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“I have hope that the next generation of people with multiple handicaps will have better supports than I have had.”

By Gary Gross

I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve been told no. The number of times I’ve been dismissed. Some might be saddened, while others might think it was just my fate.

I was born on March 8, 1950, in Bridgeport, Connecticut, to two loving parents, Rozlyn and Sam Gross. See, I was supposed to be born in May and I was supposed to be a twin. Being born premature brought with it multiple disabilities—cerebral palsy and severely impaired vision. It also took away my brother.

Despite my condition, I was determined to pursue my education. I made it to high school. They put me through a number of nonacademic courses. They tried to teach me braille, but my tactile touch wasn’t good enough to feel the dots. I tried to learn to type, but I couldn’t see the words. I was told that I would always be too slow to do any “meaningful” typing, so I was not made to keep working at the skill. The only things I got out of Oak Hill were occupational and physical therapy.

When I graduated from high school, I didn’t know what to do with myself. My parents had tried their best, but they weren’t equipped to have a disabled child. I found myself at New Britain Memorial Hospital, known today as the Hospital for Special Care. I continued to pursue my education, attending the Evening Division of Central Connecticut State University. I dictated my way through my courses and used paid readers and books on tape. I wanted to live in the dorm, but my mom wouldn’t hear of it. I wanted to be a social worker, but my many handicaps got in the way.

I managed to graduate from Central, though it was almost impossible to find a job. I once again turned to education. Following the encouragement of a blind girl I knew, I applied for a program in graduate work in the rehab department at Springfield College, unbeknownst to my mother. Someone at the hospital helped me fill out my application. I borrowed money and took a bus to Springfield and a cab to the college. I walked up a long flight of stairs to the rehab department on my crutches. Despite my uneven grades, the department head was interested in me and suggested that I start taking courses on probation to see how I liked it, and if I could do the work.

I liked it! I lived in a dorm and did pretty well in the first trimester. Eventually, though, the same problems that had marked my earlier experiences returned. I had to have a lot of help reading and writing, and I struggled with the required assessments. One of my professors remarked that I would someday be the best-educated resident in a convalescent home. Eventually, my glaucoma got so bad that I had to leave without my degree.

Though I’ve accomplished much, I am very ambivalent about my life.

After a brief stint at home, I moved to New Horizons Village, where I currently reside. Though I continued to enroll in college courses at Central and even briefly attempted another shot at a graduate degree, I decided to give up on my dream. This is not the only dream that I have been unable to realize. When I was a kid, I also dreamed of marrying and having a family. The worsening of my handicaps over time also took that away from me.

Though I’ve accomplished much, I am very ambivalent about my life. I believe this ambivalence is reinforced by my Jewish heritage, where education and status were very important. I internalized this attitude early on. I always wanted to do something BIG.

My story is in part a reflection of how living and dealing with multiple disabilities is hard, it’s just as much a reflection of how being human is hard.

I’ve found a way of doing that on my own terms. Partly through my deep love for others—I volunteer often—and partly through hope. Hope that the next generation of people with multiple handicaps will have better supports than I have had. Though my story is in part a reflection of how living and dealing with multiple disabilities is hard, it’s just as much a reflection of how being human is hard. It’s also a reminder to be patient, like this quote from Rainer Maria Rilke’s Letters to a Young Poet:

“I would like to beg you, dear Sir, as well as I can, to have patience with everything unresolved in your heart and to try to love the questions themselves as if they were locked rooms or books written in a very foreign language. Don't search for the answers, which could not be given to you now, because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps then, someday far in the future, you will gradually, without even noticing it, live your way into the answer.” 

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