Is COVID19 getting in the way of your social life? Do you love visiting relatives in San Francisco? Have you watched all four seasons of Riverdale in one week to fend off the home-bound blues? If you said yes to any of these questions, then you have a lot in common with Kris O’Keefe, a student at American River College and a volunteer at UCP whom I had the great pleasure of interviewing.
I was immediately struck by her honesty and clarity in explaining what her life is like, living with cerebral palsy. I asked Kris what the biggest misconception is about cerebral palsy. Her answer was illuminating. She said that the biggest misconception is that people with cerebral palsy cannot be independent. She said people think, “We can’t do stuff on our own.” “When I go out, it’s like ‘Wow you are very inspiring. You go shopping.’ and I’m like ‘I need milk.’” Although many people have the best of intentions, they tend to undermine the abilities of people like Kris by over-praising and underestimating their capabilities.
Kris’ grit is unwavering. When she sets her mind to accomplish something, it happens. When other people doubt her ability to accomplish things, it only strengthens that grit. When trying out for high school cheerleading, her principal told her, “‘Honey, you cannot do that,’” to which she responded, “‘I’m not leaving until I make it.’”
It is that kind of determination and self-confidence that knocks down any stereotypes people might have about the limitations of people with disabilities. Kris’ ability to show others what she can do, helps those around her realize her full potential.
We all have our own insecurities and have experienced unkind behavior from others, but Kris has a foolproof way to not let this get to us. What works for Kris is beating others to the punch! “I never got bullied in school…I already made fun of myself before you could make fun of me; already done that here, already did that for you.”
Kris’ sense of humor and ability to diffuse people’s awkwardness allows her to connect with people and let them get to know the real her. These social skills add to the list of reasons why Kris is so well-loved. If everybody had the ability to be so self-aware, we would all get along much better!
Kris O’Keefe is a quick witted and charismatic young woman whose humor, perseverance and positive attitude define her much more than cerebral palsy ever will.
Interviewer and Blog Writer Mr. Hayes Sherman UCP Intern 2020