Seeing People for Who They Are. A Life Lesson Turned Life’s Work.
December 4th will mark two years since I have been able to feel his warm embrace, see his smile, or seek advice from him. After living with advanced Multiple sclerosis (MS) for over 20 years my father, Brad Saul, lost the battle for his life due to this disease.
My father was diagnosed with MS before I was born, and as a result, I never had the opportunity to see him walk. This was always a difficult reality for me as a child; I never thought it was fair that my friends were able to play catch with their dads or that they could go anyplace without worrying whether they could get in because of accessibility issues. My parents, especially my mom, always did her best ensure that my siblings and I never wanted for anything, but I still always felt a small void in my heart that was engendered by the circumstances of my father’s disability.
Throughout my formative years, in attempting to fill this void, I began to get involved with my community as I was taught from a young age the importance of Tikkun Olam. I found an outlet for coping with my familial situation through volunteering and empathizing with others. Having a dad in a wheelchair had enabled me to observe the world in a different way and be more mindful about seeing people for who they truly are, not who they appear to be even if they looked different.
Unfortunately, towards the end of my Freshman year in high school my father’s health significantly declined, resulting in him spending months in and out of hospitals. This turned into an intense two-year battle for his life which ended on December 4, 2015.
After he passed away, I felt as if time had stopped but everyone else was acting like the world continued to turn. I was consumed with sadness and ready to give up all of the activism I had been so involved with until I remembered one of the fundamental lessons my dad taught me by how he lived his life: to not let any obstacle or circumstance define who you are. I realized that I could either let my sadness and the experiences with my father’s disability define me, or I could use my pain as a catalyst for change, thus empowering me to found We Are Able.
We Are Able, a 501(c)3, works to raise awareness for people with disabilities through educating people on proper disability etiquette and the importance of creating a society where everyone has an equal opportunity to succeed and become leaders within their communities. This Campaign occurs through an annual initiative in early December, in honor of December 3rd being the International Day for People with Disabilities.
On December 2, 2016, the first annual We Are Able Campaign was launched in Chicago, engaging nearly 400 participants from seven different high schools. This year’s Campaign will be held on December 1. Thanks to the support of the Allstate Foundation and BMO Harris Bank, participation in this year’s campaign is expected to expand to 1,000 participants, including all 15 JSC schools! Not only has the expansion occurred throughout schools (to include some colleges this year), but a curriculum was developed for the corporate sector as well. The school curriculum is a student led, student run campaign to engage youth in solidarity, as they work to expand their empathy for others and learn the mindfulness practice of proper disability etiquette. The corporate curriculum can be engaged by companies at any point throughout the year via a “Manager Tool-Kit,” designed to provide a corporate learning experience on this topic for employees and enhance their team building skills. Either curriculum can be accessed by going to WeAble.org and clicking on “The Campaign” section of the website. A fully empowered populace is willing to be the ambassadors of the change they want to see; We Are Able seeks to be the movement that empowers people to realize that we are all equals and we are all able to be the change we want to see in the world.
December 4, 2017 will be one of mixed emotions: sadness as I reflect on the loss of my father but also tremendous pride in knowing that through We Are Able, I am carrying on his legacy in a way he would be proud of.