I was a part of a panel on the 29th of July. You might remember I wrote a previous article about the unheard voices. I thought a couple weeks after, that there needs to be more voices added to this conversation. So I came up with this series for Compassionate Atlanta, so that not only me, but other people would also have a voice in this series. I came up with the name “Shining the Light.” I want this series to be kind of like a lightbulb. It gets turned on the inside of every Compassionate Atlanta supporter so that you are more aware of some of the issues and some of the struggles that we as a disabled community have to go through. You will see interviews where people can walk on their own two feet, and you will see people that cannot walk on their own two feet because they are in a wheelchair for the rest of their lives. I imagine that they wish they could walk but they can’t because of their physical limitations. I know for me, I wish I could walk, but I can’t because of my limitations. But I can write for Compassionate Atlanta. Most of the people I will be interviewing have a voice and mine is writing. I want you to hear from their point of view, not just my point of view. I know you hear from me all the time on different articles and different issues that Compassionate Atlanta lets me write on. But it’s time to hear from other people besides my voice, whether that means people who have autism, people who have CP, and people who are blind, or people that have other disabilities. Disabled people want the same things that you guys have, but we have to go around different ways of getting what we want to accomplish in our daily lives.

I think this is a perfect time to come out with this series to show Atlanta how much light we actually have inside of every single one of us. You will also see people in this series that have their own houses and some people with developmental disorders and other types of disabilities represented. Some of them may or may not have a college degree. You will see a lot of disabilities and people advocating for themselves. I also think people advocating for themselves are also shining a light for thousands of disabled people across Atlanta and across the country. Not just their parents doing it on behalf of them, but they’re doing it on behalf of themselves. You will also be hearing from our caretakers’ point of view because sometimes we have to depend on outside help to take care of us.

I’m extremely grateful that you can go along this journey with all of us. I will be writing intros to the article and then questions and answers will be the body of the article. And then you will also see a photograph of each person if they allow me to use one. So you will get a good idea on each individual person that the article is on. I hope this series starts a conversation around the kitchen table so that you can tell your friends and family and they can tell their friends and family and so that this conversation continues. I hope that this also starts a movement around Atlanta and around the country and around the world.

Jimmy Freels
Community Outreach Associate
Compassionate Atlanta​
http://jimmyfreels.com

 

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Shining Miyah’s Voice

The first person that I will be talking about is Miyah Sundermeyer from Atlanta. I went to school at Georgia State University and she helped out with the IDEAL program and that’s when I met her for the very first time. She’s always been very energetic and very caring about other people besides herself. Miyah is a very independent woman. She has her own house, a cat and hosts a podcast called “Hello World With Miyah Sundermeyer”. She doesn’t let her disability stop her from what she wants to accomplish in her life and I think that’s what we can all learn from her. Even though we might have disabilities ourselves, we can look up to that.  It may not seem like a big deal to you, but for us in the disability community, we have to overcome a lot of challenges. The purpose of this series is to open people’s minds and to bring the disability conversation to the forefront. Miyah Sundermeyer has been employed at the Center for Leadership in Disability which is housed in the school of Public Health at Georgia State University. I had the opportunity to interview her. These are her answers to my questions…

Tell me about yourself and your story. What does your light show other people?

My name is Miyah Sundermeyer, and I work at the Center for Leadership in Disability, which is in the School of Public Health at Georgia State University. Additionally, I am getting ready to graduate in December with a bachelor’s in psychology, my second degree.  Apart from this, I have been a homeowner in the greater Atlanta area for the last 11 years.  Currently, I own a red-headed roommate named AJ Mac, who says, “Meow.” In the meantime, I am very active in the disability community as a public speaker and an entrepreneur of a blog brand called “Hello World with Miyah.” Most recently, I just added a podcast to the brand.    Last but not least, I am a woman with an autism spectrum disorder.

Be that as it may, I didn’t always have these opportunities.   All in all, getting here has been no walk in the park.  Facing everything from discouragement, abuse, bullying, and discrimination, I had no choice but to fight for my rights.  Regardless, my light shows other people that one can overcome anything.

What are some challenges you face because of your disability?

Even though I have accomplished much in my lifetime, there are many things I struggle with.   Though I try to educate people, they refuse to listen once they find out that I “Live with autism.”  In their minds, I am someone who has a disability and who can’t have what others do. I am also someone who cannot take seriously. Suddenly, I am talked down to or blown off while others call me “Buddy” or give me knuckle bumps. When I ask them to stop, they often lie to me.  “Well, I do this with everyone, don’t take it so personally.”  Finally, they change the topic around me and assume that I have limited interests.

Among other things, I have learned that I need to be very careful in telling rents about my accomplishments.  Otherwise, they see me as someone who thinks I am “Better than everyone else who is superior to everyone else.” Yet, they also attempt to put me into the disability box and talk down to me. However, none of these people ever get to know me; it’s quite sad. They would rather compare me to their children and control me.

What do you want people to know or understand about you or anyone living with your disability?

People don’t often get it that disabled people want the same things as their non-disabled peers.  When they discourage us, they don’t realize they are damaging a person’s psyche and tearing us down.  Plus, they think having a disability makes us stupid, and therefore we can’t “Understand things.” Last but not least, society never teaches people that disabled people have rights. Instead, they are taught that a person with a disability will “Never amount to anything.”  They also assume all disabled people need to be seen and not heard in the background.

How has living with a disability led you to become a more compassionate person?

For one thing, I have learned to be more sensitive towards the way people are treated.  Whether they are abusive to someone or whether it’s through exclusion.  Take, for instance, family members.  I have seen them exclude their disabled loved ones from family vacations. Other times, non disabled people tend to support each other while ignoring me because I am autistic. The thing is, people are as clueless as to how they treat and affect others.

How can others show compassion to you or others living with your disability?

That depends on the person and their attitude completely and whether or not they want to listen. Some people just are not going to listen.   That being said, some are willing, and I would like to invest my time in those people.  Then you have people who have open minds and are eager to learn from their previous mistakes.

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Shining Your Light: Ellie Potts

Ellie Potts is a very compassionate person to everyone she meets.  She is hardworking and determined to continue her education. I met her at Georgia State University. She was a graduate student helping with the IDEAL program. She has CP, which means cerebral palsy. The reason why I wanted to interview her is, she became my friend while I was in the IDEAL program. She’s also an important voice to this conversation on shining your light.

Tell me about yourself and your story. What does your light show other people?

I was born in a small town. Many people didn’t think that I would have the opportunity for a full life. Even my doctors told my parents that I would have a difficult life and that it wasn’t worth their effort to fight for me. Thankfully they didn’t listen. Because of them, I got a good education with the general population and went to collegegraduated from Mercer University, but because of my disability, it was impossible for me to find a job in my small town. So finally I decided to go to graduate school at GSU to pursue a career in counseling. I’m almost done with my masters program and I hope to start my PhD next year. My goal is to become a professor and conduct research on how to improve the lives of other people with disabilities.

What are some challenges you face because of your disability?

I have severe cerebral palsy. I use a motorized wheelchair to move around and I need help from other people to do many daily tasks. Fortunately, I have a great team of people helping me and a very supportive family. With their help, I am able to live on my own and pursue my education.

What do you want people to know or understand about you or anyone living with your disability?

For me personally, many people don’t realize the amount of work that I put in to do the academic work that I do. While some people are able to write emails and take notes and do data entry, I need someone else to help me do all of those things. It takes a lot of time and patience to do things that are just part of daily life in graduate school.

How has living with a disability led you to become a more compassionate person?

I think that living with a disability has taught me to be patient with other people. Because I rely on others for 24/7 care, I have to be both a boss and a client. This means that I need to be accommodating of other people’s schedules and the challenges in their own life. It can be frustrating sometimes, but I think that being able to empathize with other people makes me a more compassionate person.

How can others show compassion to you or others living with your disability?

I think that one thing that everyone with a disability wants is for people to just treat us like people. Just because I have a disability doesn’t mean that I don’t enjoy the same things as you, have the same dreams as you, or face the same challenges as you. I think that the more we are able to view each other as equals, the better the world will be for everyone.