Today’s guest columnist is David Barry.
Imagine marrying your soulmate.
Being in a prestigious pageant celebrating important advocacy work.
Having a job helping others.
And shining a positive, brilliant light on an entire community of people.
That’s Belinda Dorough’s dream – and she is living it.
One might think that Belinda must have incredible communication and interpersonal skills and ready access to all kinds of situations. Well, she does, thanks to her incredible perseverance.
Belinda Dorough is a strong, determined woman with a sparkling personality. You could say she was born to be great. And here’s another fact about her: she’s doing it all living with cerebral palsy.
The way Belinda navigates her environment may look different from you or me. For example, she uses a wheelchair to get from place to place. Even more impressively, she drives her wheelchair using a system that senses her head movement.
Unable to produce verbal speech that is easily understood by others, Belinda has mastered the use of a communication device using a switch at her foot. Naturally, learning how to use a device such as this can be complex, but she didn’t let that stop her. Belinda operates it proficiently and is very conversational. Just ask her a question.
It’s these kinds of devices and skills learned at United Ability that have given Belinda the confidence, freedom, and flexibility to shine and show others her outgoing personality.
For 12 years, she has worked at Belk, a large department store where she greets customers with her infectious smile and guides them by using a communication device. At work, she is part of the team and a beloved member of the Belk family.
Enter Daniel, who also has cerebral palsy.
Like Belinda, he uses a communication device obtained at United Ability that helps him express himself. Using his eyes, he composes messages that can be spoken aloud, used in emails or on social media. Yes, he is part of the Facebook community.
For mobility, he uses a power chair that’s controlled by his head movements. He has been employed at United Ability as a greeter at the main entrance and in our Community Integration Academy workshop. This technology connects Daniel to his community and empowers him to continue dreaming. He hopes that technology will one day enable him to drive a car.
Maybe you know where this is heading. Yes, it’s a love story.
It’s more than a love story: it is a journey that has resulted in positive outcomes for other people living with disabilities.
Daniel proposed to Belinda, using his communication device; and, Belinda said, “yes”, using hers. Once engaged, they contacted a group home agency to begin the process of finding an apartment in which they could begin their life together. It wasn’t as easy as one would think: something promising would come up, then it would fall through. The cycle repeated itself again and again − for years. Being strong advocates for people with disabilities, Belinda and Daniel knew that the situation should be made more inclusive for all.
They contacted the Alabama Disabilities Advocacy Program which connected them with a lawyer, and they were able to secure a place in which to live together. The protracted experience made Belinda even more determined to educate others living with disabilities about their rights.
So, it made perfect sense that when Belinda wanted to advocate for others publicly, she chose the Miss Wheelchair Alabama contest, a program about advocacy and celebrating achievement as her platform. More than a pageant, its mission is to provide an opportunity for women who happen to be wheelchair users to advocate for others with disabilities. Belinda passionately delivered a speech, that she wrote, that all people with disabilities should have the right to get married, live in their own home, and have all the rights that every other married couple enjoys.
Moved by her activism and speech, Belinda was awarded second place and continues to be a vocal advocate for the rights of the disabled.
As is often written, there is more to the story. Because of United Ability and their supporters more technologies are being made available that will enable Daniel and Belinda to live more independently and create greater opportunities for meaningful employment. There is even an anniversary on the horizon.
We look forward to sharing more stories of inclusion, independence, dreams coming true with you in the future.
David Barry is the Director of Communication and External Affairs at United Ability and he oversees all the communications and marketing efforts for the organization. United Ability, formerly UCP of Greater Birmingham, provides a life-spectrum of programs designed to promote self-reliance, present choices, and improve the quality of life for children and adults with disabilities.
David Sher is Co-Founder of AmSher Compassionate Collections. He’s past Chairman of the Birmingham Regional Chamber of Commerce (BBA), Operation New Birmingham (REV Birmingham), and the City Action Partnership (CAP).
Invite David to speak to your group for free about a better Birmingham. firstname.lastname@example.org