The below is a short personal account of how our new staff member, Ben Thariath discovered his passion for disability work. Speaking from first-hand experience, Ben says, “Often times, people with disabilities are perceived as being incapable, rather than having a number of great strengths, and capabilities.” As you read his story below, and start getting to know him, you’ll see why I am so thrilled that he has decided to join us on staff!
Growing up, it was difficult for me to associate with other people with disabilities, especially in school. In my mind, associating with another person with a disability reminded me that I was “different” from others who were able bodied. Born with a physical disability known as Spina Bifida, I thought my limitations would prevent me from enjoying experiences such as pursuing work and a social life. This is why I had a tendency to ignore the reality of my disability. Generally speaking, those who have a disability will be faced with unique challenges such as lack of accessible transportation, unemployment, unequal education, and lack of affordable housing.
However, being around my family and friends who are able bodied, provided a model for me of what is possible for my own life. My family and close friends have challenged me to live a life beyond my physical limitations. These relationships enabled me to dream big and accomplish things that I never imagined possible. These tasks ranged from simple things like cooking, to more complex things like driving a car, which can be challenging for someone living with a physical disability.
During the last couple of years, while wrestling with my faith and trying to understand my purpose in light of my disability and brokenness, I frequently listened to an evangelist named Nick Vujicic. He’s a man about my age, who was born without arms or legs. One of the things that he frequently says when he shares his story is, “when we think of the word disabled, it makes us see life as being filled with impossibilities, disappointment and limitations. But when we go by faith and put the word “Go” in front of the word disabled, we start to see the truth in that GodIsAbled.” I absolutely love this statement, because it reminds me of where my hope lies. Another thing that Nick often reminds his audience is, “when you don’t receive a miracle, you can still be a miracle for someone else.” This quote really made me pause and think. For a very long time, my disability was my problem to deal with. I didn’t think I had a compelling story to share, or that I could be of help to someone else. But through that statement, God reminded me that my self-centered way of thinking would never benefit those around me.
In early 2015, I began to see that God was clearly challenging me to advocate for people with disabilities. Those who know me well, know that I’m not someone who has the boldness to be front and center. I’m usually the quiet person cheering from the sidelines. But as I remind myself of that phrase, “GodIsAbled” I remember that I have a responsibility to GO forward in that purpose. That’s when doors started opening for me and things became less daunting.
I started to work with an organization called “Wheeling Forward” where I advocated for young people who were living in nursing homes. They were unable to live in their own homes due to inadequate accessibility, lack of family support, and lack of other resources. My heart broke for these individuals that I was advocating for. I also started to realize that there were more critical needs left unaddressed and that I did not have the flexibility in that role to meet them. I wanted to be able to be more personal with them and encourage them through my own story of finding unconditional love and hope that comes from Christ and to tell them, “GodIsAbled.”
As I’ve been learning more about the challenges that people with disabilities face, I’ve realized that there aren’t many opportunities for them to assume important roles in society. There is a notion that people with disabilities are not as capable of handling certain tasks, or being placed in various leadership positions. To me, this is evident, especially in the local church setting. I feel that in the local church, people with disabilities, especially those with developmental disabilities are often seen as being a burden or as distractions, rather than being viewed as part of the life of the church. I feel that those who are more privileged in society should start to understand and realize the potential of someone with a disability, to walk alongside and accommodate them, so they can discover their many God given gifts, through serving in different capacities.
In January of 2017 I started working with Andrew as an Intern, at Do For One, and now as the Associate Coordinator. I have learned so much during my time working here; not only from an administrative standpoint, but also learning more about the unique approach Do For One has in bringing hope to people with disabilities. I believe that there is so much value in freely given relationships. If it wasn’t for my friends and family who challenged me to strive for more, I wouldn’t be where I am today. I’m excited to be a part of an organization that fosters and supports genuine friendships that brings hope to people who need it most. We all have a story to share, and we can all learn so much from one another.
I urge you to consider ways that you can be a part of this incredible and life changing mission to walk alongside someone with a disability.
Go to our “Get Involved” page to learn how.