What My Disability Makes Me Most Thankful For


In order to make peace with the adversity in our lives, we first have to learn to appreciate its lessons.

In this week when we’re hopefully trying to stay more focused on what we’re thankful for, rather than the Black Friday deals, I’d like to talk about being grateful for our disabilities, or any adversity we face for that matter.

Naturally, living with a significant difference in my ability to function in the world, has brought me oodles of blessings. I more deeply appreciate the accomplishments I have made. I believe I have a greater understanding of people I otherwise would not have. In my adulthood years, I have learned the art of surrendering to the things I can’t do – and actually being at peace with that.

All these are wonderful gifts that a life with cerebral palsy has presented me, but they’re not what I’m most grateful for.

On a very basic level, I am most indebted to my disability because it makes me me. I would not be Kathy O’Connell as I know her without all the complexities of living with a disability – and I would miss her. My personality would probably be very different, my perspectives would be altered, and I really believe I would relate to others differently.

I would not trade that for all the gross and fine motor skills in the world, because I just would not be me.

On this Thanksgiving week, share with me below what your disability or any other adversity you face makes you thankful for.

Happy Thanksgiving!

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How to Believe in Yes When They Say No

Do you sometimes believe in the impossible?

So do I! It has helped me in incredible ways throughout my life to believe in things that people say cannot be done. This is true whether I succeed or fail.

Let’s actually look at failing first. Looking back over my life thusfar, I have come to learn when I believe in something and it does not come to fruition, I learn an awful lot about myself and the experience in the process. Trite, but true.

The recent campaign of Living Fully with Disability is a good example of this valuable learning experience. The campaign was generously funded by 28 people and over $2,500 was raised. That’s great and will fund a few free personal empowerment videos for people.

It is far from our goal of $11,700. Yet I learned so much about the art of fundraising, my views on appealing to people for funding, and the genuine kindness and generosity of people – all of which is so valuable as I further the goals of Radiant Abilities.

Now for a slice of personal success against the odds.

This is also trite but true. If I listened to every person who told me that something I wanted and believed in was not possible or within my reach, my life would be very different than it is today. I would not have the real significant things I treasure most in my life – being an entrepreneur, owning a home, being married, and having my son.

Of those four, my son was the biggest “impossible” that came into my life because I believed so strongly that my husband and I were meant to be parents. I am going to try to give you the abridged story here.

I married later in life and the biological clock was winding down by the time I did marry. Motherhood was something I could never remember not wanting. My husband, Scott, could also not imagine life without children. We were delighted when I became pregnant at age 42. Four weeks later our joy turned into heartbreak when I had a miscarriage.

One of the most helpful coping skills I have is to always look at the possibilities for achieving my goals, rather than focusing on what isn’t happening. Having the miscarriage sent me into grieving for months. I sensed that the pregnancy I loss was my sole chance at having children biologically.

I delved into researching adoption. What came to me was a surprise. After four months of research, I told Scott I believed deep within me our path to creating a family was foster care. I never thought I could be someone to take children into my home, care for them, and be able to let them go if needed. However, something within me, shouted this clearly.

When we have an inexplainable sense within us that something will work, we need to follow that.

So Scott and I began the six month long process of getting approved to be foster parents. Throughout the process we continually indicated our preference for a baby to foster. We were told repeatedly there were few babies needing foster care and we would probably wait years for one.

Despite the improbabilities, I believed that something was going to work out. I kept going back to this belief with every no we got.

On a cold January morning in 2012 I received a call from our intake worker that at last our application process was complete and we were approved to be foster parents. Now we just had to wait for an unknown length of time for that magical phone call, asking if we would take a child into our home.

We did not wait long. ONE HOUR later we received a call for a four week old boy who had been placed in the county’s care when he was five days old. That little baby turned out to be our Jaden, the miracle we were believing in.

I write this post today in honor of National Adoption Day this Friday, November 21, 2014. A year ago we adopted Jaden on National Adoption Day and officially became the family we always believed we could be. This was because we listened to our YES when others said no.

Sometimes you just need to do that. If you feel something is truly right for you, keep going back to this belief with every no you get. Who knows? A miracle may happen.

Now tell me what you’re believing in that feels impossible and how you handle the noes?

Posted in Believe in Yourself, Confidence Builders, Lessons Learned, Strategies/Techniques | Tagged , , | 2 Comments

What’s Your Firewalk?

Wanna hear my story of walking on a bed of hot coals?

As many of you know, my book, Firewalk: Embracing Different Abilities, is essentially about my life experience of learning how to lîve happily and successfully with a disability.


Here’s the story about how I really got the lesson in learning to live fully and happily with a disability. Several years ago I was invited as part of a group training I was doing to take part in a Firewalk.

The group didn’t know walking across hot coals was one of our exercises until right before it was presented to us. While the group leaders made it clear that no one had to do the firewalk, as I listened to them talk about it, I thought, “Well, of course I’ll do this.”

As the group broke to walk outside to the firewalk ceremony, one of the group leaders approached me and said, “You do not have to do this.” I began to cry when he said this because I knew the willful place in me that was going to do it, was coming from my ego, which said, “The girl with CP is going to prove to everyone I can do this.”

Our leader just said, “If you do do it, come and get me and I’ll hold your hand.” This was a great relief to me because I was already imagining falling and burning my face or something. Weren’t my feet enough to worry about?

The core philosophy of a firewalk is that if it’s done with the right intentions, one won’t get burned. Well, I knew if I did the firewalk from my ego, my feet would surely feel the pain.

So I preceded outside to join the firewalk ceremony which included drumming and people walking around the bed of coals, meditating on their intention. As I began watching my colleagues take their thoughtful turns on the firewalk and celebrate their process, I realized I wanted the experience of doing the firewalk more than the fear of what would happen if I did it.

I also realized throughout my life of living with a physical disability, I lived with the fear of what might happen if I did things – falling, not being able to do things, needing help – and I was tired of it.

I knew at that moment I had my right intention to do the firewalk.

So I approached my leader and took his hand. Now I was naive enough at the time to think he would actually do the firewalk with me and I led him to the coals, he stopped alongside the coals and I realized he was just there to walk alongside the path of coals and help me balance but I was on my own.

I took a deep breath and place my bare foot on the 1500 degree coals. I did feel an instant hotness, but after that I just felt how very alive I was in that moment and that I was literally walking on my fear toward greater freedom in living my life.

Doing the firewalk changed me and how I approach taking risks and fear’s hold on me.

I’m here today to encourage you to take the firewalk (obviously not an actual one) that is facing you today. It may be applying for a job, trying to return to school, making friends, living on your own. Allow the experience to help you discover how you can live more freely from the fear that holds you.

Make a comment below and tell me what firewalk you’re facing and what fears that brings up in you.

Posted in Confidence Builders, Firewalk: Embracing Different Abilities, Lessons Learned, LIVE your life, Taking Risks, The Power of Disability | 2 Comments

Just pick and click!

I really, really want to know what you’re thinking.

I want to be able to design the personal and professional development video trainings I am creating to meet your needs.

Part of why I am launching this video series is because I have found that there’s just not enough resources online that talk about the strategies and tools helpful to living life happily and successfully with a disability.

I, of course, have many ideas from my life and work which I think will be helpful. I have begun to share them in previous posts. However, I really want and need your input!

I created some VERY BRIEF (should really only take about five minutes) surveys to elicit some feedback. Pick what category best fits you and click on the link.

People with disabilities survey

Family members of people with disabilities survey

Professionals in the disability field survey

Give me your feedback here.

If you find you’re in more than one category, go ahead and complete all the surveys that apply to you.

Thank you so very much for your precious time and feedback in helping me improve what I deliver to you.

Lastly, just a reminder The Living Fully with Disability Campaign wraps up a week from today, 11/14/14. Please spread the word to help create FREE empowerment videos.

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Five Affirmations for Living HAPPILY with a Disability

Confidence is key to a happy and successful life.

This is true regardless of ability level. Perhaps even more true if you live with a disability, or any major difference, for that matter.

A disability certainly sets you apart from the crowd – and that’s a good thing! How absolutely boring would the world be if we were all the same. Sometimes though, a disability, a difference in movement, thought, speech, doing tasks, looks, can bring unwanted attention.

Much of my work in recent years has centered on helping people to affirm themselves in the face of going out in life and being “different.” Affirm? What does that mean? To build oneself from within, to recognize one’s strengths and offer the encouragement to bring them forth. Affirming gives our abilities the power to shine.

Affirmations are positive statements we feed our self-esteem that remind us of our strengths, positive qualities, and goodness. Affirmations are most effective when we say them repeatedly and frequently to ourselves and also out loud or on communication devices.

When we say affirmations frequently and regularly (aka daily), our confidence naturally builds. Similar to how a computer gets programmed, we program our minds to focus on the positive within ourselves. Centering your attention on the positive is so crucial when you have a disability because let’s face it, the hardship of having one, can weigh a great deal on our confidence.

Below I have listed five affirmations for living happily and successfully with a disability. Try them on for yourself. See how you feel after saying them several times. Then take the challenge below.

1. My disability allows me the freedom to be different.
2. I have so many strengths within me, such as _____________.
3. By being exactly who I am, there’s so much that I offer.
4. I love who I am, my body, and its uniqueness.
5. There is so much I am able to do and be when I focus on my strengths.

The Challenge
Come up with your own affirmation and share it in the comments below. Some simple rules to effective affirmations are to keep them short and in the present tense. If you use the future tense (I will…) you’re sending your brain a subtle message that you’re not yet what you want to be.

The Living Fully with Disability Campaign is going strong. Please check out the latest video update – Living Fully with Disability

So much is happening now at Radiant Abilities, a monthly newsletter will be launched in November, along with weekly blog posts!

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Tips for Finding Your Purpose

Every single person, regardless of ability level, has a purpose. In fact, your disability has a purpose in your life. I like to say there are no random occurrences in the world of disability.

As challenging as it may be at times, your disability plays a specific role in your overall purpose in your life. What I am learning in my own life is this role evolves over time.

I used to think I was living with cerebral palsy to teach people about differences. It’s become more specific over time. At this point in my life, I realize what I am teaching is about living life to the fullest when you deal with a significant adversity and finding joy in the journey.

I recently came across an easy five-step process in finding your purpose in Success magazine by Tom Corley. It resonated with me because when I talk to people about finding their purpose. I encourage people to focus on what makes them happy and what they’re interested in.

I’m tossing out a challenge to you to take this five-step process and then leave a comment below about what you discovered about yourself.

1. Make a list of everything you can remember that made you happy.
2. Highlight those items on your list that involve a skill and identify that skill.
3. Rank the top 10 highlighted items in order of joy they bring to you. Whatever makes you happiest of all gets 10 big points.
4. Now rank the top 10 highlighted items in term of their income potential. The most lucrative skill of all is worth 10 points.
5. Total the two rank columns. The highest score represents a potential main purpose in your life.

If you don’t come up with 10 items, don’t worry. Go with whatever you come up with.


We’re just over the halfway mark! We’ve hit $1295, thanks to several generous contributions. We so appreciate the people making it possible for people with disabilities and their families to have free personal empowerment videos!

There is a new twist to the perks. You may “donate” your perk to whoever you would like. Just let Kathy know by making a comment.

18 days to go! Please spread the word on social media and in your email networks. You can share the link below:

Living Fully with a Disability Campaign

Thanks so much for your support!

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Why Am I Doing This?

You all need more free stuff, don’t you?

No, I’m not talking about those chia pets we all bought in the 1980s (yes, I’m dating myself) or things collecting dust in the basement.

I am talking about content, information, guidance, and resources to offer tools, strategies, and inspiration for people to step more into their power, embrace their disability, and feel empowered to go out and live the life they want, pursuing dreams and even taking risks. Information like this:

Steps to Integrating Your Disability into Your Self Concept
Step 1: From the embracing process, begin to see your disability as a natural part of yourself.
Step 2: Love your disability, even when you hate it. Remember what we talked about in the embracing process, your disability is with you for the long haul and important teacher for you and everyone else.
Step 3: Focus on how your disability draws out STRENGTHS within yourself. For example, if your disability limits your physical activity, are you more capable in other areas like computer skills or social skills?
Step 4: Become more comfortable with being “different.” No one is completely alike anyway. The fact is your disability will always draw attention, people may be curious, and people may be afraid. It’s all okay. You may not be able to change how your body works or your mind processes, so why not proudly claim the difference that makes you uniquely you?

The above is from Embrace. Integrate. Radiate. LIVE. the first personal development video produced for my video series for people with disabilities. It will be release later this fall along with a free video on Define Yourself: How to Live More Fully with a Disability. Here’s an excerpt from that:

All of us have abilities. There is no one without any ability.
Begin defining yourself by what you can do, what you enjoy, and what interest you. This is how you transform negative perspectives on disabilities, which have been damaging, into a sense of self-acceptance for exactly who you are, the way you are. Develop a filter for others’ opinions of you. Remember, people’s misperceptions do not have to become your definitions of yourself.

Why am I doing this? Taking all this time to create videos and content for people?

After 17 wonderful years of counseling people with disabilities, I feel a strong calling to focus more on helping people live more fully and confidently with a disability and to pursue their dreams. To be honest, in my years of counseling I have seen a lot of heart break and broken spirits by the hardship of living with a disability and by being seen as “different.”

I want to take my message to a new level about uplifting people who feel devalued by their disability and that they have no choices. Life is just too short to let a disability get the best of you.


Please go to the Fully Living With Disability campaign

With limited resources for this and my passion to get my message about living fully and happily with a disability, I have launched campaign to help raise the initial start up funds, mostly for the free content, for this new business.

People can join the Fully Living with Disability campaign at any dollar amount, although there are incentives for particular contributions.

I am also asking you to sharing the link with your network:


I deeply appreciate you taking the time to consider this special request. It means a great deal to me. A heartfelt thank you.

Posted in LIVE your life, Radiant Abilities Video Series | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Going Indie! Join me!

Some of you may know this. Most of you don’t.

I have been quietly working on a major transition for Radiant Abilities. Later this fall, I will begin launching a series of personal and professional development videos. The videos will be targeted to three separate audiences:

People with disabilities
Family members of people with disabilities
Professionals in the disability field

The videos will offer tools, strategies, and inspiration for people to step more into their power, embrace their disability, and feel empowered to go out and live the life they want, pursuing dreams and even taking risks.

Speaking of taking risks…

I am beginning to believe that taking risks are just part of my DNA. This is a significant risk I am taking in my business. While I remain committed to the counseling clients I have, I am no longer taking referrals for new clients. I made this decision a few months ago so that I could have more time to devote to the video development and launch.

The risk I am taking is believing this is the next step in a career that has been dedicated to helping people to not only cope with a disability, but live fully and happily with it.

The other big risk I am taking is a financial one. The videos will all be professionally produced, no videos loaded from my phone. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. I just wanted a polished look to the videos. I also now have a team of consultants who are helping me put this project together and letting people know about it.

With limited resources for this and my passion to get my message about living fully and happily with a disability, I am launching a crowd funding campaign to help raise the initial start up funds for this new business.

I am launching the Radiant Abilities – Living Fully with a Disability Campaign on Monday, September 15 on Indiegogo. People can join in at any dollar amount, although there are incentives for particular contributions. Here’s a sneak peek at the launch video for the Living Fully with a Disability Campaign:


You’ll hear updates about the campaign in the weeks ahead. What I would love for you to do is share this video with just three people you know. I need many, many more people to know about me and what I am doing!

Thanks so much for reading and considering this project that is dear to my heart and soul.

Posted in LIVE your life, Radiant Abilities Video Series, Taking Risks, Video Posts | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Radiantly Living Through Art

I was honored last week to speak at the opening reception for the 2014 Unique Art Exhibit. Unique is an annual magazine of visual and literary pieces by artists with disabilities. Unique is the creation of Arise, Inc, the independent living center in Syracuse, NY.

I have admired Unique since its inception in 2000 for the venue it creates for people with disabilities to bring forth their talents and gifts to the our community.

I was honored to be one of this year’s judges. What I was not prepared for, though, was being overwhelmed by the depth and range of the work.

I will never forget walking in the room where all the pieces are collected and stepping into a state of amazement by the breadth of the work.

The volume of moving visuals, along with the touching literary works, tells me we have a goldmine of artistic abilities in Central New York. Abilities that need to be given more opportunities to shine.

As a professional in the disability service field and as someone who has lived all my life with a disability, I see such a need to change our thinking from serving people with disabilities to helping them live fully by encouraging people to radiate their abilities.

Unique does this year after year.

Unique is so much more than art and fine prose. It’s about individuals reaching within and bringing forth strengths and abilities.

The very nature of doing so lends itself living life more deeply and with more meaning.

Some of these artists have produced their work from the painful process of living with a disability. This kind of alchemy is a reflection of living fully with a disability because the artists transform their struggles into gifts that are shared with the community.

When we do this, we tap into our abilities. Take a peek into Unique exhibit and for you locals, check out the exhibit in person at the Everson Museum through September 21.

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The Secret to Change

“The secret to change is to focus all of your energy, not on fighting the old, but building the new.” -Socrates

How true this is! If you’ve been there, done that, why keep going back?

I’m a firm believer in the power of change to help us grow and feel more fully alive and engaged in life. We sometimes need the messiness and challenge to our comfort zone to help us find renewed and usually more purposeful meaning to our lives.

Change often forces us to dig deeper into our well of abilities and discover new skills and talents within. Even when change is unwelcome, this powerful transformation can occur and we become stronger because of it.

The Socrates quote probably especially resonated with me right now because I’m in the midst of making significant changes within my business, Radiant Abilities, LLC. While I still provide individual counseling, it’s on a limited basis these days.

This is to allow me time to “focus on the new.” A primary piece of the new is a series of videos which will be released oMver the next year. The videos, geared toward personal development, empowerment, family support, and professional development, will serve three separate audiences – people with disabilities, their family members, and professionals within the disability field.

The upcoming changes at Radiant Abilities highlighted in the July issue of Syracuse Woman Magazine. You can check out the article, featuring me as the WISE Business Center Entrepreneur.

I am so excited to begin compiling my twenty plus years of professional experience – and of course, my lifetime of living with a disability – into downloadable videos from my website. These videos are intended to help people problem solve and strategize their way to living more fully with a disability.

Topics will include Advocacy from Within, Healthy Sexuality and Relationships (professional version as well), Releasing the Myth of Disability (professional version as well), Empowering Your Child with a Healthy Sense of Self, Defining Oneself, and Taking Risks, to just name a few.

As current subscribers to Radiant Abilities, you’ll be offered a first look at the videos and a gratitude-filled, deep discount on the longer videos.

Know someone who would benefit from all this? Please be to share this post and encourage them to sign up! They’ll get a discount off of Firewalk: Embracing Different Abilities.

Don’t have your own copy yet or need another one? Contact me directly and I’ll give you an even bigger discount.

I’d love to hear your ideas and requests for training or personal development topics for the video, so leave a comment below.

Posted in Taking Risks | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment
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