Kathie Snow’s attitudes drastically changed in 1990, the year her son with cerebral palsy turned 3.
Snow was participating in Texas Partners in Policymaking, a leadership program for adults with developmental disabilities and parents of children with developmental disabilities.
In a telephone interview, 65-year-old Snow, of San Antonio, and founder of disabilityisnatural.com, said, “The experiences (of the adults with developmental disabilities) in that program changed my attitude when I learned what they had gone through while growing up and the actions other people had on their lives. (Until then) I had been hamstrung by poor societal attitudes. For example, a doctor said my son with cerebral palsy would have to have all these (many) therapies in order to walk. It was my belief, like most people, that walking equated to having a good quality of life and therefore we had to expend every effort to help Benjamin walk. Then I started meeting people (there) that used wheelchairs. They told me a good quality of life had nothing to do with walking, or talking, feeding yourself, reading at grade level, or having certain skills. Real quality of life is based on relationships and experiences.”
She said that on their death beds, people with disabilities won’t be looking back thinking how happy they were to have learned how to walk or shown appropriate behaviors or read at grade level. They will be thinking about the people who had loved them or special moments they had with loved ones.
“(Society) keeps telling people with disabilities that they won’t have a satisfying life until they do all these other things,” she said. “The adults with disabilities (in the Texas program) taught me that having ordinary, precious relationships and experiences making up their day-to-day lives was most important.” In other words, from Snow’s viewpoint, people in general should spend more time really listening to people with disabilities to discern their deepest needs and wants.
Today, Snow manages www.disabilityisnatural.com. She spreads her commonsense message through her website, authoring books, speaking, and being an advocate for a new way of thinking about people with disabilities. Her son, Benjamin, 28, who uses a wheelchair because of his birth-related, permanent brain injury, recently graduated from University of Illinois Springfield with a master’s degree in social change and communication. Benjamin’s dream is being a voice-over announcer. Snow said her son had a rich voice and superb auditory memory.