For our second disABILITY Awareness themed blog post of the month, we’d like to introduce Ayden Jent. Ayden speaks for the Joseph Maley disABILITY Awareness program, and is a 2016 Rio U.S. Paralympian. In this weeks blog, Ayden shares how he came to find the Joseph Maley Foundation, and why he continues to support the disABILITY Awareness Program.

How have you come to speak for the Joseph Maley Foundation and our disABILITY Awareness Program?

I read the following story in the paper, and the puppet Mark struck a chord with me. As I read more, I couldn’t stop. I loved what the Joseph Maley Foundation was doing for children with disabilities and for disability awareness education. I reached out to Vivian Maley and asked how I could be involved. She suggested that I could speak for the Joseph Maley disABILITY Awareness Program. Public speaking was not my strong suit, but I thought sharing my experiences with others about my disability would help. Since then, I have spoken in several schools and at Eli Lilly. Only by sharing our experiences with others can we start to change their cultural perspective.   

Why do you think disability awareness education is important for students?

Disability awareness education is key, especially early on [for young students]. It shows that some of us are born with disabilities, and others can have a disability later in life. If we can get students to understand that our differences make us unique, and that we should treat one another with kindness, it could positively shape their future. Education like this could lead to less bullying, students advocating for one another, and more inclusivity.

Do you find that people assume things about you because of your disability? What is one of these assumptions that you’d like to dispel?

Yes, I have a disability, but I can still be a functional member of society. My disability is a part of who I am, but it doesn’t define who I am. I have been mocked and have been called crippled before in my life, but as I get older I haven’t noticed it as much. I feel the societal view on those with disabilities is slowly changing for the better. Even though I am very self-conscious of my slight limp and occasionally tripping over myself while I walk, I try to always have a big smile on my face when I interact with people, which helps them relax.

When our dA speakers have finished speaking there is usually a question and answer portion with the audience, have you had any questions stick out amongst the rest in your time speaking for us?

The student question and answer portion is the best part. You think you are ready for a question, and then the students completely knock one out of the park. At the moment I can’t recall a specific question, but I can recall thinking that several of the questions asked by some of the students from Pike Elementary were very profound and articulate for their age. They made me think and reflect on my life in a way I hadn’t before.

March is Disability Awareness Month, what would you like people to be more aware of when it comes to people with disabilities?

There are roughly 40 million Americans living with a disability in this country, and all are individuals with hopes and dreams. It bothers me when others look down on people with disabilities, or mock them. There is no reason to treat someone with disrespect or meanness. We are all in this together, please treat others how you would want to be treated.    

At the Joseph Maley Foundation we like to ask people to tell us their “Why JMF”? Why they support us, why they put their time, effort, and heart behind our organization. Would you please share your “Why JMF”?

My “Why JMF” is my love for the disABILITY Awareness speaking panel and the Joseph Maley Fitness Program. I get to speak with an amazing group of individuals, and hearing their stories inspires me. Hopefully by sharing my story and my achievements I might inspire someone else. It’s like throwing a rock into a pond, that one splash causes ripples far beyond that one moment. If I can only help influence one student’s perspective, then that is one more person to help make a positive change in both their own life, and the lives of those around them.

One of my favorite memories is from the Joseph Maley Fitness Sports Banquet. During the banquet there was a child throwing a Frisbee, and I would run after it trying to get it to go through a hula hoop I was holding. I would pretend to trip and fall each time. The laughter and smile from the kid each time made my day. It was a laugh of pure joy and happiness. That is my “Why JMF”, because we get to make kids laugh and enjoy life as they should be doing. Love and kindness can have such a huge impact on the human soul. The Joseph Maley Foundation is an amazing organization that I hope more people will get involved with.