Rolling With It

Posted by The Arc of North Carolina

Rolling With It
Written by: Bryan Dooley

With a name like Bryan Dooley, you can probably guess that I’m Irish. Bryan is a Celtic word meaning ‘strength and nobility’ or ‘high’. I’m going to stick with ‘strength and nobility’, just in case my mom is reading this. My mother chose my name because I would need strength. She spelled it less commonly, so I could stand out from other people named Brian. At least my name stands out, even if I don’t stand.

I’ve always been eager. I was born two months early, making my debut in North Carolina’s Forsyth Hospital in 1990. My family jokes that I wanted to beat my cousins so that I could be the oldest of the second wave. We are a huge family, so we have to refer to ourselves in waves. My early entrance into this world may have caused me to be extra special in the form of having special needs (a term I dislike). I was born with Mixed Cerebral Palsy. The doctors still aren’t sure what causes it, but I like to think that’s a good thing. It doesn’t matter how I got it. I have it, and all of us can deal with it. If this way of looking at disability is new or surprising to you, you should know that I have been a passionate disability advocate since I came out of the womb.

Writing has always been my voice. I have a speech disability, often making it hard for me to verbally communicate, so speeches were out. I had things to say and didn’t have a good medium in which to say them, so I took an Introduction to Journalism class as an elective in high school. The next opportunity to register for classes rolled around, and I wanted to get academic credit for writing for the school newspaper. My teacher took me aside and said she didn’t think I could participate in all the newspaper activities. I then made it my mission. I sent her a column which I wrote over Christmas break. She loved it, and my column was born. One of the cool things about having a column and not having the actual class allowed me to write freely. I was given no limitations and minimal editing. In hindsight, they probably wished I had been in the class so that I could have helped more with the newspaper.  

I studied as much journalism at Guilford College as I could. The ironic thing about Guilford is there were only two journalism classes offered, but they have one of the best small college newspapers in the country- The Guilfordian. I started out as a lowly staff writer for The Guilfordian and after two years I ended up in a critical position on the editorial staff. I was a senior writer and served as Diversity Coordinator, covering important events like the college’s presidential search. I also studied changing the world in a unique program at Guilford called Principled Problem-Solving Scholars, which addressed social problems through the lens of diversity and community. 

Since I’ve left Guilford College, I focused on advocating for people like me.  I have taken several specialized disability advocacy training courses, including Partners in Policymaking, Advancing Strong Leadership and the NC Youth Leadership Program.  These leadership experiences eventually led me to a year-long stint blogging for The Huffington Post.  Writing for a national publication gave me a lot of exposure across the country, and even made it to some international readers.

There’s an old saying: “If you want something done right, do it yourself.” That applies to advocacy as much as anything. I’ve done several advanced advocacy training courses, including Partners in Policymaking, in North Carolina. In every training I complete, one of the key take-aways is that the most powerful tool we have as advocates are our stories. In many ways, people with disabilities and their families know more about living with disabilities than professionals, because they have lived the experience. That’s why it’s important that we advocate for ourselves.

After the advanced advocacy training I received, I felt very connected as a self-advocate in North Carolina.  Currently, I am the chair-elect of Disability Rights North Carolina, and I am a sitting member of the NC Council on Developmental Disabilities, appointed by then-Governor Pat McCrory.  Several months ago, I announced through Facebook that the Huffington Post was ending my blog.  The Arc of North Carolina reached and offered me this new opportunity, for which I’m very thankful.   

Sitting in a wheelchair for most of my life has given me a unique perspective on the world. In my column, I hope to marry my varied experiences together. I’m always looking up, both figuratively and literally.

That’s how I roll.