I love that feeling of meeting a young person and just being blown away with the ‘WOW, you are dynamite!’ and knowing in my bones that they are going to go places. I feel that way about Sandy – I haven’t met her in real life, but I enjoy her blog and I am in awe of her project, Letters to Thrive (- letters from disabled women to their younger selves). She’s got a lot of ducks lining up on her row, a lot of exciting projects in the works.
I’m delighted to introduce her to you: Sandy Ho!
Getting to Know You
1. Your name:
2. What’s your connection with disability?
Weelllll I did just write a 15 pg paper on my connection with disability for a class but I’ll try and condense my ramblings.
I was diagnosed with Osteogenesis Imperfecta (O.I.) at birth and this means my connection with disability began with a roll of the dice in my genes. Beyond my medical condition I would say my connection with the broader concept of disability didn’t begin until fairly recently, hmmm… about 2 or 3 years ago? A good friend from high school talked me into starting a blog where I share my experiences on being a young adult with O.I. Initially I balked and told him “that’s the dumbest idea ever, no one is going to listen to me. Who cares about what I have to say? I hate talking about my disability, that’s just dumb.” It took him a few weeks of constant calling me, and persuasion but eventually he talked me into starting the blog… needless to say it was a moment I am ever so grateful to have been in the wrong. When I began the blog most of my readers were other young people with O.I. and also lots of parents of kids with O.I. The blog still continues today though lately I unfortunately have less time to get reflective. These HTML-constructed babbles have allowed me to connect with lots of others – beyond those with O.I. – in the online disability community.
In so many words that sums-up my connection with disability and how it all began. And though I could go into more details about my connection with disability I’ll leave that answer as is for now.. (I peeked at the other questions below, and we’ll get into more of my connections later on!)
3. Star Trek or Star Wars?
Star Trek!! There is a picture of me peddling my tricycle-spaceship around and around the house, and every time I got in trouble (which was often..) I’d press the button on my “spaceship” and try to get out of my mishaps with “Beam me up Scotty!” Not much has changed: I still love Star Trek. And I still try to get out of trouble with ridiculous lines.
4. If you could live in any other country for 2 years, where would you go?
Hmmm… Australia. Among lots of other reasons including all the awesome people I’ve met in my virtual-networking who are Australians that I’d like to meet.. they have a place called The Great Sandy Desert. I mean c’mon now, how could I not?!
5. What dish would your bring to our community picnic potluck?
Chocolate chip pancakes, or nutella and banana stuffed french toast
Now That We’ve Been Introduced…
1. What do you do:
Ooh boy! This really depends on who you ask! A close friend actually just described me as “a crazy girl zipping around in a wheelchair making change.” A parent in the mentoring program I coordinate has described me as “..a creative and whimsical mind..”
My answer above might also tell you a thing or two about me that for me “what I do” is also a lot to do with “who I am.”
The “crazy girl” part is maybe subjective 😛 buut the rest of it is fairly accurate. I am a law school student, Program Coordinator for a mentoring program that serves young women with disabilities, I am a blogger, I’m a youth representative on the Board of Directors for Easter Seals MA, a thinker who loves to live inside my mind too much. But whatever I’m doing I’m generally motivated by two things:
a. Am I having a positive impact?
b. Am I learning something new?
The things that currently occupy most of my time though is being a law school student, and also being a Program Coordinator for a mentoring program, called Thrive. Thrive is based out of Easter Seals MA and pairs transitional age young women with disabilities with an older woman with a disability who serves as her mentor. So these days a lot of what I do involves: making connections, building community, and asking questions.
2. How did you come to doing what you do? How has your career trajectory flowed?
Around the time I began my blog, through serendipity, I bumped into an incredible force of a lady in the lobby at a Boston hospital one day. She also has O.I. but we connected because of her work at Easter Seals MA where she was, at the time, the Camp and Youth Leadership Program Manager. Colleen has the kind of influence over lots of youth with disabilities where they won’t realize they’re involved until they’re engaged in something they never thought they were capable of doing. So far I’m a pretty happy and barely-sane product of that influence 😉
Through our introduction I became involved in various Easter Seals MA youth leadership programs, eventually being hired as the Program Coordinator for the Thrive Mentoring Program. Colleen continues to be an incredible mentor and influence in in our work together at Easter Seals MA!
But all of this took (what in my quarter-century life span) seems like years for me to get to this point.
As a young person and a young professional a lot of my career trajectory has to do with maturity, and personal development. I had to become someone who is comfortable with identifying as disabled, and now also a woman with a disability (I don’t even fully know what that means yet!). I also had to become someone who recognized where her professional and interpersonal strengths are enough to focus myself in a certain direction or, at the very least within a field. These are all things that still fuel my trajectory along, I haven’t crashed yet!
But before all of that happened I had graduated from college with a degree in Global Studies and as a senior had been accepted to law school, fully prepared and couldn’t wait to jump into academia! My academic advisor and lots of others close to me cautioned me to slow down and think about why I was actually going to law school… aside from the fact that as a senior in college I never wanted to enter into that terrifying and mythological “real world.” So I deferred my acceptance to law school and did a year of service through AmeriCorps! I knew I wanted to go into education and also wanted to work in the public interest sector, so I took my idealism and jumped head first into creating a mentoring program that served first-generation community college students in Boston.
Recently I finally was able to meld two pieces of my experiences together. I took the incredible connections I gained from my early-blogger days, and mashed it together with the Thrive mentoring program. One of the activities I had the mentees & mentors do was to write letters to their younger selves. Many enjoyed the activity and out of curiosity (and with their permission) I posted a few on a tumblr! The project has since taken off like wildfire and women with disabilities (young and old) from all over the country and world have begun submitting their letters. With stunned wide-eyed awe I am trying to create a sense of community from these shared social experiences…right after I am done getting over the tingles, and mind-blow-explosions after each letter I read.
Creating communities, working with youth, civic engagement, education, and empowerment… are all pillars that I hope to carry with me as I build the next phase of my career… As a young professional I know that it’s something special when I can tell people that I am proud of the work I’ve done, and the people I have been able to work alongside.
3. Where would you like to see yourself in 5 years?
Let’s be honest: as debt free as possible. In some kind of living accommodation with furniture that doesn’t look like it was duct taped together or built out of legos?
But just as honestly, I’d like to see myself having the same sense of curiosity and idealism that I have today. I’d like to delve into policy, and if I could ever offer my two-cents to those on the hill in five years… I’d be living my current dream. Maybe it’s work with immigrant students trying to get a college degree? Maybe it’s first-generation college students? Maybe it’s women with disabilities? Maybe it’s transitional age youth aging out of state institutions? Who knows? I just want to be excited by people I am working to help.
4. Not to be morbid, but what do you want people to remember about you when you’ve gone?
That every sarcastic quip I had ever uttered was delivered with nothing less than all my idealistic wit, just like the work I committed myself to.
5. Who or what inspires you?
Harilyn Rousso; her memoir Don’t Call Me Inspirational: A Disabled Feminist Talks Back had a tremendous impact on my work with the mentoring program. My colleagues at Easter Seals MA. My friends in my classes I goof off with… I meant pay attention to lectures with. Also, my two brothers who I might not always understand but I have come to find sibling rivalry is such a loving force.
1. If you could say something to yourself in the past – that is, the you that was really struggling with something related to disability – what would you say?
Geez I’d already written and submitted my letter to my younger self as a freshman in high school… but I’d say to myself let your curiosity get the better of your fears. And don’t be afraid to own up to not knowing something in a position of leadership. It actually has the opposite effect you are worried about having, and will allow you to have trust and access in ways that will make you a better leader.
2. What do you like about your particular disability?
As a predominant wheelchair-user I can talk myself into buying shoes by saying “it’s a great investment because they’ll last me for the rest of my life…”
3. Any one thing that you wish people would *get* about disability?
4. What single piece of technology makes your life easier?
My power wheelchair Permobil C300, but also by that same measure my TiLite Aero Z because I’m able to hop in to my friends’ cars and homes that may not be accessible with an electric wheelchair. Also my Macbook Air, yea I’m a mac person I said it.
• Where else can we find you online?
Letterstothrive.tumblr.com (- Letters written by women with disabilities to their younger selves)
Meriah Nichols is a career counselor. Solo mom to 3 (one with Down syndrome, one gifted 2E). Deaf, with C-PTSD and TBI, she’s also a gardening nerd who loves cats, Star Trek, and takes her coffee hot and black.