Anjali's Blog

#ADA25: The Americans with Disabilities Act: Empowering a Generation

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Please read my latest blog hosted here... The Americans with Disabilities Act: Empowering a Generation

By Anjali J. Forber-Pratt

I never thought that day would come when I would start a blog post or conversation with: “Well, back in my day…” But alas, that time has come.

Back in my day, life was much different than it is today. I acquired my disability, transverse myelitis, when I was four and a half months old and became paralyzed from the waist down. About six years later, President George H. W. Bush made history when he signed the Americans with Disabilities Act into law on July 26, 1990........

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Quest for a Service Dog & View on Independence

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Reflection from my recent visit to Canine Companion's for Independence!

It's not giving up or giving in; it's embracing. I'm not sure yet if embracing in this context is synonymous with accepting. But, by embracing the situation, it creates a space to recognize the need for help, to accept assistance, and to also genuinely be excited about it.

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Coming Up for Air

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A lot has changed in the past couple of months. I have moved away from Illinois, which had been my home for the past 11 years. I am now living in Kansas and working at the University of Kansas as an Assistant Research Professor at the Beach Center on Disability! Amidst all the chaos of packing up and moving, unpacking, settling in and starting a new job, I am now coming up for air to give some updates.

As most of you know, my year has been filled with health challenges. Each and every one of these challenges has been an opportunity in disguise for me to learn more about myself, my disability and has tested my patience in unimaginable ways.

Ten days after the London Paralympic Games, I went in for a routine lumbar spinal fusion surgery and came out a quadriplegic. It took doctors all over the country close to 10 months to accurately diagnose and suggest a solution. I then went in for another major spinal cord surgery the end of May. I am happy to report that I regained function of my arms and hand almost immediately after the surgery. I am still dealing with recovery though. The challenging part about neurosurgery is, it's not quite the same (I'm learning this...) as orthopedic surgery where there is a prescribed plan or approach to rehabilitation of PT and increasing physical activity to improve mobility and to get better. With neurosurgery, you are restricted to how fast your nerves want to heal. As a Type A person, this is frustrating. There are good days, and there are bad days. I am slowly getting more involved and more active again, but still dealing with the physical aspects of nerve pain, tightness and the psychological aspects of wondering what this means for my athletic career. I am trying to remain optimistic and positive, however. I am doing a better job at listening to my body, asking questions to my doctors before things get out of hand, and relying on friends for support.

Here's the way I see it: Things happen for a reason. This has been, without a doubt, a true test of my patience. I question so many things that I previously took for granted. Will I be able to get dressed today? Will I be able to make that transfer? Will I be able to do a 5K? Why is my body failing me at age 29?

Before all of this, there really was no doubt in my mind that I would try once again to make Team USA for the Rio 2016 Paralympic Games. Now, I am not looking that far ahead. I am focusing on making each and every day in the present count. I am focusing on small victories. I am putting my trust in the universe that things will work out exactly the way they are supposed to. While I am still goal-oriented, and I believe it is important to have high standards for yourself, you also have to balance that with making goals that are manageable, realistic and adjust accordingly. If you raise the bar too high to the point of being discouraged on a daily basis, this is counterproductive and does more damage than good. So, take that lofty goal, write it down, and tuck it away in a safe place to revisit when the time is right. That's my plan. In the meantime, I'm focusing on regaining a basic level of fitness and continuing to find ways to bring happiness and joy to my every day life.

Challenges + Competitions = Champions

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I had the incredible honor of receiving an award at the White House, and was recognized as a Champion of Change. Earlier that same morning, I had the opportunity to participate in a roundtable discussion about important disability policy issues in our country with President Barack Obama, Chief Advisor to the President, Valerie Jarrett and Secretary of Labor, Tom Perez.

I also wrote a blog...

Anjali Forber Pratt is being honored as a Champion of Change for embodying the next generation of leadership within the disability community and her commitment to the promise of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Champions are victors in challenges or competitions and, as a Paralympic athlete, I have had the opportunity to be a champion in numerous races. Though, I truthfully never thought of myself as a champion of change because I simply do what I love: Make a difference in the lives of others and improve the landscape of disability nationwide and worldwide.

Being different, heads always turned when out in public. This wheelchair is what I know; I was sick as an infant with transverse myelitis that left me paralyzed. Before I first saw wheelchair racers competing at the Boston Marathon, I believed that I was going to simply outgrow my disability – that it was a phase. I thought to become an adult, I had to first get rid of my disability. Whether it was my skin color or my physical disability, it is not uncommon for me to stroll through an airport and have eyes starring or hear children whispering, "Mommy, what's that?" as they point to my wheelchair. For me, it has been about embracing these moments as teachable moments and using them as a foundation for my platform of change. I began doing this and integrating these opportunities to teach into my everyday life at a young age whether it was on a small scale of taking time to answer a child's innocent questions at a grocery store, or speaking to community groups about my disability. This eventually grew to a much larger scale of taking on my school district in federal court regarding equal access to education, and representing my country on the world stage at the Paralympic Games.

My underlying passion for my quest to make a difference stems from my motto: Dream. Drive. Do. I have been blessed with amazing opportunities in my life, and each of these opportunities has expanded my platform to initiate change that much bigger.

In the U.S., I am actively involved in my communities to show what people with disabilities are capable of. I help teach sport clinics and speak to corporations and non-for-profits about living life with a disability. I am actively involved with both US Paralympics, a division of the United States Olympic Committee as well as with Disabled Sports USA helping to provide sport opportunities for persons with disabilities and their families. Sports provided me with confidence and independence and was a constructive outlet for the daily frustrations I faced in our society. These experiences are rewarding because I can be a role model for others and for a young kid to realize they can be somebody when they grow up. The afternoon following the Champions of Change event, I boarded a plane to spend a couple days at a family camp for kids with transverse myelitis. Interacting with these families, I was reminded of what it was like for me to be a kid and how powerful it was for me to see wheelchair racers who went to college. I learned at a young age that life was worth living, disability and all. I saw huge changes in these kids’ demeanors and watched their self-confidence grow as they challenged me to a race or told me about their favorite subject in school. To be on the flipside as an engaged citizen and a role model does make me feel like a Champion of Change.

In addition to my athlete hat, I am also a scholar and these same issues shape my research agenda. My research interests center around individuals who are not given a chance, or who are left on the sidelines. My research interests focus on individuals who struggle to succeed due, in part, to some difference that has labeled them outside the mainstream. My work cuts across education (elementary, secondary and post-secondary), sports, work, and quality of life contexts. I am passionate about helping others to transform perceptions of what it means to be different, helping others accept their own differences, and motivating others to take action in their own lives and communities. As a member of more than one minority group, I have had personal experiences of being left on the sidelines, and I have faced resistance trying to emerge as a leader. It is my belief that oftentimes it is precisely these sidelined individuals who are able to help inspire others based on their own experiences. Therefore, I see my research as being instrumental not only to aid in the development of future leaders, but also to the academic field to provide empirical support for this.

Beyond the borders of the United States, I proudly wear a Team USA jersey as I compete or teach sports clinics. Wearing this jersey comes with a responsibility to pay it forward. I have realized the power of this, and love motivating others to live up to their fullest potential. I have learned from my work in Ghana, Bermuda and India in particular that sport can be a catalyst for social change. Providing individuals with an opportunity to succeed athletically gains the attention of policy makers, educators, and community members. In these cases, I have seen perceptions of disability change to become more open and accepting. Individuals with disabilities cannot be denied this opportunity, which is why it is a part of my cause. As such, I have co-written an educational coloring book Color. Learn & Play: All About Sports for Athletes with Physical Disabilities that is available online. Sport unifies us all. Sport provides an opportunity for individuals to come together regardless of race, political background, ability status, and/or gender. Sport is unique in that it transcends these boundaries and barriers imposed by society and allows for the focus to be on the activity itself, the sportsmanship, the finish line, or the end of the match. Deeper than that is the honor of representing one’s country that sport can also provide. For people with disabilities in many places I have visited abroad, who have previously been excluded from many affordances of society such as an education or pursuing a career, sport is one way where this can change. It has been my experiences with challenges, and competitions that have shaped me into a champion. I am truly honored to be a Champion of Change.

Anjali Forber Pratt is a Paralympic Medalist.

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One of the "lucky ones"

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Considering herself one of the "lucky ones", track star Anjali Forber-Pratt knew about Paralympic sport from a young age, and always dreamed of being at the Paralympic Games competing. Read about her journey to the U.S. Paralympic Team >> Full blog here:

AAPD Awards Gala 2013 Remarks

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I had the incredible honor of being recognized at the 2013 American Association of Persons with Disabilities Gala as one of the recipients of the Paul G. Hearne Leadership Award. Congratulations to my fellow award winner, George Gallego. Read more about him and his efforts here: Wheels of Progress Being a part of this event was truly incredible. I have to admit, I was overwhelmed with emotions. It is such an honor.

Here is a copy of my remarks that I shared with those in attendance this past week in Washington D.C.:

Being the academy awards of the disability movement, I have to say, I am grateful to not pull a Jennifer Lawrence on my way to the stage! Thank you so much to the American Association of Persons with Disabilities, the Board members – our own MC John Register, my Illinois contingent – Jean Driscoll, Steven Aragon, Karrie Shogren, all of the sponsors, each of you in this room for believing in me and a particular shout out to Darden Restaurants for this huge honor.

As I look at the list of past recipients, I am truly humbled to be among this prestigious group of movers and shakers. I am so proud to have my name included with these outstanding individuals, who personify leadership, advocacy, and dedication to and for persons with disabilities.

While I did not have the privilege of knowing or meeting Paul G. Hearne, I have heard countless stories of his determination, spirit and sense of humor. I believe we would have hit it off. In your program book there’s a story of Paul G Hearne that resonated with me – he too was once told he could not achieve an education.

As long as I can remember, I have had my disability. This means that for as long as I can remember, I have also been an advocate. Whether it was being a 7 yr old going up to the middle school with my brother to educate people about how I participate in sports, or being 14 and hiring my own lawyer to take on my school district in federal courts because I was told by a teacher – its not like you can go to college anyway. . . I gained firsthand experience of what it meant to be an advocate very early on. Coupled with my passion to make a difference, these experiences formed the foundation for my platform to become an advocate of change worldwide.

I enjoy speaking at schools, organizations, community events, and corporations; sharing my message to motivate children and/or employees. I share my story, inform others about disability culture, and teach about the ways in which we can provide better access and better interactions with members of a disability group. I look forward to being able to take my mission of promoting: Dream. Drive. Do. to the next level with this support from AAPD.

I believe there is a responsibility, as an engaged citizen with a disability, to leave a legacy. My motto is really about how I wanted to leave my mark on the world. To me, it is not about “overcoming my disability” rather, it is about educating other’s about disability and leading by example to show how my disability is an integral part of my identity.

Looking ahead, my priorities are to continue to help create a world that is physically/socially accessible and accepting of all individuals with disabilities, across all domains of life including education, sport, healthcare and employment – oh hey and to get a job myself!

I vow to continue to approach life with gusto and to help others reach their fullest potential. I plan to continue my mission and help to make life easier for those with disabilities while living my motto, “Dream. Drive. Do.” I am honored to continue the legacy set forth by Paul G. Hearne. I will happily carry the torch and follow in the footsteps of past recipients of this prestigious award. Thank you for recognizing me as a leader in the disability community and let’s all continue to cultivate future leaders and advocates.

Letter to the editor: Promote inclusion to foster the potential of athletes with disabilities

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The following is a letter to the editor from Dr. Cheri Blauwet -- a clinical fellow at Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital, two-time winner of the Boston Marathon's wheelchair division, seven-time Paralympic medalist and member of the International Paralympic Committee Medical Commission -- and Dr. Anjali Forber-Pratt, two-time Paralympic Medalist, member, US Paralympic track and field team and Paul G. Hearne Leadership Award Recipient from the American Association of Persons with Disabilities, in response to a blog post from last Friday titled, "Boston schools ready for federal mandate to include disabled athletes."

To the Editor:

We read with great interest “Boston schools ready for federal mandate to include disabled athletes” published in response to the US Department of Education Guidance regarding the inclusion of athletes with disabilities into mainstream sporting activities at the K-12 level...

Read the rest of the letter here:

It's These Little Things...

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More than four months ago, I underwent a planned spinal fusion surgery. I am still trying to recover, and dealing with unexplainable complications that have severely affected my physical health and lifestyle. I continue to remain as optimistic as I can be, and am grateful to be alive. It has been a frustrating journey that has exposed many inexcusable flaws in our medical system in this country. I continue to search for answers and specialists who will be able to diagnose and correct the problems. I am appreciative of everyone's continued love and support.

However, this weekend I reached a wonderful milestone. For three nights in a row, the experience of getting into bed and laying down was painfree. I take this as a good sign of things to come! It truly is these little things... Living with such orthopedic pain is difficult to describe to others, it just becomes a part of your normal. It's been disheartening to have gone through such a major surgery/complications and to be still dealing with the same and increased levels of pain for these months in addition to the new complications. So, I take great comfort in reaching this milestone and am grateful this evening for this particular little thing...

Paralympics By Numbers

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Tomorrow I move to the Paralympic Village! I cannot believe it is finally here! For those of you wondering about the scope and scale of the Paralympic Games, here are two great figures to paint the picture. The first one is specific to the Paralympic Games.

2012 London Summer Paralympics in numbers

If you are wondering how the Paralympic Games compares to the Olympic Games, check out this one too!

Olympics infographci

With that, I am 1 of 58 members of the US Paralympic Track & Field Team. 1 of 19 women. 1 of 227 U.S. athletes across all the Paralympic sports. I am a proud member of Team USA.

Other fun facts:

  • There are 15 countries making their Paralympic Games debut.
  • U.S. swimmer Trischa Zorn is considered the most
    successful athlete in Paralympic history. From 1980 to
    2004 she won 55 medals, of which 41 are gold.
  • Sport for athletes with an impairment has existed for
    more than 100 years, and the first sport clubs for the
    deaf were already in existence in 1888 in Berlin.
  • London is symbolic because it is considered the birthplace of the Paralympic Movement dating back to 1948 with the Stoke Mandeville Games
  • The International Paralympic Committee (IPC) was
    founded as an international non-profit organization in
    Dusseldorf, Germany on September 22, 1989
  • U.S. Paralympics was formed in 2001
  • U.S. Medal Count: U.S. has 514 medals more than
    any other nation
  • AAPD Blog... Bullying & Disability

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    I was asked to write a blog for the American Association of Persons with Disability (AAPD) about disability and bullying. Some of my research is related to this area with other members of my research team, Espelage Against Bullying.

    August 23, 2012 | Dr. Anjali Forber-Pratt
    Imagine, being held at gunpoint as you try to catch the bus home. The weird thing about this moment is, I didn’t understand it at the time and yet it is something that I so vividly remember even today. I remember being surrounded by the entire gang, just past the front office, in a place slightly inconspicuous so the teachers and people of authority couldn’t see what was happening. The timing of it was just right, the very moment that I had rolled through that set of fire doors as they closed behind me...Read the rest here.

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