On Sunday, December 17, I sat glued to my TV watching the CNN Heroes award of the year program. Created in 2007, this show honors individuals who make extraordinary contributions to humanity across the world. There were top 10 nominees this year and I watched with excitement as Amy Wright won the Hero of the year award. From the start of the show, I knew she had to win. Amy is a mother of four whose two youngest children, Bitty and Beau were diagnosed as having down syndrome. For most parents, having children with any form of intellectual or development disability (IDD) could mean a death sentence. Amy, however, saw it differently and was determined to make a change. I was overcome with emotion when upon her acceptance speech she made the following poignant statement regarding her 2 younger children;
“I will not change you for the world, but I will change the world for you”.
Changing the world for her children and others with developmental disabilities is exactly what she set out to do by opening a coffee shop. Named after her 2 youngest children, Bitty and Beau’s coffee shop opened in January 2016, in Wilmington, North Carolina. This is no ordinary shop as most of its 40 employees are individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities who are assigned duties based on their skill set. The Wrights know that being employed at Bitty and Beau’s does not “cure” the intellectual disabilities of the staff however it affords them the opportunity to highlight their strengths and to earn a living just like everyone else. Most important of all, it’s an exemplary way of enacting social change through advocacy. Social change does not always have to be loud, involve a protest, or even make the news headlines, one can still achieve much while working tirelessly behind the scenes. In time, the efforts will make headlines and even if that never happens, you can take solace in the fact that you are making a difference in the heart and mind of people each day. Rest in the assurance that even the smallest stone makes a ripple in the water.
Amy’s intention in opening the shop was not to become a hero on TV, she was simply doing it to change the narrative surrounding people with disabilities. I am certain she and her husband had their fair share of challenges and continue to have them with their two younger children, but they have made “lemonade out of lemons” and it’s highly commendable. As Randy Pausch famously said in his last lecture speech, “it’s not about the cards you’re dealt with but how you play the hand”. Amy and her husband seem to be playing the hand just fine.
If we accept Webster’s definition of disability as “a physical, mental, cognitive, or developmental condition that impairs, interferes with, or limits a person’s ability to engage in certain tasks or actions or participate in typical daily activities and interactions”, then we can safely conclude that everyone has or will experience some form of disability during their lifetime. The definition also posits that disability comes in various forms, and severities; it can be readily visible or subtle. Regardless of how it appears, this coffee shop is a reminder of the essence of humanity and the need to unite in social solidarity to change current perceptions. People with “disabilities” are just as human as those without and can accomplish much if given the needed support and opportunity.
There are countless people who have lived or are living successful lives in spite of their disability. Below, I list only 5:
Patricia Polacco is a writer and illustrator of children’s books who did not start writing children’s books until she was 41 years old! She has been writing children’s books even after she was diagnosed as having Dyslexia, Dysnumeria and Dysgraphia at the age of 14.
Marlee Matlin is a stand-up comedian and an actress. In 1987, she captivated the world by winning the Academy Award for Best Actress in the film A Children of a Lesser God. Marlee became deaf in infancy due to Roseola infantum. However, deafness has not disabled her or her career.
Franklin Delano Roosevelt (FDR) – 32nd president of the US. He contracted polio while drinking water at a campground and became paralyzed from the waist down. He proved paralysis wasn’t a roadblock to be a great leader. he became the only American President to serve more than two terms.
Sudha Chandran – An accomplished dancer of the Indian subcontinent despite having her leg amputated after an accident. She has been honored with numerous awards and has performed all over the world.
Ludwig Van Bethooven – One of the greatest composers who was deaf at the later part of his life. Many of his most admired works come from the later part of his life when he was almost deaf.
Those who have visited Bitty and Beau immediately recognize the uniqueness of this haven of a coffee shop. They affirm that the coffee is great, and the customer service is exceptional. I am not a coffee drinker but if I ever find myself in Wilmington, North Carolina, I will be sure to stop by for some hot chocolate. It’s a worthy cause close to my heart and one I would readily support.
I don’t know what your 2018 resolution entails, but I hope that looking beyond ourselves and helping humanity is top on your list. Amy Wright, thank you for transforming lives one coffee cup at a time. To all the other “Amy’s” around the world, continue to let your light shine; never let it go dim.
To learn more about this great place, you may kindly visit the link below:
(N.B. Information about famous people with disabilities was taken from http://listverse.com/2010/01/18/top-10-extraordinary-people-with-disabilities/)