(dis)Abilities in Toastmasters
“Whether I am in my wheelchair, dealing with my light sensitivity or my sound sensitivity, I am treated as an equal.” This is one of the key phrases in my entry for the International Speech Competition this year.
For people dealing with disabilities, some disabilities are easy enough to overcome than others, like having meetings held in an accessible facility. Other things like overcoming exhaustion, illness, sensitivities you can’t control, and having the need for an interpreter can seem too large a gulf to bridge.
From personal experience, what I’d like to tell everyone is, “Go For It!!!”
I live with a severe chronic illness that at one point kept me 98% bed bound, but thankfully is now down to about 75%. Since regaining a little strength, I started looking for opportunities to improve myself and was guided towards Toastmasters, where I have been able to “Find My Voice.”
I was worried that my wheelchair would be a barrier, that I constantly must be wearing a hat and sunglasses would be a barrier, that I am scent sensitive would be a barrier, and that I am sound sensitive would be a barrier, but my fears were unfounded!
I am a grateful member of Cambridge Toastmasters #2728, where people have welcomed me in from Day 1. The facility we use is wheelchair friendly, people have learned to track my head movement rather than my eye movement for the purpose of evaluations, our club has gone scent free, and traditional applause has been substituted for the form of applause used by the deaf community. These small changes have reduced pain and suffering I would otherwise have to just chosen to “endure”. I wasn’t expecting people to change tradition for me, but this open willingness has touched me deeply and created a sense of inclusivity.
Many people living with disabilities are part of a marginalized population and having disabilities can lead to isolation, feelings of inadequacy, and depression, but it doesn't have to be that way!
One of my personal goals at Toastmasters in the years to come will be to help encourage and be a bridge between those with (dis)Abilities and the clubs in our District. I am hoping that I can help others dealing with (dis)Abilities “Find their voice” too and become a positive instrument of change in our world.
My loving challenge to other clubs is to think outside the box and find new ways to think about how to be inviting to members who may fear acceptance because of being “different” or “limited”.
Ms CJ Janzen
Member of Cambridge Toastmaster