An Open Letter to the NMEDA Community
I met Barton Cutter on February 15, 2003 at a friend’s house in Tucson (at the time I was living in Tuscaloosa, AL and Barton was going to the UA in Tucson, AZ). There was this murmur, “Barton was coming.”
I didn’t know what all of the commotion was about, but I do now. Two things happen when you meet Barton: 1- you will smile, laugh (or both) and 2 – he’s going to knock your socks off, as I mean shatter any assumptions you have, not just about people living with a disability, but he’ll shatter your own limiting beliefs, about yourself.
Our first introduction was literally just a few minutes and then he was off, but in that timeframe, Barton knew I was the one for him, he just knew.
And I’ll admit, my first thought was, “How can he possibly train in martial arts in a wheelchair?” Of course, I found out the first time I trained with Barton at a martial arts seminar (yes, he did flip me over his wheelchair), and somewhere along the emails and poetry we sent back and forth to each other after that, we fell in love.
I didn’t marry Barton to “take care of him.” I married Barton because he challenges me, everyday, to be a better person than I am today. He brings laughter, love and an open and honest spirit to all aspects of my life. I never thought I would have so much joy, and such an adventurous life. We go through challenges, failures and worries, just like any other couple, and we find the love that has kept us together through it all.
We are asked so many questions about how we fell in love, and nearly everyday we open conversations and dialogue to those with and without disabilities. We openly share all aspects of our marriage in our memoir Ink in the Wheels: Stories to Make Love Roll (http://inkinthewheels.com/for-the-press/ ), because it was so important to open the conversation and dialogue around inter-ability life, love and marriage. Barton didn’t want it to be just “another love story.” We had to be so vulnerable in opening up our story, our real story.
By sharing these experiences, we break down barriers and opening dialogue to topics such as intimacy, family dynamics, depression, having children, and the wacky adventures we find ourselves in- to people with and without disabilities. We are making a national and international impact with our story, and our vision is to speak to those around the country. Barton has received inquiries around the world with questions of living, dating and marriage with a disability.
Yes, the week after the book release the engine light came on to my non-accessible little white Honda Civic, and we found out it was literally falling apart at 250,000 miles, making travel outside of our local area impossible. The week that was the pinnacle of our success and the start of the work to do, I cried for several days knowing it would mean that we would have to limit our impact. But we couldn’t say no to the speaking requests we were receiving, knowing that we have a chance to reach families and individuals with and without disabilities. We were determined to find a way.
As a short-term solution, our local Van Products (http://www.vanproducts.com) has been so generous to sponsor the speaking engagements we had already set up so we didn’t have to cancel them. I want to share one of those with you. This last week, we went to Manteo, NC on the Outer Banks for a featured reading and open mic. While we shared our own story and read from our book, we also celebrated those of all abilities to share their own gifts of poetry, song and dance. Afterwards, we found out that when several participants who had been a part of this program were so shy, they would not even speak or sing, and here they were on stage, confident, vibrant and sharing their gifts with the community. Everyone in that room was moved. The director of the Dare Community Center emailed us:
“I have received several calls and visits today from people in attendance about what a great evening it was and the biggest question is, “When are they coming back?” Please know you are welcome here anytime and I hope you do return soon. I believe it was the best event we’ve had since opening in 2009.”
This is what we hope to bring across the globe, that those with disabilities have gifts, talents, and value.
When Barton first began coaching, and both of us coaching together, what we realized is that the disability community has been so disempowered through a model of fear, the can’t factor (being told you can’t vs. being able to explore different options both inside and outside of the system), and barriers that include financial (our #1 challenge). Who asks a young girl or boy with a disability who they want to be when they grow up? Our vision is to let children, families, parents and adults dream again, and reach for their dreams.
All of the children who applied in this contest, many of them will grow up to become adults. This is our mission in life. To support youth, adults and families as they navigate this journey, breaking down barriers and stereotypes in the process.
Why should we receive a van, when there are so many deserving, amazing, powerful and connected families in need? I don’t know. But what I do know is that Barton and I, we can’t do this alone. We have struggled with this issue for so many years, and now we have run out of time just when we need it the most. We need your help to make the impact that will literally change how we see people in relationship with one another.
Barton and I have so many dreams. We want to continue writing, coaching families, adults and youth, and we dream of making a national impact to open the conversation around inter-ability life, love and marriage. We dream of adopting, having just recently come back to believing in the possibility of having children again, and working hard to overcome the financial challenges that impede this precious goal.
An accessible vehicle is one tool that we just haven’t been able to figure out, but is so necessary for us to move forward, in our vision to change the world. Recently, one of our mentors called us “algae on the water.” Our mission is to change the paradigm and the way people think about living with a disability. And our work, if we can reach out, the change will double itself, and double, and double until the tide of change ripples through the water.
Two weeks ago, just before the voting portion of the contest ended, Barton was at a meeting across town, and we had booked a taxi van because the buses had already stopped running. When the taxi van was late, at first we thought it was the lift wasn’t working, but what actually happened is the dispatcher didn’t tell the driver to pick Barton up. Barton was waiting on the side of the road until 10:45pm. Barton risks his life everyday, because of his vision and dedication to his vision, work and his family. (We talk about this in our chapter Smoking Buses and other Travel Tribulations- and yes, Barton was on a bus that caught fire). It’s time to break this barrier once and for all!!
As a wife, hopefully mother some day, writer, and speaker, please consider Barton for one of the accessible vans for National Mobility Awareness Month.
With all the hope in the world,