Environmental Factor, November 2009, National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences
Motivational Speaker Wows Disability Event Audience
By Eddy Ball
As one of its featured presentations in observance of National Disability Employment Awareness Month (see text box), on October 14 the NIEHS Disability Advocacy Committee (DAC) featured the multi-talented motivational speaker and mentor Tawana Williams. Hosted by DAC Chair Alicia Moore, Williams' delivered an engaging hour-long monologue, "Unarmed but Dangerous," that drew several rounds of applause from her enthusiastic audience.
Born without arms, but blessed with a dynamic personality, an irrepressible spirit and a powerful voice, Williams described herself as a "messenger of hope and inspiration" who is "blessed to be born without arms." Williams wove the story of her determination to overcome her physical limitations, drug addiction and sexual exploitation into a six-part recipe for successful living.
Williams is a diminutive woman with an infectious sense of humor and a rhythmic pace of delivery, clearly rooted in the call-and-response tradition of revival-meeting evangelism. As she talked about the lessons of her journey from what she called (self) "pity parties" to her success as a wife, mother, business owner, author, artist, mentor and talk-show guest, Williams described for her listeners how "I've given myself permission to move into my greatness."
As she encouraged the audience to take on challenges, she used rhyme to underscore her message - "You can't grow where you don't go" - and extended metaphor to make her point - "Life has a way of showing up at your door even though you never gave life your address." At one point, she referred to the inherent pun in the title of her talk and her book by promising attendees, "You, too, can become unarmed and dangerous."
With a charming unselfconsciousness, Williams challenged her listeners, "If I can stand before you without arms, what's your excuse?" She also used her very visible disability to draw the audience to the front of the room to watch as she changed a doll's diaper, put on socks and even tied an attendee's shoelace with her feet.
Taking advantage of street slang, Williams ended her presentation by assuring listeners, "Once you step into your greatness, it's on and poppin'." Visibly moved by the presentation, several members of the audience came to the front of the room afterwards to hug and thank Williams for her courage and her inspiration.
NIEHS Observes a Special Month with a Range of Disability Awareness Events
The events sponsored by the NIEHS Disability Advocacy Committee in observance of National Disability Employment Awareness Month ranged from the heady to the visceral. They included the data-rich lecture by physician-scientist Virginia Chang on the associations between obesity and disability at one end of the spectrum, to the rousing motivational experience provided by a talented Tawana Williams at the other. Also featured were two other events in celebration of a special month:
- October 20 - A presentation on "Shattering Attitudinal Barriers and Exemplifying Disability Etiquette" by Richard Espinosa, branch chief of the Disability Employment Program at the U.S. Department of Agriculture/Forest Service Civil Rights Division.
- October 21 - An LRP Publications(http://www.lrpconferences.com/contact.html) Audio Conference by federal employment law experts Gary Gilbert and Ernest Hadley on "Federal Employee Medical Documentation: Meeting Your New Requirements Under the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act of 2008 (GINA)(http://www.genome.gov/24519851) and the Americans with Disabilities Act Amendments Act of 2008 (ADAAA) (http://www.dol.gov/esa/ofccp/regs/compliance/faqs/ADAfaqs.htm) "