If you were to ask several people who live with disabilities, “What is the biggest challenge that you face?” I would guess that many, maybe most, of them would not talk first about their disability. They would not start by describing the challenges of day to day living, nor talk about the limitations on their activities imposed by the disability. I would guess that most people with disabilities would tell you that the biggest challenge they face is other people’s low expectations for them.
When non-disabled people meet someone with a disability, typically they see the disability first and see the limitations that the disability imposes on the person’s life. However, for those on the other side, those for whom disability is a normal part of their lives, they have to eat the pity of others, they experience the assumptions about what they can and cannot do, they bathe daily in the fountain of stereotype that others pour out on them.
Sadly, many who live with disabilities decide that these low expectations must be true. When Rich Dixon broke his back in the 1980’s and became paralyzed, he internalized these low expectations for a decade. A recent video says that after the accident, “He could have accepted the challenge [of living with paralysis] and trusted God’s faithfulness. Instead he chose to believe that his life was over. Rich wasted a decade of his life crying out to God, demanding answers he couldn’t hear. He saw only the little blue guy: handicapped, helpless, useless, worthless.”
By the grace of God, Rich emerged from this dark valley believing in God’s power and God’s promise for his life, rather than believing his own and other’s low expectations. His fine memoir, Relentless Grace, describes this journey. He learned that his disability wasn’t so much about his body as it was about his heart.
Besides his book, Rich operates a website, blogs, writes articles for various publications, and speaks regularly to groups about living with challenges in life by God’s grace. He has found another way to contribute to the lives of others as well. Hand-cycling weds his love for physical activity with an opportunity to raise funds for important causes. Several years ago, he helped raise a considerable amount of money for a friend who has cancer.
This summer, Rich is planning an eight-week, 1500-mile trek along the Mississippi River to raise money for clean water in Africa. He’s calling it Rich’s Ride, but he insists that it’s about God, not about Rich, “We’re doing the ride because I want to share the hope, no matter what, that you can count on God to be faithful to keep his promise to work for good in all circumstances.”
I hope that as people learn about Rich’s Ride, they will remember again that their own expectations about people with disabilities can limit or expand their opportunities.
To learn more about Rich’s ride and how you can contribute, view the video or see the website.