Five years ago this month, I began writing this column about living with a disability.
Sixty-two columns later, I’m struck by what I’ve learned.
In my early columns, readers seemed to want to know how disability was different from ability. Now they constantly tell me that the column is relatable, whether they have a disability or not.
In 2008, as an issue, I wrote about the need for improved local snow removal. Today, I’m still writing about it. Now, however, the whole community seems to be involved in finding solutions to this challenge.
It’s front page news.
Every day, someone in northern Michigan contacts me to do something about a concern involving disability, the elderly, human rights or health. Most of the time, I know where and how to help. Sometimes, I’m overwhelmed.
In the early days, I often worried that the topics I was writing about were unique to me or too personal. Quickly, readers told me they were using the columns as a bridge to discuss difficult topics with their loved ones — defining a good death, illness and maintaining independence. They also reached out to me seeking connections with people like themselves, who had experienced amputations, cancer and mental health issues.
I learned I was often referred to as a “connector” and “change agent.”
Simple things have meant more to people than I could have ever imagined. I’ve been thanked for letting folks know a person in our community had died or needed support. Readers have enjoyed being introduced to neighbors they’ve never met and appreciated referrals to area resources, thereby becoming better advocates. Tourists have written me saying access information about the Cherry Festival, Traverse City Film Festival, Mobi mat beaches, restaurants; hotels and attractions have made them feel welcomed.