Maybe College Recruiters Should Skip Wisconsin

CA-NA-DA, CA-NA-DA, as the USA Women’s Wheelchair Basketball Team entered the Barcelona arena it seemed like 17,000 were rooting for Canada. I know that’s not true because there were Americans in the crowd, but the shouts for our rival were so loud we couldn’t even communicate on the court during warm-ups.

The recent attempt in Wisconsin to end taunting is as well-intentioned, as it is misguided. In the 17 years that I played basketball, that one time, at the 1992 Barcelona Paralympic Games, as we entered the court to compete for tChild sportshe gold, is the only memory I have of being taunted by spectators. I know it’s not the only time that it happened, but being able to focus and block out distractions is an important skill for any athlete, it’s also an important life skill.

The scars I carry with me from my basketball years are from bad coaches (they are everywhere), politics that kept players who had earned their spots, off national teams and off the court and the relational aggression that is endemic in women’s sports that leads to all –tournament team and MVP awards being popularity contests.

If Wisconsin athletes are so delicate that they cannot endure a few or even a lot of crowd jeers then perhaps college recruiters should just cros
s Wisconsin off their list. Being a collegiate athlete is not for the faint of heart. With practice five to six days a week, along with homework, and away games focus, is only one of the many skills they need to master.

If Wisconsin wants to the taunting to stop they would be better severed by starting to change their sports culture. That starts with training for coaches, administrators and parents and with adults setting the example. Have you been to an adult sporting event lately? Is it any wonder our kids taunt the other team?

Although I believe that adults who attend high school games should refrain from taunting and focus on positive encouragement, how can we expect our children to refrain when it is we, the adults, who set the example?

As adults when we make a mistake we don’t get detention or sent to our rooms, we are publicly embarrassed, fired, fined, there are all sorts of consequences. Part of growing up is learning how to deal with mistakes, embarrassment and difficult situations.

The question we should be asking ourselves is not, “How do we silence the crowd?” It is “How do we provide our children with the tools and skills so that they can deal with that situation?”

I have great fears for the direction that America is going, where people are so quick to take offense and we are so politically correct that we cannot even have conversations about issues and problems.

You want to talk embarrassing sports moments. At the 1994 Gold Cup Games I made a basket for France. I doubt that there is any mistake a high school athlete could make that is equal to that and I survived—self-esteem intact.

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The Great Cookie Toss of 2015

Rainbow2015 was not a banner year for me. To be honest it had its ups and downs. On the up side I was invited to speak to the Fulbright Scholars on the topic of disability. I also spoke at several colleges and at the State of Oregon Diversity Conference. On the down side I was laid off from my part-time job, experienced a major depression, a family incident, and many of my relationships changed. No matter how many times it happens I’m always amazed how people will stand back and watch things happen that they know are wrong. That is me having expectations of people (which I really need to stop doing).

In life it seems the question, “Why me?” always arises when bad things happen, but never when good things happen. In reality there is no good or bad, situations are situations and we are the ones who assign it a value. “Nothing is good or bad, but thinking makes it so.” Since I came back from Africa I’ve been trying to live in the present and it’s incredibly difficult. I started and have continued to read Eckhart Tolle, particularly “The Good Earth.” Some very valuable advice that I have been trying to apply:

  • The “normal” state of mind of most human beings contains a strong element of what we might call dysfunction or even madness.
  • Life isn’t as serious as my mind makes it out to be.
  • What you react to in another, you strengthen in yourself.
  • The facts are always neutral.
  • What you do to others, you do to yourself.
  • Acknowledging the good that is already in your life is the foundation for all abundance.
  • Non-reaction is a conscious alignment with the higher order.
  • Bad turns into good through the power of non-resistance.
  • One of the greatest sources of suffering is attachment.

So let’s be honest, I’ve always been an over-achiever trying to prove that I belong in this world and I really, really suck at living in the present, but I’m trying. And everyday I have victories and setbacks. Letting go has been one of the hardest things for me. So really 2015 wasn’t bad or good except for the fact that I assigned it the value of bad.

In 2015, I started my own business consulting and speaking and not only did I step out of my comfort zone, I stepped off a ledge. Not knowing where the next paycheck is coming from is a huge stress for me. But despite that I agreed to meet my friend Kari, who is spending a year overseas, in France for Christmas. (You can hear an interview with Kari about her own experience about letting go.) It was the opportunity of a lifetime that wasn’t going to come again. We rented a car and explored France spending Christmas and New Year with my French family.

Over Christmas we’d bought some cookies that weren’t worth wasting our calories on, so on December 29, one by one I assigned them the name of an incident or a person that I had designated as “bad” in 2015 and tossed them out the window. The rain poured down on us as we drove out of St. Emillion through the vineyards tossing cookies out the window. At the same time both Kari and I gasped at the sight of a double rainbow. She hits the brakes and we pulled off the road to revel in the moment. In that instant when the earth shined on me, the things that I had struggled with in 2015 seemed insignificant. I dumped the rest of the cookies in the ditch without assigning them a name or an incident.

The big step that I made this year was letting go of my need to know what is next. It has caused me a lot of angst and I’m still struggling with it, but I’m making an effort and for that I give myself a lot of credit.

So I invite you to “toss your cookies,” don’t hold onto things or people that cause you stress or angst or aren’t that great. Remember when you felt like you had to puke and how awful it felt, remember how much better you felt after you vomited? Holding onto regrets, anger, grudges, it just fills your body with things that make it sick.

Please don’t think that because I literally and figuratively tossed my cookies means that I won’t still struggle with some of these things, but what I do know is that I’m trying, and that my friends, is three-fourths of the battle.

I hope 2016 manifests everything good in your life. That your sorrows are few and your joys are abundant. And I wish this for everyone, yes even the people to whom I assigned the value of “bad” in 2015. Because forgiveness is non-resistance and the key to living in the present.

I ask for your thoughts and support as I continue along this difficult, but important path.



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Thank you Dr. Tim Nugent

Tim Nugent

Tim Nugent, left, former director and founder of the UI Rehabilitation-Education Center 

I don’t remember the first time I met Dr. Nugent. But I remember the first story I heard about him. In 1990 I had moved from Oregon to Illinois, I’d been recruited to play wheelchair basketball for University of Illinois, at that time the foremost wheelchair sports program in the world. Not only was the entire campus accessible, there were busses specifically for the students with disabilities, a rehabilitation center with one non-disabled parking spot and a gym made specifically for wheelchair athletes.

“Why did they build the rehabilitation center here in Illinois?” I asked. Illinois is known for having frigid winters, and sometimes with the humidity we weren’t even supposed to go outside. Someplace warmer seemed like it would have been a better choice for that early rehabilitation center. In a wheelchair, navigating the icy sidewalks and snow was difficult. I’ll never forget the winter half the men’s and women’s wheelchair basketball teams got stuck in the drain in the iced over parking lot.

The rehabilitation center was built at University of Illinois, because Dr. Nugent had written to 250 universities and Illinois was the only one that even said maybe. That tells you how far we’ve come; however, there is still a long way to go.

Today, only 16 percent of people with disabilities obtain post-secondary degrees and we still have twice the unemployment rate as the able-bodied population,that goes up to 70 percent if you count all the people with disabilities who have just dropped out of the work force and are no longer looking for work.

University of Illinois made a huge difference in my life and although I had very minimal interaction with Dr. Nugent, everyone I was surrounded by at University of Illinois had expectations of me even though I was a wheelchair user. They had the same expectations of me that they had of the able-bodied students; they expected me to be on time, complete my studies, get a degree and be a part of society.

From Illinois I went on to be a public relations specialist, a humanitarian aid worker in Iraq, where I created an innovative program for people with disabilities, a State Director in Sudan where I was extracted from the civil war and today I’m a public speaker and I consult with companies who are interested in diversifying their workforce with people with disabilities.

Dr. Nugent has a huge legacy, his vision for people with disabilities was unprecedented back in the 1940s, and it lives on today in all the lives he touched through sports for people with disabilities and most importantly, the attitude that he had towards and about people with disabilities—tough love. He once said, “Because of the negative attitudes I had to be a little harsher with my students then I would have liked to be.”

It’s that tough love mentality that empowered me. And it’s that tough love mentality I talk about when I keynote about disability. We were and are just like everyone else and the best thing you can do for anyone with a disability is to have expectations of us.

Thank you Dr. Nugent.

To read the news story on Dr Nugent visit:



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The Disability Double Standard

The other day a rant about able-bodied people appeared on Facebook posted by a young very capable woman who uses a wheelchair. About twenty other people with disabilities (PWDs) chimed in, with their complaints about able-bodied people trying to help them.

Twits II.jpgWhen I told them that I was giving a presentation to help educate people about people with disabilities and asked for their help in coming up with a quiz about disability, guess how many answers I received–zero. It bothers me when people just want to complain about the situation, and as someone who has worked with PWDs I have my own set of complaints about their behavior. So what it would it sound like if it were politically correct for able-bodied people to rant about people with disabilities, the way PWDs rant about them?

Twits IITolerance and understanding is a two-way street. So I have a few things that I would like to say and point out to the young PWDs that participated in this rant.

After reading it and having my comments ignored, because you all just wanted to whine. I was probably as annoyed as you are when an able-bodied person says something dumb to you. I’m not sure how long you’ve been disabled, but I’m pretty sure that I’ve been disabled longer than you’ve been alive. So yes, this is going to be a, I rolled two miles to the school bus uphill both ways in the snow letter. I was injured in 1988, at that time people with disabilities didn’t have civil rights, the ADA passed in 1990. I was on the hill lobbying for it. It was an interesting experience the other congressional interns kept their distance, so I didn’t really make friends with any of them, instead I hung out with the Congressman’s daughter who was dealing with an eating disorder and the son of one of my Mom’s good friends who lived in Virginia. Also back in 1988, there weren’t college scholarships for people with disabilities; the only University handing out athletic scholarships for PWDs was UTA. I ended up pursuing wheelchair basketball on an academic scholarship and later as a teaching assistant. Being a graduate student and training for a college sport is very difficult; all I did was study and train. I made the 1992 USA Team, but back then you had to raise money to pay for your travel, you don’t have to do that now, it’s all paid for. It’s also difficult to train and raise money at the same time.

Also back in those days, things were less accessible. I didn’t want to learn to use the escalator in my wheelchair. I had too, because one day when I was out and about, there was no elevator. The reason that you have busses with lifts is because people with disabilities held protests and crawled into the luggage compartments, that was back in 1989 I noticed that one of you just got approved for MetroLift, we didn’t have that either.

The reason schools like UTA and University of Illinois are so accessible is because of one of those annoying able-bodied people, Tim Nugent. Did you know University of Illinois had the first independent living center so that students who needed help with the daily activities of living could still get a college education?

In rehabilitation I had to learn how to jump a curb that was because curb cuts weren’t as prevalent as they are today. Curb cuts were mandated by the ADA, what you probably don’t know is that the blind lobby (the strongest disability lobby in Washington D.C., because it’s the most terrifying disability) was against curb cuts. As late as 1992 people with disabilities were still fighting for curb cuts. As a matter of fact the reason you have parking places, curb cuts, access to education, access to accessible apartments, sports and college scholarships is because of people like Judith Heumann, now Special Advisor on International Disability Rights, Wade Blank and Ed Roberts. These people fought hard for the accessibility you enjoy today and I bet you don’t even know their names. They protested buses, crawled up the steps of capital buildings, chained themselves to doors and dealt with everything you were whining about in your Facebook rant, except on a much larger level. Dr. Brad Hedrick, Sharon Hedrick, Mike Frogley, Dave Kiley, Ann Cody and Jean Driscoll are just a few of the people who paved the way for people with disabilities to compete in elite athletics. Do you know who any of them are? Ann Cody now works for the U.S. Department of State on promoting sports for women and girls around the world.

Another thing that benefits you is the fact that your disability is no longer considered a pre-existing condition. What does that mean? For me it means I can finally work for myself, own my own business, but more importantly for a ton of people with disabilities they now have access to healthcare which means they don’t need to be on SSI to have access to Medicaid. And that just happened a couple of years ago.

Oh and you think you have it bad in the U.S. did you know in developing countries accessibility is non-existent. I mean even in the houses in Iraq they have these little lips between the rooms, zero accessible parking and limited educational opportunities. When I was in Sudan there was a man who crawled several miles to see me hoping I could help him get a wheelchair. And you probably weren’t aware that there is this organization in the U.S. called the Free Wheelchair Mission. They attach wheels to lawn chairs and send them overseas to “help” people with disabilities. Help them get a pressure sore. Can you imagine having to use that wheelchair? I trashed 50 of them in Iraq. I also worked with Willie Hernandez to bring the first basketball wheelchairs to Iraq.

So I don’t find you inspiring, I don’t think anything you do is courageous and, as a matter of fact, since the only interaction I’ve had with you is your rant on Facebook, I find you whiny and a bit entitled. I have the same expectations of you that I have of everyone else. I expect you to get a job, have a life and contribute to your community and our society to the best of your abilities. And preferably, a job where you are integrated into society, where every day you can change attitudes just by being part of the world, in other words a job that isn’t focused around disability.

One of the reasons that able-bodied people are so solicitous is because there is an entire group of people with disabilities who go around beating people over the head with their disability. They want to be treated equally at the same time they demand special treatment. Twice in my life I’ve taken over a job from another person with a disability and she hadn’t really done her job, as a matter of fact, one of my colleagues finally admitted to me that they had, had such a bad experience working with a person with a disability that none of them wanted me to be hired. So in addition, you are fighting the stigma that other people with disabilities create in their interactions with the able-bodied population. I accepted a man with a disability into an employment event, to meet twenty employers. He didn’t show up.  No phone call, no explanation, nothing until I contacted him. And when I called him on it, he had so many excuses, it wasn’t his fault, I didn’t understand his disability, I couldn’t possibly understand and he abdicated all responsibility for not showing up and his life. I really wish I could share that e-mail with you, but it doesn’t fit into this post.

I was riding the bus the other day, sitting in the disabled seats, and this woman, with a walker, got on and she looked at everyone in the disabled seats and demanded, “I’m gonna need one of those seats.” My response, “Well then you better preface it with a please and end with a thank you.” You could just feel all the able-bodied people on the bus squirm, because I had demanded manners from a poor disabled woman. And you know what really annoys me on the bus is when those people with disabilities, the ones with carts get on, and they suck at maneuvering their wheelchairs, but on top of it, their scooter or electric chair is so loaded down with bags and they have some stupid dog in their lap and they take up twice as much space as they should and everyone has crawl over and around them. It’s something that PWDs do that just annoys the hell out of me.

See the annoyance goes both ways, there are things that you do, that annoy the hell out of able-bodied people, but it’s politically incorrect to tell you. Imagine if the above stories that I’ve just told you are the only interactions you’ve had with people with disabilities. Oh and I have million stories about people with disabilities like this. Just like I have a million stories about able-bodied people.

Yes, there is a long way to go, but we’ve come a long way too. I know dealing with the platitudes of well-intentioned able-bodied people is tiring; I’ve been doing it for 27 years. But you should do as your betters have done before you, be polite, and then get to work making this world even more accessible for the next generation and ensuring they have even more opportunities. I invite you to be part of the disability rights movement, not by ranting on Facebook, which isn’t activism, it’s just annoying. Activism is educating people about your disability, it’s contacting your Congressperson about important issues, it’s about being gracious even when people are being stupid, to open minds to everything that people with disabilities are capable of.

Who am I to tell you this? Someone who has fought hard to change and challenge perceptions about people with disabilities, and for the accessibility you enjoy today. But mostly I’m just someone who is tired of explaining people with disabilities to the able-bodied population and vice versa.


Tiana Tozer

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Why anonymous speech should not be protected under Freedom of Speech

Coward quoteJust today I received a response on my post “What happens in Bahrain stays in Bahrain , sort of.” It was from “Eddie” e-mail IP:, this is what he wrote:

“you are one dumb typical racist american cunt”

Of course, the e-mail address is undeliverable and Eddie probably isn’t his real name. In my opinion the first amendment was to protect people’s rights to voice their opinions. Opinions should be owned. The first amendment should not protect cowards who refuse to own their speech. If you can’t own it, than you shouldn’t say it.

If disliking people like “Eddie” makes me racist, so be it, at least I own my speech.

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I’m not upset about the swimmer, yet, but the journalism SUCKS!

Okay so I saw the headline “Victoria Arlen Banned From Paralympic World Swimming Championships, Senators Object,”

I was prepared to be upset. But then I read the article and there was absolutely zero information. As a former Paralympic athlete I am aware of the rigorous disability evaluation people undergo to compete. In 1988, when the USA Women’s Wheelchair Basketball Team took a player with a hip replacement, she almost didn’t compete. It was my understanding that if she had been denied it was my understanding the entire team would have gone home (I’m not sure if just the entire women’s wheelchair basketball team would have gone home or the entire Paralympic team). Whatever the case she competed, much to the determent of the future of the sport, but that’s another story.

So as a former Paralympian I needed to know what the disease was that caused her paralysis, what her disability is and the background behind the refusal. Instead the Associated Press provides a headline and a story intent to incite rather than inform. Shame on you AP! You should leave the inciting and entertaining reporting to FOX. CBC Sports actually did a better job, but I still don’t know what the disease was or her level of Paralysis. However, now after reading this story I can tell you that usually once an athlete has been cleared for the Paralympics they are eligible for the lesser competitions.

I hope Arlen gets to compete, but I’m more outraged at the lack of information in this story and the state of “journalism” than I am about a swimming meet. 

Show me the INFORMATION!

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Advice to Graduates

Grad photoAs I agonized over what to say at the 2013 University of Oregon Commencement I really wanted to do something in the vein of “Wear Sunscreen” by Mary Schmich, which was never an actual commencement speech, but her attempt at one. I decided against it because plagerism is bad and I wanted to be more original. Three people told me that the most valuable advice I ever gave them was:

When you start a new job, set your boundaries early; if you start out working tweleve hours day, they will come to expect it of you and working twelve hour days is no way to live your life. Taking time for you and having a good work/life balance is important.

When I asked my former employee what the most valuable advice I gave him was, he replied you told me, “You can’t stop a train wreck, but you can monitor the hell out of it.” I was the monitoring and evaluation manager for a $53 M USAID program that was a disaster.

Below is the advice I give to the graduates in my family, in the vein of my favorite commencement address “Wear Sunscreen.”

Dear Graduate,

Congratulations and welcome to this great adventure called life. As I tried to remember my own college graduation, back in the stone age. I thought about how much I didn’t know then and the advice that might have been valuable had someone bothered to impart it to me.

So if I can offer you one tip it would be to always wear your seatbelt, no matter what seat you are in. That seatbelts save lives is a fact, in addition I have personally tested this theory, whereas the rest of the advice that I will impart to you, has no statistical backing, it is just based on my own meandering experience.

Be a good e-mail communicator, there is nothing more annoying than someone who doesn’t answer all your questions, someone who writes in stream of consciousness or someone who doesn’t respond until days later.  My rule of thumb is I answer all work-related e-mails within in 24 hours, if I don’t have an answer than I respond letting the person know when I will get back to them.

There are a lot of bad managers in this world; your best bet is becoming good at upward management.

You are, smart, beautiful/handsome and giving, it is highly likely that you will run into people who will be jealous of you, remember the only person really worth competing against situation is yourself. And really smart people can figure out how to turn a rival into a teammate.

People will always offer you constructive criticism, some of it will be useful, a lot of it will be bullshit, learn how to evaluate it, take what is worth taking and let the rest go; you know who you are and you will know what criticism is valid and what is based on someone else’s incomplete perception.

It is never, ever wrong to tell the truth, sometimes imprudent, but never wrong.  Never compromise your values for a job, you can always get a new job, your integrity will be much more difficult to recover.

You will make mistakes, this will not change as you get older; I continue to make mistakes on a daily basis.  Once is a mistake, twice is a pattern of behavior, the only thing more annoying than someone making a mistake is when the person who made the mistake blames someone else.  Be willing to take responsibility for your mistakes, when you do something wrong, stand up; admit you made a mistake and be willing to fix it. A mistake is only a failure when you fail to learn from it. When something goes wrong be willing to evaluate the situation, the part you played in it, accept responsibility and move on.

I have spent hours lamenting over mistakes, over situations where I have failed, sometimes it will suck to be you, but for me it has been through my greatest struggles my most significant failures as a human being and yes, I have at times failed horribly as a human being, that I’ve achieved my greatest triumphs, and it was because I was able to look in the mirror and accept the responsibility that was clearly mine.

When you start a new job it’s always a good idea to spend the first three months or so listening and observing; rather than jumping in with both feet, talking at every meeting, sharing your opinion with everyone; I have never done this, but people tell me it’s a good practice—I am planning on trying it sometime.  If you end up doing it before me, please let me know how it goes.

Having a good sense of humor is imperative for surviving this world intact; when everything is going to hell around you either literally or figuratively the best way to stay sane is by recognizing the lunacy and laughing at it.

You only have one body, take good care of it or you’ll be sorry and I will not be listening to you whine about getting old, or your knees going.

If you are early you are on time, if you’re late you’re late. Being late to appointments and meetings is saying to someone; “my time is more valuable than yours.” It is horribly disrespectful; however, sometimes being late will be unavoidable, if that is the case, call and let them know you are running late.

I come from a family that has high expectations of themselves, other family members and pretty much everyone around them; other people don’t have such high expectations and coming from this background I have found myself routinely disappointed. It is highly likely you will meet people who don’t and won’t meet your expectations that doesn’t mean you should expect less of yourself or lower your expectations, just be aware of this fact.

Remember if you choose to climb the corporate ladder it matters how many people you step on to get to the top.

Don’t let anyone place limitations on your abilities; you will place enough limitations on your own abilities, don’t let other people do it for you.  If I had listened to other people I never would have participated in the Paralympics, written a book or worked overseas. Only you get to decide what you are capable of and how far you are going to go in this life—only you.

I have spent my life focused on goals, the Paralympics, the book, working overseas; I was often so busy working towards the next goal I forgot to enjoy the journey. Life is the journey and there will be ups and downs, but it is the journey, not the destination that is important. It’s taken me a long time to learn this—I hope it doesn’t take you as long.

The most valuable gift you can give is of yourself, your time.

Speaking of the most valuable gift being your time, volunteer work can be very career enhancing. I know a lot of the decision makers in Portland, not because I was senior management or had a big title in some company, but because I volunteered my time. It is a great way to network and can also help you gain valuable career skills that someone may not be willing to pay you to learn.

That being said, it’s important to be able to support yourself, but remember money can’t buy the most important things in life, for me, it can’t bring back my father, it can’t make me whole again.  Loving your job, is more important than making a buttload of money so you can buy a ton of crap that you will realize is meaningless twenty years after you spent all your time working.

At 45, I have realized that I really don’t know much more than I did at 22, but I do know one thing, the most important thing in this life is to be happy. I remember several days where I felt the universe was aligned and all was right with the world, I live for those days.

I love you, I always will, and as you embark on the next leg of your journey and navigate the employment world, please know that any issue you may encounter, any mistake you may make, any situation you run into, it is highly likely that I have done it, stepped in it or dealt with it and if you want advice, I’m here, if you just want someone to listen I’m here, or if you need me to tell you about my most embarrassing moment, my most heart-wrenching mistake to put your situation in perspective I will do that also.  For you, I will relive any painful memory.

The advice I offer is free so take it for what it’s worth, other than the fact that seatbelts save lives, I also know that it is important to have a good frying pan.

I wish you the best of luck as you move forward.  I’m proud of who I know you are and I remain engaged in discovering who you will become.

I remain fatally flawed, but sincerely,

Your cousin TT

To see the U of O Commencement Speech visit

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