Keeping balance in an off-balance world

Keeping My Balance Book CoverFor an eye-opening, refreshingly honest look at what life is like for people who have disabilities, I highly recommend Stephanie Torreno’s Keeping My Balance, a Memoir of Disability and Determination.

Stephanie is a writer in Houston and she has cerebral palsy, a condition that affects her speech and mobility. But as she points out in her easy-to-read book, she is much more than her disability. She is an honor graduate of Houston Baptist University, a daughter, a sister, an aunt, a friend and a caretaker for her mother.

Despite her keen intellect and writing ability, Stephanie has coped with periods of unemployment. She knows from first-hand experience that unemployment rates are extremely high for people who have disabilities.

Success through advocates and mentors

But she has been fortunate in many ways. She had strong advocates in her parents, who stood up for her as a child in the public schools and demanded that she get every opportunity to learn in as normal a setting as possible.

She also had other mentors, including teachers, counselors and employees of government agencies and nonprofits who helped her navigate a world that isn’t always accommodating. Stephanie writes eloquently of her struggles to do things that most people find routine. She works hard at learning to walk, spending hours as a child in physical therapy.

She also strives to make herself understood and is often frustrated when she is not. When she gets angry at the insensitivity of others or of institutions, she learns that her anger is telling her to start advocating for herself.  Because of her assertiveness, buildings at her college became more accessible.

Becoming a caretaker

She points out that when you have a disability, people talk around you rather than to you. They make decisions for you without consulting you.

But Stephanie is brutally candid about her own weaknesses. She admits to being turned off by other children in her school who are profoundly disabled and can only lay on a mat.

Later in life, after her mother has taken care of her for more than three decades, Stephanie becomes a caretaker herself when her mother suffers a stroke.

This book is honest, forthright and eye-opening, even for people like me, who worked in the disability field and spent several years as an advocate for my uncle, who had a profound intellectual disability. After reading Stephanie’s book, I realize I still have much to learn, but her insights have moved me in the right direction.