By Bethany Hoppe
As a professor of Communication Studies, I guide hundreds of nervous students through the public speaking process every semester. And even though I have delivered many speeches, conducted workshops, served as a Keynote, and facilitated seminars…the icing on the speaking experience being connected to TED gave me a small dose of what my nervous students go through!
Journeying through the process, I found that I was changing how I go about speech development that seemed un-natural to me, which ultimately became one of the greatest learning lessons for me to learn while advocating on such a platform. All competitions tell you to be yourself – whether you’re in a speech debate, pageantry, or running for an office – and it couldn't be more true statement.
I remember the dry run, the first time I stepped onto the TPAC stage, and I realized that all of my counter-intuitive methods to preparing for the next day’s moment were honestly counter-intuitive! The mental dialogue I kept running in my head was my professorial self-correcting, rather mechanically, all of the things I tell my students to never do!
Stepping back from that lesson reminded me, quite sharply of two very important things: One – I was asked to be a TEDx presenter for being Me. Myself. My story mattered, my message is vital, and my experience is valuable. And Two – that this was ultimately, not even about me. This was about conveying a message in a conversational style that the majority of people in attendance have never heard before. The living experience of women with disabilities in one of the most advanced, wealthy, industrialized nations in the world, and how much their experience does not reflect the nation’s standards of living compared to the rest of the citizenry.
Who talks about that?
I do. And I was running the risk of over analyzing my own skills and becoming intangible to the people that needed to hear this message the most. TED goers.
My philosophy is based on the fact that we are female first. And then whatever else our spirituality, personality, beliefs, and physicality wants to tack onto us comes secondary. This means that the first step for women with disabilities obtaining their rights, their independence, and access to all of the services the female population in the United States has access to…is to redefine themselves from being Disabled Women, to WOMEN with Disabilities.
In the 90’s, some of the disability conversation shifted towards the word “Disabled.” A growing number of people didn’t like the term because it emphasized an inability to do something. They wanted to be defined by a new term that emphasized Abilities. Strengths. Capabilities. Contests, debates, conversations, and mini-movements began, until it seemed a simple spelling emphasis was all that was needed: Thus the disABLED.
I disagreed. I felt that instead of focusing on a term that defined you past your humanity, let’s put your humanity first. Are you male or female? (Which, by the way is very different from the genderized and enculturated concept of feminine/masculine). I decided long ago that I was female. That is my sexual gender. From there, I adopted habits, belief systems, and social constructs that defined me as very feminine and heterosexual. Only then did I turn and look at the undeniable fact that I could not walk without crutches or a manual wheelchair. And I came to terms with the secondary part of myself that was UNable to walk. To me, I qualified as being a person (a woman) with a DISability. I was missing the ability to walk without assistance.
Did this define me? No. Not the simple function of traditional mobility. I got everywhere I needed to be…differently. My focus was on what I wanted, what I needed, and what I was interested in as a WOMAN.
I delivered a TEDxNashville speech that shed light on grim statistics that taught the live audience that not all women with disabilities think that way, have an opportunity to think or act this way, and are ostracized from the very programming and services they need to become the WOMEN they want to become.
See Bethany's talk here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dvZf6t6S5T8
Bethany A. Hoppe is the author of the Lifestyle Blog "Raspberry Vogue," and the children's book series "Molly B. Golly." The first book, "Molly B. Golly's Wonderful Dancing Debut!" is currently released. Bethany teaches Communication and Voice Diction at Middle Tennessee State University, and is the founder of Bethany Productions which promotes women with disabilities within entertainment through writing, speaking, performance, and fashion. Visit Bethany at www.bethany-hoppe.com to keep up with her creative projects! You can also find her online at www.facebook.com/bethany.