10/18/04 — Awards presented at disability luncheon

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Awards presented at disability luncheon

By Barbara Arntsen
Published in News on October 18, 2004 1:57 PM

Disabilities don't end the possibility of a fulfilling or exciting life, and courage and self-love are essential to overcoming society's prejudices toward the disabled.

That's the message Donna Walton, speaker for the Mayor's Committee for People with Disabilities, presented at Friday's annual awards luncheon.

In addition to hearing Ms. Walton's comments, several community members were given awards.

Mark Christopher Newman II, an employee at the Pizza Inn, won the employee of the year award for his perseverance.

Carol Bender, director of the Wayne Opportunity Center, won the mayor's award for her advocacy for disabled people.

Fran Kasey was recognized as an outstanding member on the Mayor's committee, and APV Baker received the employer of the year award.

The group listened intently to the inspirational speech from Ms. Walton, who is a certified cognitive behavioral therapist, a former teacher, a Ph.D. candidate in counseling and a faculty member at George Washington University.

In 1976, Ms. Walton's life was dramatically changed when she was diagnosed with a life-threatening bone cancer. At 18, the young college student's dreams of stardom were crushed when she had to undergo the amputation of her left leg above the knee to keep the cancer from spreading.

"The doctors were filling out my death certificate," she says. And though she survived the cancer, she was stripped of so many things.

From 1981 to 1986 she got her bachelor of arts degree, her master's degree and found a job.

But she struggled with self-identification, she said, and the loss of her leg became associated with her desirability as a woman.

"Boyfriends were afraid," she said. "Most men had 'NSV -- negative socialization virus' -- and my image as a woman was tied up in breasts, legs and hips."

Undaunted, Ms. Walton, coined a motto for herself: "What's a leg got to do with it?"

"I realized that surviving cancer was much greater than losing a leg," she said. "And I never lost the courage and vision to champion for others."

Walton has overcome what she calls "triple jeopardy." That's from being a woman in a man's world, being black in a white world, and being disabled in an able-bodied world.

"To arrive where I am, I had to deconstruct my life and rebuild it," she says. "I had to reinvent myself. After losing my leg, I had to break down all the meaning my life had for me as a two-legged person and reconstruct a life for myself as an amputee."

She shared 10 guiding principles she's developed:

*Have a purpose in your life.

*Accept yourself as fundamentally powerful.

*Stress your strengths.

*Don't sweat the small stuff.

*Say no to negative self-talk.

*Live by your inner value system

*Affirm yourself.

*Expect the best.

*Show someone an act of kindness.

*Say a prayer.

And she told the audience to "never give up on your game plan."