A Message from Theo Braddy: The Greatest Motivator!

January 26, 2024

Hello. This is Theo Braddy, Executive Director of NCIL. Here is another message. I call it “The Greatest Motivator”.

My journey as a person with a disability begins with me living in a nursing home. In 1975, my mother was told it was my only option. We were very poor living in the Deep South, so I didn’t put up any resistance. At 15, I wanted more than just being in a back room in our little shack.

I quickly learned that living in a nursing home is not the place for a 15-year-old, either. Every night, I was in anguish as I listened to the older residents cry out in pain all night. A few times, I cried out on their behalf. It never made any difference. Even then, too many residents and not enough staff.

I think about it often now – that experience. Did it affect my desire to want more out of life?

Theo Braddy Headshot - A black man with a bald head, a salt and pepper full beard wearing eyeglasses, sitting in a wheelchair wearing an orange, blue, and white plaid dress shirt.

Image: Theo Braddy Headshot – A black man with a bald head, a salt and pepper full beard wearing eyeglasses, sitting in a wheelchair wearing an orange, blue, and white plaid dress shirt.

At 15, I didn’t have any understanding of living with my type of disability. I understood what the doctors told me. I would never recover from my injury as a C4,5 quadriplegic, and my life expectancy was going to be short. Very short, they said.

Even then, society had low expectations of me.

I was told I would get a monthly check because my dad had worked for many years.

My only option, they said, is the nursing home where my daily needs would be met. It seemed at the time this type of living would replace all my hopes and dreams (this is the subtle way society teaches us to believe how they feel about us).

Before my accident, my hope and dream were to be a professional basketball player, so life seemed to be over for me.

Somehow, something in me wanted more for life, and that began my lifelong battle to change others’ expectations of me.

Even now, as I write this message, I am still trying to change society’s expectations of me and the millions of others like me.

The decision-makers, the ones that make laws, policies, practices, and requirements that govern how people with disabilities live, have these exact low expectations of us:

We don’t have hopes and dreams!

We don’t want to work!

We are too severely disabled to work and contribute!

We don’t need higher education. It costs too much to make reasonable accommodations for higher education participation.

We are just a burden on society, so why not institutionalize people with disabilities?

We can manage them better if they are all in one location.

With all of these ableist ideas about us, they create all of these oppressive systems, practices, and requirements that keep people with disabilities where they believe we should be.

One of the biggest oppressive requirements is asset limits, where people with disabilities can lose much-needed support if their income goes over a certain level. So, rather than lose health insurance and / or other supports, people with disabilities will turn down raises to stay eligible for supports like health care, attendant care, and other home and community-based services.

Like my only option of living in the nursing home, we stay in poverty so we can sustain ourselves. We have been forced and conditioned to live this way because of oppressive policies, restrictions, and guidelines that are based on ableist ideas about us.

In 1975, I could have easily believed these low expectations of me. I could have decided that those who told me my only option was a nursing home had my best interest in mind — that the monthly check would be all I needed because society takes care of those in need.

I still haven’t wholeheartedly figured out what made me not believe this narrative at age 15, but I think it has something to do with this — people’s low expectations of me are the source of my greatest motivation.

I am more motivated than ever, as the Executive Director of NCIL, to use our collective power to change these oppressive policies and practices that have people with disabilities locked into poverty.

We can change some things. Not everything, but some impactful things.

My mom called me hard-headed. I wondered if she was right. I refuse to accept society’s low expectations of us. Let us all use this low expectation as our “Greatest Motivator.”

This is Theo Braddy, Executive Director of NCIL. Be well.

Theo Braddy

Executive Director

National Council on Independent Living

About NCIL

NCIL is the longest-running national cross-disability grassroots organization, driven by and dedicated to people with disabilities. Since its founding in 1982, NCIL has represented thousands of organizations and individuals, advocating tirelessly for the human and civil rights of people with disabilities across the United States.