Disability Talks: Don't Dis My Ability

Conquering Fears, Climbing Mountains, and Envisioning a Life without Limits

January 22, 2021 Abilities in Motion Season 1 Episode 11
Disability Talks: Don't Dis My Ability
Conquering Fears, Climbing Mountains, and Envisioning a Life without Limits
Chapters
Disability Talks: Don't Dis My Ability
Conquering Fears, Climbing Mountains, and Envisioning a Life without Limits
Jan 22, 2021 Season 1 Episode 11
Abilities in Motion

This episode features the bubbly personality of Gail Hamilton, a public speaker, opera singer, author, therapist, and former Miss Colorado Senior America. Shelly interviews Gail about the twists and turns that led her to pursue such diverse experiences, never letting blindness ultimately dictate what she can and cannot do, no matter how great her fear. For Gail, no mountain is too high, and she professes that no matter what your dream is, if you can see “it” you can make “it” happen. Listen to Gail share why your desire to fly must be bigger than your fear of falling and how breaking the chains of your thoughts can open you up to new possibilities.

For more information about Abilities in Motion, visit our website at https://www.abilitiesinmotion.org/ or follow us on social media.

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/AbilitiesinMotionPA
Twitter: https://twitter.com/BerksCountyCIL
LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/company/abilitiesinmotion/
YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCSEXzEkE_CK5WYmOhMAN4Aw

Show Notes Transcript

This episode features the bubbly personality of Gail Hamilton, a public speaker, opera singer, author, therapist, and former Miss Colorado Senior America. Shelly interviews Gail about the twists and turns that led her to pursue such diverse experiences, never letting blindness ultimately dictate what she can and cannot do, no matter how great her fear. For Gail, no mountain is too high, and she professes that no matter what your dream is, if you can see “it” you can make “it” happen. Listen to Gail share why your desire to fly must be bigger than your fear of falling and how breaking the chains of your thoughts can open you up to new possibilities.

For more information about Abilities in Motion, visit our website at https://www.abilitiesinmotion.org/ or follow us on social media.

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/AbilitiesinMotionPA
Twitter: https://twitter.com/BerksCountyCIL
LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/company/abilitiesinmotion/
YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCSEXzEkE_CK5WYmOhMAN4Aw

Intro:

Welcome to Disability Talks, a podcast produced by Abilities in Motion. I'm your host, Shelly Houser. Join us for real conversations and no nonsense talk from everyday people with disabilities living their most independent everyday lives. Tune in for the latest news surrounding disability, accessibility, and independence, where conversations aren't dissed and stories that need to be told aren't missed. So let's talk!

Shelly:

Good day, everyone. This is Shelly Houser, your host for Disability Talks. Welcome back. And today we have special guest Gail Hamilton here to visit with us. Gail is a public speaker and accomplished author, crowned Miss Colorado Senior, an opera singer, and has two master degrees. Welcome, Gail. How are you today?

Gail:

I am well. How are you?

Shelly:

Very good. Thank you for being on the show today.

Gail:

My pleasure.

Shelly:

So it's been quite a pleasure to read up on you and study all of your accomplishments in life. You had quite a diverse life. Tell me more about how some of this all came about.

Gail:

You know, I have two answers for that and one of my answers is my own desire, will, determination to do all the things I've done. And on reflecting about that, I, my grandma kinda inspired me towards that and she gave me a record when I was in high school of, and this is old school. I know, I know, I know, but of , um, Jonathan Livingston Seagull, and it was a beautiful recording that was narrated and then it had music in the background. So it was really wonderful because I could picture these seagulls flying and it was, it was awesome. I love it. It's still my favorite pick-me-up kind of record if I'm really feeling down and out. And Jonathan says that your whole body from wingtip to wingtip is nothing more than a thought in the form that you can see, and break the chains of your thoughts and you break the chains of your body too . And I didn't know anything about thoughts, creating our realities and our destinies back then. I knew I loved Jonathan, but I really connected with that statement and that my desire to do whatever it is, has to be bigger than my fear. And my desire was to be a music person. My desire was to sing. I mean , once, and I've always followed my passion and my desire is, my heart said, you're now going to be a singer. I go, yes, that's what I'm going to go do. So I'd go off and do that thing, which, and when I was in my graduate, my master's, I, I got the opportunity to audition for the operas, and I went, I'm going to do this. So it was partly my desire and my passion and my purpose and my belief in myself and probably the good news was, I didn't know any differently not to do that, but I went off and did it. And then I had a , uh , in that case, a voice teacher that believed in me and she saw me as a singer that just happened to be blind and not a blind singer. And that--there's a difference in that. And so I think both the external and the internal helped me to do whatever my "it" was. When I was Miss America, um , not only is it was my passion to inspire people that you can do whatever the "it" is in your life. And my passion. We had to come up with a 35-second philosophy, and my philosophy, which really annoyingly has guided my whole life, but--and still guides me. But my path, my philosophy is my desire to fly must be bigger than my fear of falling. Vision is internal, not external and is guided by my heart, not my eyes, and in order to be free to fly, you must want your dream, feel your dream, and believe that your dream will come true, and most important--importantly, you must live your dream. I'm the creator of my destiny, the composer of my symphony, and I choose to live a life of greatness. And that's kind of, what's guided me all my life without me always knowing that. And so from that, yeah, I built my own Habitat for Humanity house (former) and was--written my own book, was Miss America, and the operas, and those are highlights in my life because I wanted to do it, my passion told me I had to do it, and the good news is I followed that. And then I kind of had the opportunity just to do it. So believing in myself and other people, believing in me, kind of created the end result of that.

Shelly:

That's really great. Had a lot of positive and negatives, um , I guess with having blindness. What's the biggest, positive and negative you've noticed, and would you change the way your life has turned out?

Gail:

Biggest positive, negative. Biggest, the positive--you know, on a psychological spiritual level, the positive has always been that I get to see people from the inside out and that's, and I've always done that. I, I don't tend to judge them. Of course, I can't on their physical appearance. So who is that person that's sitting, being, standing right in front of me. And must connect with the heart of that person. The--and I know I would not change that. I wrote in my book that I think the very first couple o f sentences i n the book say something like, you know, I'm blind and if you're going to have a disability, i t's the best one to have because you know, I still get to talk to you, I still get to hear music and cook, and--not that I'm good at that--um, and walk with my dog down the street. And it's my, my essence of who I am is not changed by that. And with that said, blindness affects every aspect of my life. And, u m, probably I had a therapist once that said, except sleeping, and I'm thinking, no, I got insomnia, that blindness might go in there too. I don't know. Like, I don't know. So it might affect everything. And then the negative is for sure that education is a constant, that I constantly have to educate people that I'm the same as you, I just do things differently, and that people underestimate what blind people can do, and--all because s ociety i s so visually oriented, they just don't understand how blind people can operate without sight, and t o constantly say, I can do whatever "it" is that you can do, and t o v alue me and respect me for that--blindness, this is just one part of me. It's not the whole who I am, and unfortunately that's a lot of times what people see is the only my blindness and the--and that I'm not capable of doing whatever that "it" is.

Shelly:

That's really true. I think a lot of people , um, with any disability experience that.

Gail:

Yeah. It's too bad because we're more than just that.

Shelly:

Absolutely. So I wanted to know, in what ways COVID made your life maybe more accessible if in any , um , and do you think this will be a new normal for in society, the way we've done things maybe through Zoom and , and connecting in virtual ways?

Gail:

I , I think it's forced, at least for me, and I'm self-employment, and I'm a speaker and a writer and all that, and so I can't go out and do that physically. Uh, and so it's like, well, what am I going to do? And at first I was like, well, I'll just sit here and play piano and kind of veg out. And then I kind of went, or I still can write and speak. I just have to do it in different electronic mediums now, which in some ways I've wanted to always do. I just didn't focus on that because I was focusing on the out there kind of thing, and so I still get to do that. Now I write blogs, I go on podcasts and , and all that. Um, so I think it will continue to be doing that. I think it will be a hybrid of, I'm seeing this morning, so like , well, I love to speak out there 'cause I love audiences and laughing and kidding around and, and letting them see who I am. And then I, I still see it as maybe we'll live stream Facebook and do the Zoom thing at the same time. Cause you certainly get to reach more people. I mean, I'm in Philadelphia today, so that's a cool thing, or wherever I'm at.

Shelly:

Yes, no, you're right outside of Philadelphia, the heart of where all these elections have been such a ruckus lately.

Gail:

Yeah, yeah. I gues you had to be noticed.

Shelly:

Little bit. We don't, we we're not shy. Yeah . So do you think you've reached wider audiences through this virtual connecting over the last couple of months?

Gail:

I think so, but you know the hard thing, well, even speaking in general, it's kind of hard, unless somebody buys a book or sends me an email, it's hard to know how I've touched people, but I've been to California and Florida and Canada. I just got one from Australia today. So I was like, woohoo, I get to go to Australia! So that's, that's pretty cool. My big spinoff is I want to touch people's lives. I mean, that's always been my motivation even as Miss America. I didn't do it because I thought I was right, the most beautiful being on the planet. I did it because I wanted to let people know that they can do whatever their "it" is. So , um , that's my big, big motivation, but it is fun to travel around and do all that .

Shelly:

Yeah. So you wanted to show the audience all the things that you can do and have them focus on that rather than what they assume you can't do. Correct?

Gail:

Right. And even in COVID, there's something, there's your passion, your purpose, whatever the "it" was you were doing before COVID, you probably can still do the same "it," it's just, you have to do the "it" differently.

Shelly:

It seems as if with the disabled community that transportation, employment, and technology seem to be some of the biggest three barriers , uh, for us. Um , how do you see or want to see these things change now that COVID is hitting us and people are forced to work from home?

Gail:

Yeah, always three big. Um, I was thinking about transportation this morning, I went, I think they should, instead of riding the public bus, I think they should give us Lyft's and Uber's for the same price they give us buses. Wouldn't that be good?

Shelly:

Yeah.

Gail:

I t hought, b ecause that would really save us time b ecause part of the best thing is a accessibility or it doesn't always go where you want to go and you have to go on their timeframe, and then it's not always reliable. And I know I've shown up sometimes for presentations and it was, you know, I'm a little bit late or I'm, I don't get there in time w hile they go to the wrong location, and its like, "that's professional." U m, so as they get--that'd be really great, it might even save them money in the long run to give us, you know, Lyft's and Uber's f or that same fee. Um, that was a little fantasy I was having this morning, but it is a big one. And in, u h, employment, u m, you know, I was thinking today too, that--I was on a Zoom virtual state convention, and there was a guy that was presenting on diversity, diversity, and he was talking about how we all have our disabilities with our little characteristics, and like for me, I'm blind and I'm a woman and I 'm a s enior and, and whatever else I bring to the table, and we have to, this is going into education and employment, we have to bring those parts of us kind of like out of the closet and display those to others and be willing to be vulnerable and to be willing to be bold about them, and that's the only way that we can expect to educate and empower others that we are the same as they are. We have our differences and our differences make us unique, and they're a blessing, and not to be seen as a curse, and I liked how he said all that. And it got me to thinking about that and employment and how to really not be shy about who I am, b ecause we all have something and--that we may feel uncomfortable about bringing to the table or vulnerable, and it's okay b ecause that's w ho m akes what makes us us, and in doing so that that's the only way to educate others about who we are and what we can do. And to help them see us as capable people with high--and expect the highness out of u s, not low expectations out of us.

Shelly:

So we're the same as not less than.

Gail:

Absolutely. Sometimes we're better than, but they don't know that we are because they see us as less.

Shelly:

Well, with that we're going to take a quick commercial break and we'll be back with Gail Hamilton.

AD:

Abilities in Motion is one of Pennsylvania's premiere centers for independent living, existing to educate, support, and promote individuals with disabilities. Our programs are focused on providing opportunities for individuals with disabilities to live independent self-determined lives. Abilities in Motion advocates for local, state, and national laws that protect the rights of people with disabilities. We're proud to create innovative and sustainable solutions and set trends using multi-focused approaches towards shaping national education, employment opportunities, in-home supports, and healthcare that affects the lives of individuals with disabilities. For more information about programs and services Abilities in Motion provides call (610) 376-0010,or visit our website at www.abilitiesinmotion .org .

Shelly:

And we're back, and today's guest is Gail Hamilton. I wanted to get into something you've mentioned to me that was really important. um , self-care. How do you feel about self-care , especially in such a stressful year of 2020?

Gail:

I feel, how do I feel about that? I feel that it's , well , it's really important that, that we mainly can--well, we connect with ourselves and we connect with others. So connecting with ourselves, meaning for me, what, what brings me joy every day and that might be making music, or it might be , um, you know , doing podcasts and blogging, but, and it also might mean to acknowledge myself when I'm not maybe, you know , right on the top of my game to go, okay, it's time for a movie and popcorn now and to acknowledge that--or, and then also to know, when I do need to reach out and to make sure I do that to either a professional and/or to just friends and connect with another human being, because for me being self-employed and I live by myself, it's just me and these walls and it's, it's good to stay connected with others and make sure they remember that I still exist over here too. And, and even though I am inspiring people all the time, that sometimes every once in a while, not very often that I need a little inspiration to , or somebody to give me a verbal hug over the phone and say that, you know , they're here for me as well, because we all need that give and take kind of thing. So it's important to keep, keep on doing that, reaching out for sure.

Shelly:

In any, in any way that we can right now with the social distancing. So speaking of inspiring and connecting with others, last year you spoke at the National Speakers Association of Colorado on climbing our mountains of success. And , uh, and I want you to tell us more about that and your book , uh , Soaring into Greatness.

Gail:

I believe that climbing your mountains, whatever that mountain is, there's, there's some tools or some things you have to have to climb a mountain and you have to see the mountain at first. Sometimes some people don't even see that they have a mountain, totally in denial of the, of the mountain, whatever that obstacle is, and then you have to have the desire to climb that mountain and the passion, and the willingness. When--I remember when I did, was beginning, uh, psychotherapy, and this was like 30 years ago, but when I did it, I'd go, I don't want to climb the mountain. I was like, totally in denial that mountain that I go, can't we just like blow it up and then I could just like, walk through that heap of dirt?

Shelly:

You g ot t o do the work.

Gail:

Like don't make me climb it. And they said, no, and you can't go around the mountain, and you can't--because y ou could get a plane and go fly over it, but y ou really, in a day, have to climb the mountain. And in order to climb the mountain, you have to have A: the desire. Then you have to start climbing, and you have to practice. You can't climb that 14 footer--I don't think you h ave t he m ountains much in f ilms. You have them where you are, mountains?

Shelly:

Yep. Yes we do.

Gail:

Wow, okay. So in order to climb the mountain, you have to, you don't just climb that by walking around the park, you might have to go first 5,000 feet and then maybe 10,000, just--so you don't do the whole thing in one day. You have to practice to climb that mountain. And then you have to have the tools, to climb it. You know, they , you have to have the trekking poles and the crampons and the hats with the little lights on them and all that stuff. And in life, we have to have tools as well. You know, it could be , uh , it could be the therapist or it could be the education, or it could be that computer class or whatever that is. And then you have to have a mentor. And if you're doing the Mount Everest, which in my book, I said , I climbed a psychological Mount Everest. And in order to do that, you have to have a Sherpa. You know, somebody that's been before you, that can guide you on your way. And in thinking about climbing mountains, you, you sometimes don't always stay on the path and you might slide off or go into a little crater. And in my case, I said, I went into a great big crater, and I had to--my therapists gave that little--belay a rope and put it down to me and dragged me back up. You know, so you have to have somebody that's willing to kind of be there and do that for you. And then you have to keep practicing and keep being committed and believe in yourself, that you're going to make it up that mountain and have that determination. Of course, then when it gets to the top, you get the joy of celebrating the , whatever it is you just accomplished. So you have to have tools, practice, the mentor, the belief in yourself, and , uh , celebrating at the top, to get to overcome that. And those are kind of some of my beliefs on how you get through life and how you have the tools to do that. And you have to have the passion and desire to do it, and you can't go through life without having the mountains, and it's just how we deal with them and cope with them that make all the difference.

Shelly:

What made you want to write your Soaring into Greatness?

Gail:

I , I knew I had a story to tell a nd i t, a nd I , a nd I just had to get that out b ecause I thought that there's other people that maybe have similar stories or they feel alone, or they feel that they're not worthy or capable, or I, I don't want t he, and part of it was that I had gotten on the other side of that mountain, o r, if you want to call it that. And I, I was a v ictim for so many years. I was held down by my belief that I couldn't do whatever that "it" was. And, and that, that held me back a lot. And once I discovered that it's, y ou k now, six inches between my ears that made the difference, that this is my attitude, and that I can do anything anybody else can do. And once I had learned all that, I wanted to empower others not to waste a second more i n their life of thinking they couldn't do whatever that it--was. And I w anted to empower them that they could do whatever that was, that we really aren't a victim of our circumstances. W e're the creator of them. And I wanted, I just wanted to get that out there as soon as I could, so people c ould hopefully learn from my story, be inspired by it, that they could do whatever their " it" was. And I'm no better than anybody else. I just keep on keeping on and then to encourage them to keep on keeping on because we can do whatever it is t hat that brings us joy every day.

Shelly:

Have you ever gottenany feedback from any of your readers?

Gail:

Not much. I did from my family. We were just wanting to go there. Ah! How could you do that? From our readers, some people say it's inspiring. I don't know if they've given it to other people or not, who knows. But not much. So be the first and bring me, give me your feedback.

Shelly:

I think earlier in 2020, you spoke on focusing on what matters, how do you suggest we find our vision to succeed?

Gail:

Looking inside, finding what brings you joy and what is your passion? Um, by doing that, and a lot of people say, I don't know what that is. And they kind of go, well, you have to know sort of like, what, what don't you want? And then you have to know what, and by finding my--I said, well, make a list of you don't want and then find out what you do want, and then, and then what is that? And does that bring you joy ? Whatever brings you joy is what you should be doing. I've never done too much. I just wanna say I've never done anything--and I was going to say, well, that didn't bring me joy--and, and I thought, well, I had two part-time jobs at one time. But even doing those what what brought me joy was connecting with people, and so maybe I've never done anything that didn't bring me joy, and that's probably been my model , for better or for worse. You know, I've never had a full time, nine to five job. I've always just played piano and performed and spoke. And I was a therapist for a while, and I just kept doing what, what I like to do, and that's just kind of led me to all these different, crazy things I've done in my life.

Shelly:

I believe your mantra is anything is possible.

Gail:

I like that, I'll go with that one.

Shelly:

U m, you, you wrote that, you came up with that.

Gail:

Sure. I mean, I, I don't know. I , I imagine that I, if that that's part of my mantra and anything's possible, and I do believe that so I can see that as part of my vision. Um, I believe that one of the things I say is, change the way you see and change the way you live. You know, so that's anything is possible. U h, your desire to fly has to be bigger than your fear o f falling. Anything's possible. U m, so I, I do believe that anything is possible. The limits we have are only the ones that we put on ourselves.

Shelly:

That's absolutely right.

Gail:

You know , and there--I acknowledge that there's for, at least in the blind community, 60% unemployment before the pandemic. I mean, there is societal stuff we have to go through a nd, and maybe that's how come I didn't have a full nine to five job, but in reality, I don't think I w ould h ave been happy being a computer programmer, let's say, I'm not wired that way. And I w ould've been miserable. So you have to do your passion and your purpose and all that, and anything is possible. And you have to keep with that, whatever that thing t hat is, that brings you joy.

Shelly:

It's kind of like when one door closes another one opens and I think for you, if that nine to five employment door closed, it really left you time to become Miss Colorado and take on operas and, you know, write your book, and get your degrees, and all these wonderful things that created who you are.

Gail:

Yeah. And if I would have done the nine to five, I would never have done any of that. And probably if I hadn't been blind, I never would've done that. You know, if I would have been like my sister, I mean, I--having sight, I--you know, I've , I've been married, had 15 kids and that'd been me, but I , you know, I, I like that I'm not that. This is way more fulfilling, spiritually, heart-wise, psychologically, and all that. You know what, I wish it fed my pocket book more, yeah. But it brings me joy, and it's all good. It's all in divine order, as they say.

Shelly:

So pending that 2021 is a better year, what do you have planned for yourself?

Gail:

Um , I would like to take what I'm doing now and , uh , keep expanding that. You know , once we become able to be out there safely, then I would love to go speaking for live audiences and doing more of that because I really love the interaction between me and other people. That's fun to me. Maybe it's the performer in me that I, I like that I'm not afraid of people and all that. And I'd love to do workshops. I think that'd be fun. And that's probably the therapist in me. I like to see what makes people tick, and I like to help them overcome whatever those psychological barriers are, and let's get people out there doing their passions and their dreams and their purpose, 'cause life's too short, and maybe that's one thing we've learned during the pandemic is life is too short and we should be doing what we want to be doing. And so doing more of that, and I don't know, whatever--whatever's in order is where I'll go.

Shelly:

Well, Gail, thank you so much for being here with me and my listeners and thank you for your wisdom and your insight. Um, so I look forward to finishing, you know , checking out the book and finishing it and calling you back for a virtual lunch.

Gail:

It's really fun getting to know you.

Shelly:

Yeah, and to our listeners out there. Thanks for connecting and listening in today, and check out our other podcasts here at Disability Talks. And if you like what you hear, make sure that you hit that like and subscribe button. So with that, I thank you. I think Gail and I think to all of our listeners and please join us again for another day of Disability Talks.

Speaker 4:

Thanks for tuning in to this episode of Disability Talks. Want to keep the conversation going? Then visit our website at AbilitiesinMotion .org , or connect with us on social media. And remember, don't diss my ability.