Disability or Opportunity

Disability or Opportunity by Lou Figueroa

Many people see my disability as a disadvantage. As a survivor, it is my role to transform what seemed impossible into the possible. Several years ago I lost both legs in a train accident.  Some would say I have a disability but I don’t feel it.  I golf, travel, cycle, climb, hike, dance and everything else that catches my interests, in addition to my speaking and coaching career.

Amazingly, right after the accident I wrote in my journal, “I know my purpose is to help others overcome adversity through my tragedy.”

There are different ways to look at disability.  In fact it may not be a disability at all – simply a difference in how I look to others.   For those of us with noticeable differences we can choose to perceive it as an opportunity rather than a disability. In my case I wear prosthetic legs which makes me stand out.

Here’s what I’ve learned in the years since my amputation.

Teachable Moments – People are curious, they always want to ask, “What happened?”   Some are too shy to ask and I have to help them express their questions so the conversation is comfortable.

I have the opportunity to use my differences to help people understand that life doesn’t end with an accident. It merely is a transformation of image.  I answer their questions and offer insights into the operation of my microprocessor knee and carbon feet.   I have to be open to people approaching me in any environment because they often want to ask me questions.   It becomes a teachable moment; and I am able to convey positive messages of hope and inspiration.

Technology – Many people with disabilities use assistive devices.   Technology and bionics are being developed that are extremely helpful.   For example my knee processes and anticipates each step, providing a sense of stability and control while allowing me a fluid gate and natural looking walk.

I’m honored to be a part of the advancement of prosthetics and assistive devices.  While  some of the components may not be perfect, the feedback I offer helps developers build better arms and legs.

Acceptance – I had to accept my new body, missing one leg above the knee and the other below.   I used a wheel chair for two years, transitioned to prosthetics using two forearm crutches, then moving down to the use of a walking cane and now I am proficient on both legs.   I’ve accepted this is who I am and how I look.  Though I may be challenged in a few settings, there isn’t much I can’t do or won’t try.

The second aspect of acceptance is really more important.   I learned to say “yes” and accept the help of others whether or not I need it.   I realized that if I declined their offer of assistance I may offend or make them feel bad.   By accepting their help I open a door to their expression of care.   Allowing them to express a courtesy or make a connection that might not have occurred if I didn’t have a difference or disability.

Visibility – It’s fair to say that I’m easily recognizable when I wear prosthetic legs and I seldom wear long pants.

Being noticed and remembered is a good thing.   My prosthetics have opened doors to meeting people, creating opportunities, and being asked to speak about my transformation.   There is no doubt that I am noticed and remembered.

In closing, a difference or disability could be perceived as a negative.  In my case, as I awoke from a week long coma I recognized I would have a world of new opportunities.

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About Lou Figueroa:  Lou focuses on quality of life and balance, delivering his message through associations and companies.  Five years ago he lost both legs in a train accident.   He coaches others to maximize their potential and to improve quality of life.   He can be contacted at 720-285-7904.

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