pro, Quinn handled his business, first focusing on the task at hand: promoting his book.  Philadelphia sports fans learned that The Adventures of Red O’Ryan: The Birth of Super Crip, is a fictional story about a high school kid who has cerebral palsy and is being mainstreamed into his neighborhood school.  He is a sports fan and is dealing with a bully.  

When Marks asked about Quinn’s motivation for writing fiction, the conversation immediately careened off-road, causing the wiring on Marks’ “GPS” to go haywire.

  • QUINN: I wanted to do something fun and entertaining.  At the same time, I wanted to write a realistic book about a disabled character.  There’s so much out there that they (undecipherable) play up the handicap … a point without being inspiration and all that and a lot of disabled people are fed up with that.”
  • MARKS: “So you wanted to inspire, because I know you had written something before that said ‘I’m not here to inspire you.’  With this story you were maybe looking to give some inspiration.”
  • QUINN: “No!”
  • MARKS: “No inspiration!”
  • QUINN: “What I’m saying is a lot of stories that go down that road where it’s all about overcoming and all that stuff.  This is not that.”
  • MARKS:  “It’s not about that.  This is just real.  Because in real life, there’s not inspiration happening.  You’re just trying to live life and deal with it.”
  • QUINN:  “Right.  For example, when you introduced me you said that I suffer from CP. That’s ok.  I get it.  A lot of people say that.  But the way I feel, I don’t suffer.  I have a life and yeah I happen to have CP.  I know that must sound like a subtile difference but it really is a big deal for a lot of people with disabilities.”
  • MARKS:  “You make me feel like an idiot, Rob.  When someone says to me ‘You suffer from diabetes… I feel so bad for you.’  No diabetic feels bad for themselves.  You have what you have and you deal with it because it’s everyday life.  On a regular basis you’re not thinking about it.  You live life, so I feel silly saying you suffer from cerebral palsy.  You’re not suffering from it.  You’re living with it every day.”

Home Run!  Quinn flips the bat, stares toward the left field fence and rounds the bases!  Thousands of Philadelphia sports fans learn how to avoid feeling like idiots!  

I smiled while listening, but it was short lived as another cringe quickly developed!  Marks over-reacted to how he felt stupid.  

“I manage to stick my foot in my mouth every ten minutes or so,” he joked.  But that reaction is universal and it is one of the reasons why educating the mainstream population about disability etiquette is so difficult.  We want to tell non-disabled people what we think, but we don’t want to offend them or make them feel bad.  

I know it’s confusing.  You have some disabled people talking about how they don’t want to be perceived as inspirational.  And then you have people with disabilities like me who build their careers around inspiration.  

Here’s my take: People with disabilities, like any other group, are a bag of mixed nuts.  Some are smart.  Some are absolutely stupid.  Some are fun to be around.  Others make you sick.  And some inspire people while others host pity parties.  I hope Quinn has inspired you at the very minimum to check out his book. 

The Adventures of Red O’Brien.  The Birth of a Super Crip  

You can listen to the show here:

http://975thefanatic.com/2016/02/25/109028/


Footnote:

Rob Quinn was very instrumental in getting the ADA Fan Cam initiative rolling in 2015.  His article about my project was the first coverage of the campaign which led to 3 million people seeing fans with disabilities during Major League Baseball games on July 26, 2015 — the 25th Anniversary of the ADA.   We’re gearing up for a repeat this year, and adding our push to get fans with disabilities represented in random shots of the crowd more regularly throughout the season.  

Please go to www.Facebook.com/ADAFanCam, post a picture of yourself in the crowd at a MLB game, “like” the page and “share” it with your online following.  

 

Screening of PBS Documentary “On A Roll: Family, Disability & the American Dream” Starts Now!

PBS page banner

PBS site for documentary On A Roll: Family, Disability and the American Dream: www.PBS.org/onaroll

Watch online now at www.onarollmovie.com

We’ve come a long way since 1990. We’ve also come a long way since 2000. That year, the disability community, led by the American Association of People with Disabilities (AAPD) planned a 24-city, cross-country relay that celebrated the 10-year anniversary of ADA.

That relay and the events of July 26, 2000 are a major part of the award winning PBS documentary film, “On A Roll: Family, Disability and the American Dream.”  It is a nostalgic look back at the disability community’s biggest celebration to date.

The film was made by Joanne Caputo, who learned of my work as host of “On A Roll Radio” as a result of the friendship our young sons developed in Yellow Springs, OH. It started with her bringing her camcorder to our house.

From now, throughout the month of July, “On A Roll” is available free at www.onarollmovie.com. Please enjoy and spread the word about it. When it aired on PBS, 1.2 million people saw the initial broadcast. Hopefully, we can reach as many people this month as we celebrate the 25th Anniversary of the ADA.

Star Studded Cast!

Here are most of the people with cameos in the film, in order of appearance:

Berkeley Smith
Donovan Smith
Greg A. Smith, Jr.
Rev. Jesse Jackson
Mike Ervin
Christopher Reeve
Dr. JR Harding
Becky Ogle
Judy Heumann
Bob Kafka
Jim Smith
Adelia Smith
Jackie Cammon
Tonya Tetteh
Wesley Gaffney
Kevin Gaffney
Eric Gaffney
Todd Richardson
“Duke”
Ron Pope
Jane Criddell
Ron Pope
Jeannie Morris
Angie Jacobs
Michelle Carston
Dr. Mitch Tepper
Terri Nealy
Eleanor Smith
Dominique Wilkins
Masha Malikina
Bobby Coward
Juliette Rizzo
Andy Imparato
Justin Dart
Ann Marie Hughey
Kyle Glozier
Senator Tom Harkin
Vice President Al Gore
Paul Spooner
Ted Kennedy Jr.
Senator Edward Kennedy
President Bill Clinton
Yoshiko Dart
Hillary Clinton
Rep. Jan Schakowsky
Steve Drosdow
Joyce Preston Scott
Gilda Dennis
Kate Adamson

Get your popcorn ready! I hope you enjoy one of the greatest disability documentaries ever made.

Guest Blog: From Poster Child to President

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

By Emily Wolinsky

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

More about “On A Roll”

I can’t believe it has been 10 years since the “On A Roll” documentary.  I’m so excited that the film is coming back to the Web throughout the month of July.  Over a million people in the US saw it, but now millions more around the world will have the opportunity.

Here’s what they were saying a decade ago:

From ITVS Web Site

(San Francisco, CA) — Two million Americans use wheelchairs. 54 million Americans have a disability. From his state-of-the art radio studio in his parents’ Mississippi house, Greg Smith—“the wheelchair dude with attitude”—uses his popular nationally syndicated radio program to offer advice, encouragement and inspiration to not only the huge number of disabled Americans but all Americans. His upbeat, tough, and often humor-filled message closes the gap between the abled and disabled by stressing that we all need help from each other, everyday. Directed by Joanne Caputo, ON A ROLL will air nationally on the acclaimed PBS series Independent Lens on Tuesday, February 15, 2005 at 10 P.M. (check local listings) in conjunction with Black History Month.

Greg Smith sounds like a normal dad as he talks to his daughter on his cell phone and calls her “sweetie pie,” but interviews with his three kids prove opposite: “He needs help using the bathroom and getting in bed. He can’t play baseball that good.” Yet daughter Berkeley also knows what he can do: “He can move and drive… and talk.” It’s an accurate description as we hear Smith telling listeners about his new power wheelchair that can zoom around at 8 miles an hour.

Smith looks tiny and emaciated, but with a deep announcer’s voice he interviews Christopher Reeve, then blows the whistle on Clint Eastwood, Nike and Rush Limbaugh, all guilty of insensitivity to people with disabilities. We soon realize that he is no ordinary 65-pound man. He’s the host of On A Roll Radio who began broadcasting after a disability job discrimination experience in 1992.

By 2000, more than 40 cities air Smith’s program, but without major syndicator support. It’s part of the “institutionalized bigotry” that people with disabilities face regularly, according to Smith’s producer, Mike Ervin. Becky Ogle (former White House Disability Task Force director) and Judy Huemann (The World Bank Disability advisor) tell us about more concerns fueling current disability activism—nursing homes, independence vs. interdependence and the power of the growing disability voting bloc, now at 40 million.

Though Smith believes there’s a difference between disability discrimination and racial discrimination… (keep reading)

On A Roll Again

Disability Pride as ADA turns 25

Who is “The Strength Coach” and what is he about? The book I’m currently reading has forced me to look closely at my brand. I’m a motivational speaker, but what makes me different? What makes me stand out from other speakers? After an extensive process, I have realized that I left out a major part of my identity as I marketed “The Strength Coach.” I left out my disability.

How could I forget? I’ve had muscular dystrophy my whole life. I hosted a syndicated radio show on disability for 14 years!  10 years ago, I decided to branch out and become a mainstream motivational speaker. But the mistake I made was that I left behind the source of my strength:  My disability.

I’m bringing that back!  Nothing changes about the essence of what I do.  I teach people how to turn weaknesses into strengths for increased productivity and profits, leaving them feeling “full-strength swag!”  I just feel like celebrating my disability pride right now, which is fueled by the growing excitement over the 25 year anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act, coming up in July!

So the podcast, Timeout with the Strength Coach, will present the challenges I face and the way I maneuver them, offering analogies for how anyone can use difficulty for personal gain.  My speeches will include a little more disability pride, using examples of people with disabilities who showed me the way.  And in July, filmmaker Joanne Caputo and I will be offering a free screening of the award-winning PBS documentary film, On A Roll: Family, Disability and the American Dream. This year is the 10th anniversary of the making of one of the most impactful documentaries about disability ever made.

Keep checking onarollmovie.com for updates and articles.  Sponsorship opportunities are available.

“Boo-Yow” Must Live On!

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By Greg Smith

As I mourn Stuart Scott’s passing, I wonder if there is any closer connection in the media then that between the average fan and the favorite sportscaster.

The sportscaster is our buddy who goes to all the games and tells us the inside scoop. Their message arrives every day as a constant in our lives giving us the good news or bad news, depending on who we root for. Each does so with unique style and personality. Many of us force our way through the newscast because we need to stay informed, but we reward ourselves with the sportscast. And because of the joy they bring, just by the nature of what they do, we become connected to the sportscaster.

In my house, the voice of the sportscaster is the most prevalent reverberation booming from my surround sound daily. It starts with Mike and Mike in the darkness of the morning, and ends with the overnight repeating SportsCenter that I have fallen asleep on and listened to in my dreams a few times before grabbing the remote and completing the cycle. I’m not always paying attention, but the personalities on ESPN are constant company. They are my closest friends.

That’s why Stuart Scott’s death struck me so hard. In the hours and days since the tragic news, I’ve come to realize that what hurts is that I’ve lost not only a friend, but someone like family. Someone who was in my house every day.

Once, I aspired to BE Stuart Scott. I was a sportscaster from high school through college and worked professionally, ascending to broadcasts on game day for the Arizona Cardinals and covering Phoenix Suns games for major market radio stations. That was before I recognized a calling to broadcast about disability issues and built a show that was thriving by the mid-90s. And that’s when Stuart Scott came on the scene.

Remember how when we first saw him, we were captivated by how he wasn’t “acting” like a stereotypical sportscaster? He was being himself. And that honesty is what captured us and allowed him into our hearts.

After 21 years of entertaining and informing us, he inspired us with his remarks at the 2014 ESPYs when he was presented the Jimmy V Perseverance award: “When you die, that does not mean you lose to cancer. You beat cancer by how you live, why you live and in the manner in which you live.”

I don’t think you have to be a cancer survivor to take wisdom and inspiration from those words. How do you live? Why do you live? In which manner do you live?  For me, at age 50 with severe muscular dystrophy, those words and the way Stuart lived give me a sense of urgency to live with the purpose of inspiring people and enjoying the love of my children.

Boo-Yow Forever!

Stuart’s voice is silent now, but I for one, propose that his feel-good vernacular live on forever. At some point, when the time is right, I hope ESPN decides to encourage the occasional “Boo-Yow” as a tribute to the man who was a friend and entertainer to millions for over two decades.

What do you think?

Podcast Debut – “Timeout with the Strength Coach”

picture of Greg Smith's studio mic flag and microphone

Photo credit: Amanda McCoy, Biloxi Sun Herald

By Greg Smith

I think the stars have finally aligned for me to maximize and fully utilize my best skill set. I am good at speaking, and pretty good at writing, but I am best at broadcasting, and we are now well into the era of the podcast!

My new podcast, Timeout with the Strength Coach will be ready for your download on Monday, November 3! Every week, I will be uploading an hour stuffed full of motivational knowledge, expert guests, my personal insights and lessons from some of the top personal development and personal growth thought leaders in in the world.

Back in the old days

When I first started broadcasting my radio show on disability issues in 1992, the Internet barely existed. We settled for weekend junk time on conservative news talk radio stations. “On a Roll” aired live on Sunday evenings and I was looking for a way to expand it beyond the limitations of our time-slots in terrestrial radio.

In ’94, I had a phone conversation with a fella named Mark about adding it to his new network, Broadcast.com. I enjoyed the talk. He was very persuasive and went on to enjoy some success in his venture! You know, Mark Cuban, owner of the Dallas Mavericks. The Shark Tank dude. Yeah that guy!

My success with the radio show wasn’t as marked as Mark’s with Broadcast.com, but I’m proud of what we did from 1992 to 2006. We grew the show from one single station in Phoenix to more than 70 across the country in that time span.

But it was hard to be a listener. You had to remember that the show came on a certain day and a certain time. You had to either tune into the station on your AM radio or find it on the Internet at that certain time. As a result, despite how polished and professionally produced it was, it never quite found the audience it deserved.

The new days of the podcast

Today, everyone has a radio in the palm of their hand!  Now you can listen to me anytime you want, wherever you want, on whatever device you want: your phone, your iPad, your Mac, your PC, or in your car!

You don’t have to worry about the signal fading in and out. You don’t have to worry about forgetting and missing the broadcast. All you have to do is subscribe, download and listen at your leisure.

Pew Research Center polling shows that the podcast user base continues to expand. A May 2013 survey found 27% of internet users ages 18 and older download or listen to podcasts, up from 21% three years ago in May 2010 and 7% of internet users in 2006. Those numbers are expected to rise.

My life’s mission is to take the lessons that I have learned overcoming the challenges of life with muscular dystrophy, and teach people how to apply those lessons to improve the quality of their lives and build their inner strength.  If you download my show weekly and take it with you while you’re out and about, I guarantee you will notice a difference in how you feel about yourself and what you are able to accomplish.

Here’s how you listen:

Go to webtalkradio. From there you can listen online or download the Podcast to the device of your choice. I am looking forward to interacting with you! In the kick-off broadcast, you’ll get to know me more personally and get a feel for my energy and my mission to empower you to build your inner strength.

You’ll also meet a few of my teammates… people who share my passion about living an inspired life. You’ll meet comedian Murv Seymour, my best friend and accountability partner, who will reveal the strength of humor and friendship.

You’ll meet Chad Hymas, a motivational speaking colleague for whom I has a lot of respect and admiration. (The Wall Street Journal called him the most inspirational person in the world!)

And you’ll meet Olympic athlete, author and legend John Carlos, famous for his silent protest at the 1968 Olympic Games in Mexico City. John just happens to be my uncle. Download this show and you’ll find yourself inspired, and enjoying a super-productive day.

webtalkradio page

Guest blog: Life lessons from 24-year-old Cory Jacobson

Cory Jacobson has spinal muscular atrophy, a form of muscular dystrophy. She is mom to 15-month-old Kinley, and wife to Ian Jacobson.

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By Cory Jacobson

The question “What has SMA taught me?” was recently asked in a support group I am a member of. It really got me thinking so I thought I’d write out my answer. SMA has taught me a lot throughout my 24 years of life.

Doctors are “practicing”

I’ve learned that doctors are most certainly NOT always right. They have said things to me that have downright made me cry. For example, an OB doctor told my husband and I that he would need to be prepared to be a single father to our then unborn child because I was going to die during her birth. Clearly THAT didn’t happen.)

They will give out life expectancies to the already-traumatized parents when their babies are diagnosed. They are typically very wrong. They will act (and sometimes even directly state) that they are smarter than you and therefore know everything about you.

But, then you get some doctors who dedicate their lives to saving the lives of their patients. Ones who give out their personal cell phone numbers just in case you need them. Ones who learn things about you. Ones who take time to care for you in the very best way. Ones who admit they aren’t sure about something but will do research to learn more. THOSE are the good ones. Always be grateful for them.

Pushy parents are fantastic

My parents ALWAYS pushed me to try everything I possibly could. I wasn’t allowed to quit. I learned that I am capable of anything. If I have to do it differently, so what? Having SMA has taught me to appreciate the attitude my parents have instilled in me my entire life.

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Attitude is EVERYTHING

If you think you can’t do something, you aren’t gonna be able to. But, if you set your mind to something, you can do it. I’ve had so many people tell me that things were impossible for me to do, but I did them anyways. Call it stubbornness but I don’t take no for an answer. I have accomplished a lot in my life that I’m very proud of (graduating college, skiing, traveling, getting married, having a child, working, giving speeches) and having SMA has given me a “no quit” attitude.

Confidence is King

At first, confidence was not something that came naturally to me. But, eventually, I came to the realization that if you don’t believe in yourself, why should anyone else? I had to learn to believe that, even though I’m different, I’m still smart, beautiful, funny, and worthy of the same things that everyone else is. This newfound sense of confidence afforded me the opportunity to experience so many wonderful things: an education, a loving and supportive (and sexy!) husband, a beautiful daughter, and so much more. I had to find confidence in myself before I could be independent.

Having SMA means that sometimes, things will really suck. It means that everyday things will be challenging. It means that I will have to be creative in nearly every aspect of my life. It means that many people will treat me differently. And when I say differently, I mean they will stare, ask stupid questions, discriminate, and the like. But, it means that I will be STRONGER for having overcome those daily challenges, and for trying to educate those people who treat me differently. It means I will be smarter and more creative for having to figure out innovative ways to overcome obstacles and adversity.

I’ve learned many things from having SMA, but this is just a little glimpse. SMA is not who I am, but it’s very much a part of me. I’ve learned to EMBRACE it and THAT is what SMA has really taught me; you’re given this life because you are strong enough to live it.

Goodbye, Mr. “M”

Greg Smith and "Mr. M"  Bill Meulhauser

“Mr. M” came to hear me speak in Phoenix, November 2, 2013.

by Greg Smith

Last week, I learned of the passing of a man who was instrumental in my development as a youth.  For 34 years as a special education teacher at Downers Grove South High School in suburban Chicago, this man played the same role in hundreds of lives.

Remembering “Mr. M,” Bill Muelhauser, brings back fond appreciative thoughts about my introduction to the disability community.  I had just become a wheelchair user after back surgery and beginning high school.    I thought you might enjoy these memories about  “Mr. M” and the impact he had on me:

Reflections on the environment Mr. M created for special ed students at Downers Grove South

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When my “short bus” arrived at South High School, it pulled right up to the front of the building. Sometimes we arrived at the exact same time as two or three other “short buses” so we jockeyed for position to unload under the covered shelter of the awning in front of the school.

After getting off the bus, I propelled the manual chair by putting my right foot over my left foot. After about 20 repetitions of this motion on the slick tile floor inside Downers South’s main lobby, I moved down the hall to the right and entered the starting point of my day for the next four years, the “crip room.”  That’s what we called the special education classroom.

Actually, there were two “crip rooms.” The main room was about the size of three standard classrooms, but still nowhere near big enough for the 30 or so disabled kids. Many of us were in wheelchairs and many lacked speed or agility, or the ability to perceive depth and space enough to know that they were always causing traffic jams. I learned quickly that if I wanted to be on time for a class, I had to plan my route so I that wouldn’t get stuck in the middle.

The “crip room” featured a complete kitchen with oven, dishwasher sink and refrigerator to teach the kids independent living skills. Bill Muelhauser ran it, but I didn’t learn his real last name until weeks after the start of school because he introduced himself to us at orientation as “Mr. M.” Tall, with a big mustache and a friendly laugh, he was a comforting part of my accepting that I would be attending South instead of the school my neighborhood kids attended, Downers Grove North.

Mr. M was the captain of “the crip ship.” Looking back, I’d say it was quite impressive to consider that Mr. M and his staff took on the responsibility of receiving kids with disabilities from all over the western suburbs and giving them the most integrated a school setting possible.

In addition to managing the special education department, he taught classes to special needs kids and supervised his staff. Mrs. Bretl, AKA “Mrs. B,” and Miss Brown were the other two teachers in the special ed class. There were four paid staff assistants as well as several students who worked as volunteers.

The “crip room” was a place where those of us who were integrated in mainstream classrooms could get the physical help we needed, like removing jackets, gathering books for our next class, or getting some assistance with using the bathroom. We all had lockers for our coats, but unlike the non-disabled students, we kept our books in little plastic shelves with our names on them, for easy access.

The “crip room” was like a headquarters for the disabled students. We could eat lunch there if we wanted to, but as a freshman, I would shudder to think of doing such a thing! I ate my lunches in the main cafeteria, determined to fit in and be as “normal” as possible.

Soon, the daily routine developed. “Mr. M,” Miss Brown, or “Mrs. B” – simple names for the kids with cognitive disabilities to learn and remember – or one of the staff or student assistants helped me remove my coat. I then wheeled myself over to my chest level, orange plastic shelf to get the books for my first class and place them next to me in my chair. Then I was out of there.

As the year progressed, I started to enjoy beginning my days in the “crip room.” As I removed my coat and assembled my materials for class, I engaged in Monday-morning quarterbacking with kids who had severe cognitive disabilities but who knew sports statistics like computers. We would more often than not be discussing a bonehead decision by Bears quarterback, Bob Avelini the day before, or a beautiful Walter Payton dash from scrimmage. This was a very opinionated group of sports fans!

I remember a class vacation we took to Clearwater, Florida and Disney World.  In Clearwater, Mr. M did an awesome thing for me.  I was flirting with a high-school-aged waitress at our diner.  She gave me her number and we agreed to meet later that evening, but the class had other activities planned.  Mr. M was cool enough to allow me to skip the plans and have dinner with her.  Without her knowledge, he chaperoned from a table across the room!

Through “Mr. M’s” leadership, high school was an incredible introduction to some of what would become defining elements of my life. The “crip room” was a new introduction to disability; a familiarity with the diversity and goodness of people, and an understanding that my cognitive abilities made me no better a human being than those who were both mentally and physically disabled.

That year was also one of reward for initiative. I expressed a desire to become involved in marching band and radio, and both of those doors opened to me. Those three experiences, profound foundations of who I would become in life, share the same roots, 1978-1982, my time at Downers Grove South High School.

These are just one student’s reflections.  Hundreds of similar stories could be told about the incredible work Bill Muelhauser did in his career.  Goodbye, “Mr. M.”  You were a great man, appreciated and loved by many.

A memorial visitation will be Saturday October 11, 2014 from 10am until time of services 11:30am at Toon Funeral Home 4920 Main Street Downers Grove IL.

College Football’s Race to Equality

Today’s Southern Miss vs. Alcorn Game Marks a Milestone in Race Relations

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By Greg Smith

Fans of college football are struggling today to find interesting match-ups, but there is one game on the schedule that I find very appealing. We won’t be able to watch it on TV. It is insignificant in the grand scheme of college football. It will have no bearing on the rankings or the NCAA playoff picture. You might have to concentrate to hear the score on Sportscenter.

Nevertheless, the game has historical significance and serves as a barometer of the state of tolerance and acceptance in our society. The University of Southern Mississippi hosts Alcorn State University.

Despite only winning one game in two years, the Southern Miss Golden Eagles are 18 point favorites. 56 years ago, in 1958, when my father was a freshman quarterback at Alcorn, there would be no spread because the game would never have been played. Alcorn, an all-black school in Lorman, Mississippi, competed in the all-black Southwestern Athletic Conference (SWAC) and only faced competition from other SWAC schools. Black schools were never able to test their power against all-white schools from the major universities.

In 1958, Southern Miss rolled to a 9-0 record and an NCAA Division II National Championship. Players such as Hugh McInnis, Bob Yencho, George Sekul, Willie Coats and J.C. Arban led the way for USM. That same year, Alcorn struggled through a forgettable 0-9 season. None of their players even made the SWAC all-star team.

In 1958, the field was wide open for Southern Miss to compete for talent with any other program in college football. Southern Miss was capable of attracting very high quality athletes and they recruited the best that were available to them. But there was one talent pool they and the other major colleges couldn’t, and didn’t want to access: Black players. The best African American players in the country were exclusively on black college rosters.

If Alcorn had played USM in 1958, a reasonable person would assume that a 9-0 team would beat an 0-9 team, right? Southern Miss probably would have won the game, but that same reasonable person would have to admit that it would have been “a game” and not a rout. Honestly, who knows what would have happened.

The landscape has changed.

Tonight’s Southern Miss lineup will feature 20 of 22 black starters. In 1958, those 20 players (or players like them) would be wearing Alcorn’s purple and gold against the Golden Eagles. 9-0 vs. 0-9? Throw the records out and enjoy the game.

In this game, the tables are somewhat turned. Southern Miss is rebuilding, recovering from a 1-11 season 2013. Alcorn enjoyed a 9-3 season last year. Anything less than a SWAC championship would be a disappointment for a team that is returning 9 starters on offense in a pass oriented attack.

“I don’t care who your daddy is.”

Legendary Alabama coach Bear Bryant was famously quoted as saying, “I don’t care who your daddy is,” when addressing players on his team. He didn’t mean that in all reality.  He did care.  So did university presidents, boosters and the media.  They cared if your father was black.  I wish that quote had been true back in the day, but if Alcorn coach Jay Hopson said it today, the truth would ring out!  Hopson is the first white head coach at a historically black college. I’m glad we live in a free society where people are given opportunities based on their skills.  Tonight, let’s toss race and record aside and enjoy what looks to be an interesting matchup.

My parents met at Alcorn. (I wouldn’t even be here without Alcorn!) My sister graduated from there. Countless aunts, uncles and cousins got their education in the forests of Lorman, Mississippi. Today, I’m pulling for the upset. Go Braves!  I’m predicting a close game and Alcorn pulling off the upset.  Feel free to make me suffer if I’m wrong in the comments section below.

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