By Board Member and Self-advocate Seth Burdine, Chief Advancement Officer Kate McGuire and TU Master’s Candidate Taylor Lutz
In the spring, I went with Kate McGuire from The Arc Baltimore to speak to a group of college students at Towson University. Kate talked about the upcoming Sprout Film festival and then I spoke about my life and how The Arc supports me. I talked about my early childhood, years of depression, my accomplishments and how I overcame problems. I was very happy at the many questions the students asked me. They were very interested to know me and what I am doing now. It was an honor to talk in front of that class. I was very inspired to share my story with a new generation with my story.
I went with Seth Burdine, one of our board members from The Arc Baltimore who is also served by our organization, to speak to a class at Towson University. Our mission was to inspire them to attend and help promote the upcoming Sprout Film Festival. I spoke for a few minutes and then turned it over to Seth. We were supposed to take up only about 20 minutes of the class time, but the students asked Seth so many questions – what he likes to read, what assistive technology devices he uses, what his work is like, what he likes to do in his spare time, etc. Some of what he shared was serious and some of it was just fun. For instance, he was very honest with us about the difficulties he experienced in public school because students made fun of him — and then he talked about what he was able to accomplish at the Maryland School for the Blind and at The Arc Baltimore and how proud that makes him feel. Then on the lighter side, he enlightened us all about a fun game that people with visual impairments play called GoalBall. We found a video online and watched it so we could appreciate what he was describing and we all ended up marveling and laughing together.
Our 20 minutes turned into an hour. Seth made a big impact on the students and I think they will all be at the Sprout Film Festival. I don’t think they will remember me. But they will remember Seth!
(excerpts from a class paper for “Understanding Disability through Mass Media” taught by Dr. Beth Haller, Ph.D., a required course for the new Applied Adult Disability Studies minor at Towson U )
First, having the opportunity to learn about The Arc Baltimore was a very eye opening and wonderful experience. Seth Burdine has a unique story and is happy to share his story with anyone who will listen. His story shows his determination. His love for life and happiness was evident in his informal speech. Burdine is an incredibly smart man using his platform to educate our class and the public about individuals with disabilities and the resources available to them.
His story reminds us that at any moment, you or your loved one could experience something, like his detached retina, that will leave you blind or experiencing a different form of a disability. I say this not to create inspiration porn about Burdine, or to say some cliche line like “live your life to the fullest.” But, instead, I say this because this story challenged my thought process in a new way. Typically, after hearing one of these stories, I’d be thankful for everything I have and feel terrible for the individual speaking. I think this is a very natural response for anyone, but especially someone who is ignorant of the disability community.
However, this time, I noticed a different thought process and reaction that I had. I did not feel bad for Seth for his blindness. He does not need sympathy. He is an incredibly happy man, dealing with the hand he was dealt. He does not complain or ask for anyone to feel sorry for him. Instead, this time around, I experienced a desire to learn more about The Arc and to educate myself. The Arc has helped Burdine live an independent and successful life. It is important to learn and understand about these resources available to the disability community. By arming yourself with knowledge, you have the power to change someone’s life. Now that I know about The Arc Baltimore and Seth’s story, I can share his story and their mission to anyone I meet that many benefit from their services. While they can’t help everyone, they may be able to provide the individual with other resources or ideas to assist them in life.
This experience with Burdine stood out to me because of this change in thought that I had. Had I listened to Burdine’s story six months ago, I would have felt sorry for him and guilty for complaining about the “small” things. I would have reminded myself “not to sweat the small stuff,” but this time, that thought did not occur. I think that is a powerful and eye opening thought process that has changed within me. I think we can all learn something from Burdine’s determination.