What’s so noteworthy about the following picture, do you think?
If you said, “That’s a bathroom stall”, you’d be correct. But you’d be more correct and I’d be more impressed if you said, “That’s a wheelchair accessible bathroom stall! With a ramp to the door! In Guatemala!”
My cousin Chris has been in a wheelchair since a skiing accident in college. He is an accomplished athlete and motivational speaker. In his memoirs, he shares what it was like for him after his accident, learning how to adapt physically and mentally to his new and challenging reality.
Because of Chris’ experiences, specifically his time in Tanzania preparing to climb Mount Kilimanjaro, I may be more attuned to the challenges people with disabilities face, especially in the developing world. Have you ever noticed how rare a curb cut or an accessible bathroom is outside of the United States? Have you ever considered how difficult it might be to get around in a wheelchair period, let alone on a dirt path? In the snow? Without ramps? Without an elevator? With no wheelchair at all?
Needless to say, when I saw this bathroom in the small community of San Juan La Laguna in Guatemala I about fell over with surprise and joy. So today I wanted to share the important and meaningful work that Alma de Colores, a “labor and social inclusion program for people with disabilities” is doing in Lake Atitlan, Guatemala. And to encourage everyone to think for a minute about how hard it is to live in the developing world as an able-bodied individual. Or how difficult it can be to live in the U.S. as a disabled individual, even with the accessibility standards we have. And to simply be aware of that as you go about your day today.
My cousin spends a lot of his time speaking at schools with his Nametags educational program, shining a light on the disabled community so that they are seen, so we all start to see their potential and our own potential, instead of focusing on the limitations. The Nametags program teaches about resiliency, and also about the labels we put on ourselves and others.
Waypoint Adventure puts much of what Chris’ Nametags program talks about into action. Their mission is to “challenge youth and adults with disabilities to discover their purpose, talents and strengths through the transforming power of adventure”. And their work is incredibly powerful! The liberation and delight that comes from triumphing over an “I could never do that” mindset is truly thrilling.
Shel Shilverstein wrote the following poem in Where the Sidewalk Ends:
Listen to the MUSTN’TS, child,
Listen to the DON’TS
Listen to the SHOULDN’TS
The IMPOSSIBLE, the WON’TS,
Listen to the NEVER HAVES
Then listen close to me –
Anything can happen, child,
ANYTHING can be.
Alma de Colores, Nametags and Waypoint Adventure provide the support and structure to make the impossible possible. They teach about the power of community and inclusion, that no one climbs a mountain alone, that together we can transform people’s view of their abilities. Those are phenomenal messages that transcend international boundaries. Those are the universal messages of our common humanity.