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!

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,
Hannah!

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,
Hannah!


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,
Hannah!

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,
Hannah! 

Monday, October 31, 2016

Living My Dream

This month, I was honored to speak at a fundraiser for Dystonia. Here’s my speech from a few nights ago.

How do I say this? I was not a huge fan of advocating for dystonia until this year. See, I thought a cure was out of reach and I was really fearful to have hope. I did not want to put myself at risk for heart break. Dystonia had always been a dark spot in my life, it was the first reason why I took a medication for something related to my disability, it was the cause of many difficult mornings because I couldn’t put my shoes on, and then I would consequently spill during breakfast, or after a shower my left foot would be so turned in that I could not walk the ten steps to my bed and my parents would have to carry me. When I put everything I associated with dystonia up until October of last year, dystonia was the worst part of my life.

Then, through a connection of my mother’s friend, Barb. Thank you for what you have done, Barb. I got to tell my story to Congressman Bob Dold. My mother knows me well enough to know I could not say no to me telling my story to an important person. Well Mom, if that was your plan, it worked. The day we met with the Congressman a light bulb went off. Oprah would call it an “ah ha” moment. I figured out if people in power knew my story, it would have an impact on the speed for a cure for dystonia. That day I also met the fairy godmother of the Dystonia Medical Research Foundation, Janet. She seemed to really get me. I also knew that people cared. I wanted to help the Foundation. I e mailed Janet about an internship a few times. OK, I emailed a lot. I finally understood this community, we were not dreaming and wishing, the cure is around the corner, we have a very hard turn to make, we have to pull the steering wheel until it has no choice but to go in our direction.

I’m still scared to hope. It takes courage. Courage I did not have until I realized how incredible this community is. I’m so thankful for the support you all have shown me. I am going to end with a quote from the hit TV show, Glee. “It takes a lot of courage to see the world not as it is, but as it should be.” That is what we are doing tonight. We are changing the world for people who have dystonia and I think that is courageous. Thank you, and let’s have a wonderful night.

Readers, I hope you enjoyed my speech.

In other news, I went to southern Illinois to speak at a conference. I speak at Elmhurst College tomorrow which is always a great time.  So, I’ve been busy living my dream! I wouldn’t change a thing.

Love,
Hannah!

Friday, September 30, 2016

An Independent Evening

It seems as if the only positive attribute associated with fall is pumpkin spice lattes or PSLs. While I choose to indulge in salted caramel mochas or SCMs, I also look forward to Elmhurst College's homecoming events. They start mid September and I enjoy them immensely. In my other apartment, I could not just walk to an event; someone had to drive me which led me to not to participate as much. It's a whole lot different this year. 

The first event was an opportunity to meet the new president of Elmhurst College. It was at a local sports bar literally across the street from my condo. I would have been the lamest person if I didn't go. Sporting a blue and white blouse and white jeans, I started the one minute walk over to the bar leaving my assistant behind. Leaving my assistant behind felt good. 

 
When I got there, there was a stair. This was so annoying but everybody did their best. The restaurant staff had a makeshift ramp as in a flat piece of wood. It worked and I was on the patio with a slew of fellow alumni. Nobody from my graduating class was there so I didn't suspect I would be there for long. I sat next to a guy who did something with machinery. He really lacked conversation skills. I understand talking to someone who uses a communication device is intimidating but just not that difficult. And honestly, I was way out of his league. I hope the ladder was most intimidating for him.

 
I spent about an hour there. I did get to meet the president of the College but I did meet his wife who I found to be lovely. I had a great time but an hour was plenty of time. After I managed my way down the makeshift ramp, I decided I didn't want to go home. I found myself going to Starbucks for the pink drink. The pink drink is a mix of Starbucks' Strawberry Acai Refresher and coconut milk, topped off with a scoop of strawberries. Needless to say, the baristas totally understand when I type out "the pink drink" instead of the description above. I get my pink drink and am still not ready to go home. 

 
The Jewel is all too close and I remember how much I love Reeses! I swear, my wheelchair has a mind of its own It just took me to Jewel where Reeses was buy 2 get 2 free. I'm sucked in and I stand in line. I try to contain my laughter as the woman in front of me is just buying veggies and here I am with four Reeses. I was hoping the woman in back of me would have several wine bottles but no such luck. The cashier has already been through checking me out prior to this so she knew the protocol. 

 
Leaving Jewel, I knew I had to go home because it was getting dark. Walking home, I was filled with glee. I had gone to an event and two stores with complete independence. What could be better than an independent everything?  


Love,
Hannah!