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Seth Whitten,
Alaska, USA

Seth became a below the knee amputee after an accident with a train when he was 14 years old. He had strong support network that helped him realise that the life of amputee didn’t mean not being able to make the most of his life. Seth is now sharing this message with others while also serving on the board of directors for Access Alaska, a center for independent living in that state of USA.

"As a teenager and into my early adulthood I really didn’t identify as having a disability. That came partly from wanting to fit in and not be defined by my limb loss and partly from a naive belief that if my disability didn’t significantly inhibit my physical activity, then I wasn’t really disabled.

When I got into my mid-twenties, I had the opportunity to get involved in adaptive sports, where I met people with all sorts of disabilities. Many of the amputees I encountered were my age but had lost limbs much more recently. As I began to understand the impact that it had on their lives and how much it meant for them to recognise that having a disability made them unique and didn’t mean they couldn’t still lead fulfilling lives, I came to believe that I had a responsibility to help others in the same way that people helped me.

Since then, I’ve been proud to present my disability as part of who I am, and I’ve tried to move the needle for others who aren’t as fortunate as I am."

Seth shares his feeling about dealing with disability "To me, being disabled isn’t about what I can’t do. I encourage people to focus on what’s possible and figure out how to extend the world of possibilities, even if that means sometimes having to drag the rest of the world along kicking and screaming." He also highlights the importance of the fact that every person with disability and everyone is different "I think people should remember that if you’ve met one person with a specific disability, then you’ve met one person with a specific disability. Too often we tend to let our limited experience form a more complete view of what we think disability is. At the end of the day, we’re human just like everyone else, and we want the same things as anyone else."

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"To me, being disabled isn’t about what I can’t do. I encourage people to focus on what’s possible and figure out how to extend the world of possibilities, even if that means sometimes having to drag the rest of the world along kicking and screaming." Seth also highlights the importance of the fact that every person with disability and everyone is different "I think people should remember that if you’ve met one person with a specific disability, then you’ve met one person with a specific disability. Too often we tend to let our limited experience form a more complete view of what we think disability is. At the end of the day, we’re human just like everyone else, and we want the same things as anyone else."

I asked Seth whether there are any stereotypes regarding disability community that he would like to address. He says: "What bothers me the most in my own life is that people with disabilities are not necessarily inspirational. Are there some incredible humans who happen to be disabled? Absolutely. Do I want people to look at me and think of what an inspiration I am when I haven’t done anything particularly impressive? No, I do not. I think we need to continue working hard to break down barriers so that disability is seen as more of a commonplace thing in our society."

Seth's favourite: “Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.”

                - Samuel Beckett

Seth serves on the board of directors for Accesss Alaska, a center for independent living that serves many areas of the state. He says "I think the CIL network across the country is one of the best ways that we can help people live life with dignity, make their own choices and participate fully in society."

Seth says when it comes to accessibility in Alaska, USA it's not the most accessible place to live. "From ageing infrastructure to extreme weather conditions, it presents a lot of challenges. I think that we have a lot of work to do up here just to raise awareness and help people understand what a big deal it is when something as simple as getting a sidewalk cleared of snow doesn’t happen. While Virginia, where I'm originally from' isn’t necessarily the picture of accessibility, the higher population and closer proximity to services often make day to day life with a disability easier."

How to raise disability awareness? "I think we have to demand inclusion. I’m seeing incrementally more representation of disability in our society and our culture, but I look forward to the day when we’re afforded the same consideration that other groups tend to get."

 

Seth has only one firmly response to what should we all do to end ableism and discirimination towards disability community: "Get louder."