By Laura Gleneck, Project Manager, DEI, National Disability Institute
It could be a result of getting older, (okay, everything kind of is these days, because, well, I’m getting older!) but in my free time, I seem to be doing a lot of reflection. I take present day happenings and make connections to the past.
For example, I am currently big on “words do matter.” I understand the power of words. As an individual who is viewed as “different,” I have felt firsthand the harshness of unkind words. They DO and CAN hurt me. More importantly, however, they can also lift me up! How we use our words matters.
One of my favorite quotes is from Margaret Meade, who said, “Never believe that a few caring people can’t change the world. For, indeed, that’s all who ever have.” I am proud to say that I personally know some of these people.
Dorothy Dyell Farah was one such woman. She dedicated her life to fostering children of varying abilities. I know because I was one of them. She used her words to raise up and empower children, who professionals said, “would/could never.” When the Farahs took me in, they were told I would never walk or talk and had “more problems than doctors could understand.” You should see me now! Dorothy did not “hear” their words, but instead saw all of the possibilities of me! Her words built me up. Though she passed away when I was only 10- years-old, the memory of her words have been the wind beneath my wings my entire life, which have taken me pretty far.
Patricia McGill Smith was a woman I met in the mid-1990s at the start of my career in the disability field. At the time we met, she was the Executive Director of the National Parent Network on Disabilities, an organization that used its words to be the voice of parents of children with disabilities. The organization is no longer in existence, and Ms. Patty has long retired from the field. In her time, however, she was a presence to be rivaled. Through her, I learned just how much words can help move a mountain, rock a boat, calm the spirit, teach us humility and, most importantly, persistence. Her words brought meaning to my work, my actions and my conviction, and they serve as the foundation for the professional woman I have become.
Then there is the voice of Michael Morris, Executive Director of National Disability Institute (NDI), who is also my current boss! His words give me vision, purpose and motivation. How you say and write something matters. It can be the difference between winning a grant, building a partnership, enhancing a network and daring to believe in dreams that do—and have—come true. His words are the encouragement that reminds me that I am/we are the engine that can. Every day I try to put this into practice.
Mainly, I am moved by the “strength and power” of the words of those who choose to use their voice to take a stand, right a wrong or disclose a disability, not to expose themselves, but to help others. They are my unsung heroes, and many of them work alongside me at NDI. This blog is dedicated to them. They are the few caring people that Meade talks about who, through their words, are changing the world one word at a time.
Laura Gleneck is the Program Manager for the Disability Employment Initiative (DEI) National Training and Technical Assistance Team, contracted by the U.S. Department of Labor. Laura has served in this capacity for both the Work Incentive Grants (WIG) and the Disability Program Navigator (DPN) Initiative since 2001. As program manager, she serves as the lead coordinator of the key technical assistance staff, manages material development, coordinates all training and technical assistance activities, and works closely with the national DEI Program Office. She is the author and producer of the American Job Center Toolkit Resources of the Week. Laura holds a master’s degree in Child Study from Tufts University and a bachelor’s degree in Psychology from the George Washington University. Outside of the office, Laura enjoys reading, writing, taking walks and biking, as well as working with her husband, Jayson, transforming their house into a “home.”