Greg Smith Keynote Speaker

Leadership Expert on Resiliency and Inner Strength – Greg helps leaders and teams “Go Full-Strength!” for maximum productivity.

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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.

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Baseball’s “ADA Fan Cam” Offers Huge At-Bat for Disability Pop Culture


ADA WeekADA FAN CAM TV


By Greg Smith

Baseball TV Broadcasters to Acknowledge Fans with Disabilities on OUR day, the 25th Anniversary of the ADA!

“ADA Fan Cam” is a grassroots initiative to create awareness about the Americans with Disabilities Act’s 25th Anniversary. The goal: a mention of ADA during all Major League Baseball telecasts, with cameras including fans with disabilities and announcers acknowledging the day.

It is gaining momentum. The Arizona Diamondbacks are definitely participating, and hopefully, after one key phone call to Park Avenue, scheduled Monday, many more teams will follow along. I’m more excited about this than most of the work I’ve ever done, but you may wonder: Why is this important in the full scheme of things?

The answer goes beyond baseball and back to the early 1950s. My parents have shared with me their reflection on a day when televisions were “black & white,” but that phrase didn’t represent the people “inside” the box. When the first black people came on television, it was a big deal!

“Ma! Dad! Come see! There’s black people on TV!”

Families rushed to gather around the tiny, blurry picture in festive mode. It was a great thrill for them to see people who looked like them represented for the nation to see. Television became a major catalyst that paved the way to the explosion of African American culture’s current status as a vital part of pop culture.

Today, people with disabilities have little impact on pop culture. We have talented musicians, actors, artists, athletes, writers, dancers, but how many pop stars with disabilities can you name? How many who were not already stars before they acquired their disabilities? Others ascended to a “semi-star” status after public compassion over the “tragedy” of becoming disabled heralded them into the spotlight, but never to the level of “full stardom.”

In order for people with disabilities to develop the social confidence to reach our full potential and put our spin on pop culture, we need to be seen on television. That’s a prerequisite first step.

What does this have to do with baseball?

The “ADA Fan Cam” has the potential to serve as a sign that America is maturing socially. I have been watching baseball on TV my whole life and I have NEVER seen one television shot of a fan with a discernible disability. In the thousands of hours of camera shots of fans at ballgames I’ve watched, I haven’t seen one.

I’m sure most directors never thought about it. And I’m also sure that raising public awareness about social issues is not their job. Covering the game is. This is not a criticism of baseball or baseball broadcasters. This is the presentation of an opportunity to make a historical difference, respectfully submitted by equals whose opinion and input deserve to be heard, respected and considered.

This week, we celebrate the 25th Anniversary of the ADA and the civil rights that law has given us. And yes, we should party hard. But we need to realize there is no building code in the language that forces the removal of attitudinal barriers, stigmas, devaluing prejudices and antiquated beliefs about people who happen to have disabilities.

Are we not shown on TV because we’re too repulsive? Ugly? Deformed? Misshapen? Depressing to non-disabled viewers? Would we make people grab their remotes and turn the station? Before remotes, I’m sure some people got up from their “Lazy Boys” to turn when a black face came on television. But we’ve moved on.

The “ADA Fan Cam” concept would not fit any other sport or any other televised public gathering. But it fits baseball like a catcher’s mitt. Baseball is “America’s Favorite Pastime.” It is a four-hour gathering of the common man, where everyone is in their summer clothes, eating hot dogs, cotton candy, peanuts and Cracker Jacks while rooting for the home team. The pace of the game is slow enough for television to do a masterful job of capturing the universal experience of being there. In each broadcast, leading into innings and during stoppages in play, dozens of fans are shown in seemingly random cutaways and close ups. But never us.

If television can accept and honor Caitlyn Jenner, proudly display a rainbow colored White House (reported by openly gay news anchors and reporters) and gather at the steps of a state capitol, focusing the eyes of the world on the lowering of a flag of injustice, surely it can listen to the voices of it’s largest minority group for one day. Surely it can show us in our Sunday best as we celebrate OUR day.

The community of people with disabilities is extremely happy about the accomplishments of the LGBT community, the African American community, the Hispanic, Asian, Native American… all our communities. Because we are you. We are among all communities. And you are a part of our community because at any moment, you could be welcomed into our midst.

We are following you in the batting order. A successful “ADA Fan Cam” on July 26th would be a solid base hit. If all teams participate, it will be a towering home run! So please root for OUR team and look for us between innings as you enjoy a Sunday afternoon watching baseball on TV.

Visit the ADA Fan Cam Facebook Page: www.Facebook.com/ADAFanCam

NOTE: People in wheelchairs are a very small fraction of the people whose civil rights are protected under the Americans with Disabilities Act.  To learn more about invisible disabilities, visit http://invisibledisabilities.org/

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.

“Aim High in Steering.”

driving

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.

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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. 

FAQ: “How Did Your Speech Go?”

Every time I call home after a presentation I get the question.

I have always kept a checklist in my mind that I use to evaluate how well my speech went.  There is so much going through my head as I descend from the platform and my mind is swimming with answers to these questions:

  • Did I assume command of the platform with confidence?
  • Did I connect with my audience and hold every eye on me throughout the presentation?
  • When I invited interaction, did they respond appropriately?
  • Did they laugh at all my jokes?
  • Did all of the audio and video elements work properly? 
  • Was my voice loud, clear, and strong throughout?
  • At the end, did I get a standing ovation?
In my room at the Hyatt.  Ready to go down and give the speech!

In my room at the Hyatt. Ready to go down and give the speech!

Last Tuesday morning in Philadelphia, I gave the opening keynote address on Day 1 of the 14th Employment Supports Symposium, sponsored by Networks for Training and Development, Inc.

  • I took the stage with confidence.  I hit the ramp full speed after the introduction and I started with my planned first line.  Not “small talk” like “how’s everybody doing?”
  • I connected with my audience and I held every eye except for “that one guy” who insisted on carrying on a conversation with his neighbor. (There’s always “that one guy” in every audience who whispers to his neighbor while waving his hands frantically in gestures, making sure that his mission to distract you is most effective!)
  • They were eager participants in all of the interaction elements.
  • They appreciated and responded well to the humor in my presentation.  They pretty much laughed on cue.
  • Despite a dry run the evening before, there was a technical snafu with the PowerPoint presentation at the beginning, but I overcame that and proceeded smoothly.
  • My voice quality was just okay. Maybe because of jet lag, or maybe because I’m getting old, I didn’t have the energy to blast out the booming bass that I’m capable of but it was okay.
  • At the end, I received a standing ovation.

Immediately after the talk, I thought I did “okay.”  I gave it a B.

Then, this morning I received this email from Shauna Roman, Executive Director of “Networks.”

Good morning Greg,
 
 It was a pleasure to meet you in person, and to have you join us for the 14th Employment Supports Symposium! This year’s event sparked such creativity and engagement, and your keynote delivery and breakout session facilitation were a large part of that.  I consider “unsolicited feedback” the best kind of feedback, and I could not count the number of attendees who approached me with positive comments about you!
 
Thanks, Greg, for being such a valuable part of our conference this year, and I wish you all the best in your life’s endeavors.
 
Sincerely,
 
Shauna
 

(And this is what really fired me up:)

P.S. At the beginning of Day 2 of the conference, I did an informal welcome to the large group over breakfast.  I gave them a “pop quiz”, asking them if they could recall the charge that you left us with, the day before.  Immediately, people shouted out “BIG DREAMS!  SELF DEF! NO QUIT!”, followed by a loud applause.  So, your message came through loud and clear – - and it stuck.
 

After reading that email, I now realize the most important questions in evaluating a speech may be:

  • Did they listen to your message?
  • Will they remember what you had to say?

I’m changing my grade from a B to an A+.  And I’m shooting for “straight A’s” from now on!