Debora A. Davidson, PhD, OTR/L, Clinical Occupational Therapy Editor

Debora A. Davidson, PhD, OTR/L, Clinical Occupational Therapy Editor

As an OT, I have many professional heroes:  A. Jean Ayres, Lela Llorens, Gary Kielhofner, Wendy Coster, Suzanne Peloquin, Chuck Christiansen. My list goes on and on. These scholars and master clinicians are well represented in our professional texts and lauded at conferences. They have contributed hugely to our profession and the lives of people with disabilities.

Here’s an interesting question: how many celebrity heroes can you name from the ranks of those we serve?  I must admit that I can barely come up with even a few!  The activists for disability rights are not well represented in our texts and OT stories.  In fact, they are rarely mentioned in any media, I think.

I would like to start to correct this imbalance by sharing a bit about heroes in the struggle to gain civil rights for Americans with disabilities, starting with  Laura Hershey. Laura was a tireless advocate for the rights of people who are disadvantaged, including those with disabilities. She wrote many poems and articles focusing on the challenges faced by people with disabilities in a society that treats them with pity or disregard.  She protested the muscular dystrophy telethons for their negative portrayal of people such as herself and twice participated in United Nations conventions of women’s rights. She received an honorary doctorate from Colorado College, where she had previously earned her undergraduate degree. She was a petite woman in a power chair, with a strong, clear voice and a lot of energy!  Laura died at the age of 48, having improved the lives and awareness of many.  Her most famous poem is  “You Get Proud By Practicing”.

Below is a bit of her poem, the stanzas that speak to me as an OT.  I hope that you will read it in its entirety here:

If you are not proud 

For who you are, for what you say, for how you look;
If every time you stop
To think of yourself, you do not see yourself glowing
With golden light; do not, therefore, give up on yourself.
You can get proud.


There are many, many ways to get proud.
You can try riding a horse, or skiing on one leg,
Or playing guitar,
And do well or not so well,
And be glad you tried
Either way.
You can show
Something you ha­ve made
To someone you respect
And be happy with it no matter
What they say.
You can say
What you think, though you know
Other people do not think the same way, and you can
keep saying it, even if they tell you
You are crazy.

Laura Hershey was a woman with a lifelong disability, who, in her short life, helped to significantly improve the lives of women and people with disabilities as a writer and activist.  I will think about her when I work with clients who fear that their disabilities will prevent their achieving great things, or whose teachers, families, or others tell them so. May her light shine on.

Share your thoughts: