About the Author

My name is Hannah Thompson. I recently graduated from Elmhurst College with a B.A. in Communication. You can read about my college days at Hannah's College Adventures. I am a motivational speaker encouraging people to do their impossible. I was born with Cerebral Palsy and that does not stop me from doing anything! I am changing the world one audience at a time!

Thursday, March 30, 2017

What a Month!

As I walked the hallways of my high school, part of me wanted to run out, drive back to Elmhurst, and present at the College. The other part of me knew the reality of the situation. I was an alumnus coming back for career day. The feeling of accomplishment washed over any reminders of the loneliness that enveloped my high school days. I was not in high school; I was back for career day.

I had four presentations that day. I would start by telling them about the work I did for Easter Seals DuPage and the Fox Valley Region, River North Business Association, and finally the Dystonia Medical Research Foundation. I encouraged the high school students to get a mentor such as Dr. Sullivan Morgan of Elmhurst College and that their goals should scare them. 

Genevieve, David, and Mom accompanied me during the first presentation and helped me answer some questions. It was such a great feeling to have their support. The teachers allowed Genevieve to stay with me for every presentation which was amazing! It's one of the greatest memories I have with Genevieve. The Thompson girls reigned at Glenbrook South High School that day! I want to thank Mrs. Bolf, Mrs. Smith, and Ms. Simon for inviting me to career day. It was a blast! 

If that wasn't enough for one week, my sorority sister invited me to speak at her elementary school class two days later! We were discussing the book Out of my Mind by Sharon Draper. It's about an elementary school student who has Cerebral Palsy and uses a communication device to speak. The kids were amazing and asked fun questions. They were in fourth and fifth grade which is such a fun age to be around.

Most of you know my family and I went to D.C. and advocated for a cure for dystonia. We spoke to Democrats so we were preaching to the choir. We didn't meet any resistance. Even the advocates who met with Republicans didn't meet any resistance. We were all very grateful. I believe funding for the National Institute of Health should be a bipartisan issue regardless of whose sits in the Oval Office. I truly believe we took a step towards a cure this week.I congratulate all my fellow advocates on a positive, successful trip.

To top it all off, I was featured on Microsoft Chicago Blog! If you are so inclined, please feel free to read my post there: http://bit.ly/2nbSu5I.

I am so very grateful for all my family does for me. A neighbor of ours commented on Facebook that behind every great woman is a good family. That sums it up perfectly. 


Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Winning the War

If you didn't already know ABC has a show about a young man with Cerebral Palsy and his family. The show is called Speechless. “Maya DiMeo (Minnie Driver) is a mom on a mission who will do anything for her husband Jimmy, her kids Ray, Dylan, and JJ, her eldest son with cerebral palsy. As Maya fights injustices both real and imagined, the family works to make a new home for themselves, and searches for just the right person to give JJ his "voice” (ABC.com).

I've watched since the pilot intrigued by how ABC would portray a family like mine.

What I didn't like about the show:

- Jimmy, the father is portrayed as useless. Here's the thing. My dad does not need my mom to tell him what to do. I know my mom needed my dad to fix many pieces of equipment over the years. While we needed him for many things, he never seemed to look to Mom to know how to be a dad.  he is a strong man and would do anything for me with or without my mother. 

- JJ doesn't use text to speech technology. JJ does not use a computer generated voice; instead, he uses a light and an extremely low tech alphabet board. While I understand that this may be convenient for sitcom purposes, nobody I know would prefer people talking for them over having their own voice. In the latest episode, JJ has a device that does talk for him but in the end, he chooses to go back to his low tech board. It made me upset.

- JJ isn't fiercely independent. Okay, I have a fierce desire to be independent. People who are able-bodied or not want different levels of independence and I do respect and understand that. However, JJ never asks his assistant to leave if his friends are around. If I don’t need help, I don’t want someone around.

- Devices magically appear. If JJ wants or needs something, it magically appears. Life with a disability doesn’t work like that. If we want a new communication device, it takes about a year with insurance. I understand the show wants to educate people and I respect and applaud that but I’m saying people with disabilities have to have a lot of patience when it comes to getting the right equipment.

Things I like about the show:

- It does show JJ in physical therapy. This is real life. Therapy takes you away from homework, after school activities, time with family, time with friends, time to yourself, and anything I enjoy so it was nice to see the show include that. To me, physical therapy is like hitting the pause button on my vibrant life and focusing on Cerebral Palsy.

 - The siblings have their own story lines. This was crucial to me. JJ should not be the center focus of the family and the show did not do that…thank God! The two younger siblings have their own lives and that is how it should be. My siblings all are doing their own thing and we are who we are.
 JJ making friends is so wonderful to see. It wasn’t necessarily my reality in high school but for that to be an example on an ABC sitcom is incredible! I love that JJ is one of the guys.

- The mom. The mom on the show is my mother on steroids. She is fierce, relentless, and JJ’s number one fan. My mom is all of those things but with grace and poise.

Overall, the show does an excellent job of portraying life when you have a family member with a disability. The humor is great, the characters are dynamic, and I cherish seeing someone like me on screen. I don’t think the show will have a second season on ABC. I don’t think the storyline is that captivating. My prediction and hope is that Netflix picks this up.  I know a lot of people who didn’t like how Speechless portrayed other things such as special education. I welcome your comments down below. Please be respectful!

The Thompson family is headed to DC next month to advocate for dystonia. We’re pumped to go. I’m excited to see my friends from last year and hopefully, see new people, and to educate elected officials on the condition. With all the awareness from Speechless to getting to go to D.C., I can’t help but have hope for people with disabilities. It’s a long, uphill battle but we are winning the war.

Till next time,

Sunday, January 29, 2017

Hello, ITKAN!

I am so excited about an opportunity that God brought to my life. Back in November, I was under the impression that I had a job interview with Feeding America. The woman who I thought was interviewing me was named Kathy. She was meeting me at MarianJoy Hospital which is a home away from home for me. MarianJoy gave me a scholarship every year in college. Ability Links has an office at MarianJoy and that office contacted me about the opportunity at Feeding America. I couldn't say no to using my skills to help people who are hungry. This was something God used to get me to meet Kathy.

I show up at MarianJoy ready to be interviewed by someone from Feeding America thinking they must be really disability friendly to meet me at MarianJoy. Well, it wasn't Feeding America. This was a woman who worked with Feeding America and screened people with disabilities for positions at different companies including Feeding America. Kathy was also on the board of Information Technology Knowledge and Abilities Network otherwise known as ITKAN.

I eventually figured out what this meeting was. Kathy determined I was more than qualified to blog for Feeding America. We talked about Feeding America for about five minutes and then she talked about ITKAN and what I wanted for my career. I told her about how I wanted to speak professionally more than I do now. She said that ITKAN had an opening for a speaker in January. I jumped on the opportunity!  Kathy could clearly see my potential.  

This month, I spoke to the small group about assistive technology and my budding career. Here's how they advertised it on the ITKAN website: 

Hannah Thompson: A Young Professional Chronicles Her Professional Journey and the Effective Integration of Assistive Technology to Forge a Career:

At the next members meeting ITKAN welcomes Hannah Thompson to discuss the use of assistive technology to support a full life and career. Hannah has Cerebral Palsy and a movement disorder called Dystonia. The Cerebral Palsy affects her balance and her ability to walk and speak. The dystonia is a neurological movement disorder that causes involuntary movements in all of her extremities. She utilizes various assistive technology to improve her productivity and assure her success. She uses a DynaVox to communicate daily, and it has also played a critical role in support of her motivational speaking career. With the use of Intellikeys, Hannah accesses her laptop commands efficiently. Along with these critical tools, Hannah uses software such as WordQ and Kurzweil to assist her in succeeding in college and now in her career.
Here's an excerpt from my speech: 

"I truly believe I have only scratched the surface when it comes to my career. I want to write a book, I have a blog that I write in monthly, why not a book? If I could, I would speak to audiences every single day. I have so much to do! A career like the one I want demands a certain level of independence. I love my independence, it’s a huge part of who I am, everyone in my community identifies me with that word and it’s an absolute thrill. I frequent Starbucks all too much so much so that the baristas have adapted to putting my drink in my cup holder and scanning my phone to pay for my drink. My independence is what I am most proud of when it comes to how I choose my life. I attended college, I was on the speech team in high school, I was on the FCC’s Disability Advisory Committee, I’m incredibly humbled and proud to have those achievements but maintaining my daily independence is the hardest because I have to do it every single day. From managing my care givers to making sure I go to physical therapy twice a week, it’s a constant job. I wouldn’t trade it for the world. I get to make my mark on the world living this way. I find that humbling and incredible. Nothing is better than the life I live."

The organization is full of people with varying disabilities who are actively pursuing a career in IT. Many of the members have the same struggles as me. It's nice to hear success stories of all kinds and the support is naturally woven into the meetings. Kathy also had me meet Mary who’s a website designer and she is working on my website. Clearly, a bunch of opportunities lie ahead for me with this organization. One of the audience members was a employee at Microsoft. He asked me to be a guest blogger on the Microsoft Chicago Blog in March. I am thrilled and can’t wait! 

To learn more about ITKAN, please go to https://itkan.wordpress.com/

I'm glad God wrapped ITKAN up in a Feeding America interview. It got me to where I should be. After I became familiar with the organization, I got the email that the FCC Disability Advisory Committee rejected my application for their second term. I was shocked and heartbroken. I didn't tell many people because I thought the blog was a better way to tell everyone. 

I'm excited about the future of my career and what opportunities ITKAN will bring. 

Happy 2017,

Thursday, December 29, 2016

This Girl Loves Elmhurst

I sent this in to The Elmhurst Independent. This letter to the editor got published. I'm flattered! 
Dear Beloved Elmhurst,
It has been a joy living here these past six months. My name is Hannah Thompson and you have seen me zooming around in my wheelchair around this grand town.
I frequent Starbucks and you all are patient with me as I type out my order on my communication device; I thank you for your patience. If you seen me struggling with a book at the library and have taken five seconds of your day to help me with those slippery little things, thank you. If you have been on the prairie path and have taken a second to see if I need a little help, thank you. If you are a young Eucharistic minister who do not blink an eye at having to place the Eucharist in my mouth, thank you. If you work at the bank and help me cash my paychecks on my own, thank you. If you are a local business owner that knows my name and takes the time to get to know me, thank you. If you are one of the crossing guards, thank you a million times over. If you are the Walgreens pharmacist or employee who makes sure my bag on my wheelchair is secure on my wheelchair, thank you. If you are a parent that has let your kid ask me a question about my disability, thank you because we have to teach them that people living with disabilities is what the norm should be .
I feel a genuine sense of acceptance in this community. While this country is divided, the kindness of this community gives me an incredible amount of hope. I love that we greet each other on the sidewalk, I love that our kids are respectful, I love how we serve the less fortunate, and I love that you have accepted me as your own.
During this season of joy and goodwill, I wanted to pause and express gratitude for seeing me and my obsession with Starbucks instead of my disability. Isn't it more joyful that way? Merry Christmas and I look forward to seeing what 2017 brings to our town! 

Readers, thank you for always encouraging me throughout the year. Your love and genuine interest in my life is constantly humbling. Thank you for reading; I truly can't believe your loyalty! 

Happy 2017,

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

No Matter What, be Kind!

As we grow familiar with the idea of an unprecedented presidency, I have grappled with how divisive our precious country is. It has saddened my heart at times and I have shed many tears.

However, the ability to be kind is not in jeopardy. No matter who sits in the Oval Office, we all have the ability to be kind. Here are some uplifting stories that have more influence on me than any political leader/ever has or will.

I was trying to pay at Starbucks and things were taking a long time. The baristas and I were ironing out our routine at this point. In a very kind way, the man behind me offered to pay for me. The barista gave him a warm smile and said, "She comes in here every day and I know she has more than enough to pay for her coffee". It meant the world to me that the barista had that sense of empathy to know I don't need my coffee paid for me. My favorite part was that everyone was kind to each other during the interaction.

When I go to the library, I have to lift the book up on the counter to check it out. This can go very smoothly or terribly. There's never an in between. The librarians will either have another librarian be my hands or the librarian helping me will come around the desk and pick up my book if it falls. In addition to this, the librarians also don't ask for my library card; they look me up on the computer instead. This small act of understanding makes everything so much easier.

At Immaculate Conception parish, the ushers know that I like to go in the communion line like everybody else. It's nice that nobody makes a big deal about it. One time, a very young boy was ministering communion. I'm going to guess he was around the age of eight. I'm thinking my situation is probably overwhelming and scary for him. He literally did not blink and he just fed me communion. It was nothing to him. It was such a good reminder that kids are the best examples of going with the flow.
I hope I warmed your heart during these cold times in our country. I love you all so much.

I'm off to D.C. in a few days for my FCC meeting.

Just Doing My Thing,