(The Jolly Times does acknowledge that disability and capability are unique for each personal situation and no generalisation or assumption is intended in this article.)
“Don’t underestimate time and sitting with really uncomfortable thoughts. Don’t be afraid of those thoughts. Appreciate this precious life that you have because it is worth celebrating! It really, really is.” – Lisa Cox, aflame with joy, lights the embers inside of your heart that roar with the kind of determination that doesn’t fizzle down when she leaves the room.
In 2005 at the sweet age of 24, Lisa suffered a brain haemorrhage from an out-of-the-blue attack of aggressive streptococcus-A virus which caused a stroke and quickly shut down every one of her vital internal organs. The race to save her life was on.
Lisa spent three weeks in a coma, two months on debatable life support, and suffered multiple heart attacks that required surgery and seizures. She is now 25% visually impaired, has some gaps in her memory around the event and is subject to more frequent fatigue. She had one leg amputated, all toes, nine fingertips and now gets around via wheelchair, with a huge smile plastered to her face with every determination in the world to smash the wall standing in between the public’s perception of her capabilities and reality.
Seventeen years ago, the doctors said she wouldn’t survive the night. Seventeen years on, Lisa is laying out the inspiration carpet. Pre-disability, Lisa worked in marketing and advertising at an international corporate level. Her sister brought work to the hospital during rehabilitation to bring her mind focus. But the job she loves so dearly highlighted many industrial red flags upon her eager return that to no fault of her own, she wasn’t aware of before.
Whilst Brisbane Australia has been praised highly for being collectively conscious of its community, the lack of willingness for employers to accommodate disability workers Lisa found disturbing. When she was ready to get back to work, she saw that those who were upfront about their disability were often turned away before even getting through the door, causing many to try and hide their ailment out of fear of discrimination. Bringing these issues to the front of conversations creates an open space for everybody to discuss development.
“If you disclose your disability early on, it allows the company to put something in place but if it’s kept a secret that can cause frustration and a breakdown in communication over work productivity later on.
Some of my work today is working with the media and business industry to reshape some of those narratives about disability. There are such powerful institutions, powerful industries, that have an important role to play in shaping those narratives.”
She highlights the simplicity of what it takes to be inclusive. Without speaking for everybody Lisa suggests that people and businesses start to expect more from people with disabilities,
“Somebody with vision impairment might just need technology on a computer for screenwriting. Someone in a wheelchair might just need a ramp and a hand opening the door/ automatic door. Everybody is different and nobody understands their disability like themselves so companies should listen. I know that some people don’t need a single bit of assistance but can’t get past people’s assumptions.
My biggest challenge was strangers’ assumptions about me and assuming that my physical disability was an intellectual disability. They come up to me and speak slowly. “Aaaaarrreee yooooou oooookaaaayyyy?”
Highlighting the fact that inclusivity in the workplace isn’t all about hiring and firing but the consciousness involved in making whatever product you have to sell.
Thinking about the packaging and function of this item.
Is it easy to navigate for someone who might have difficulty with grip?
Are the instructions written in a font size that’s better suited to an ant conelly?
Is there a range of ways people can contact your business? If you only have a phone number, a customer with a speech impediment might be put off or unable to get in touch with you.
With more solo entrepreneurs popping up than ever before, having these considerations at the front of your mind before launching could put your business in an incredible spot.
“My legs don’t work but my credit card does” Lisa calls out to the millions of business owners that look squeamish in the face of disability with their small variety of inclusive goods.
20% of Australia’s population functions with a disability/ handicap or ailment that sees them automatically restricted from most of the mainstream market. That’s approximately 5253671.8 people wanting to be a part of everyday life that are pushed to the side of society’s peripherals out of little more than ignorance. Economically it doesn’t make sense.
Lisas’ voice is loud. Understanding that the average person might not put too much thought into the extremes of how life can change in a blink, she uses her life as an experience for others to use as lustrous momentum to achieve.
“When I first came out of the coma, on one hand I was incredibly grateful to be alive. But on the other hand deep depression. I knew I was going to be disabled and struggle with my health. I was sort of balancing these two extremes. I genuinely want other people to have this enthusiasm for life without having to go through what I went through.”
Lisa hosts TED talks, she’s won awards for her work and strength in advocacy as she champions the voice for a fully inclusive community, where she says the talk is there but the action is missing.
She wants people living with a disability to know that there are more options to be independent with growing technology, and not everyone needs to become a Paralympian to be respected. The vision of a ‘normal life’ was far out of sight in the beginning until she got a visitor from a young lady with a disability that was living fully, wholly, happily and normally. Asking what methods she used to stay so mentally strong to flourish, Lisa told The Jolly Times with such honesty,
“I’ve read a lot in the personal development space prior to disability. So I drew on a lot of those learnings and I also played a lot of competitive sports so I draw on spirit a lot as well. In sports, when you miss a goal or you fall off a rock face you can’t sit around and feel sorry for yourself, you have to spend a little bit of time. Regather your thoughts and get on with it. I certainly didn’t just put all my emotions under the rug. I lived them and cried. But I did have to keep getting on with it to a certain extent.
So there’s a certain element of absolutely, be sad. Feel your emotions, all those sorts of things. There’s a certain point in time where I recognised right in the thick of things that no one is going to save me or get me out of this shithole except for myself. No amount of psychologists and I had everybody coming into my room. Not my family members. I’m not religious, so God wasn’t going to do anything. Of course, experiences aren’t different, but I certainly knew from previous experiences that no one was going to get myself out of this shithole except for me.”
Her competitive team sport background echoes through her resilience as Lisa learnt to spend time with the darkest of her thoughts and shifted them into power over time. Her wish, for humanity, to take note of what she’s saying and not to wait for something bad to happen to make a change and difference to your voice.
“I suppose I was a bit of a naive youngster. I took things for granted, the fact that I could just run around and work and take my work and my education and things for granted.
I hold onto life so, so tightly and I want other people to not have to have that same appreciation for life as I do. Without having to go through all of that shit that I did to feel that immense joy”
Lisa found that when she was ready to get back into the dating world it was both “hilarious and horrible at the same time”, she still looked hot, she kept the same wild sense of humour, she was still the same person but she was looked at and treated worse than ever before. Some friends dropped off and dates walked away. Not knowing how to behave around someone with a disability they often resulted in rudeness.
“I can stand if I’m holding on to something. I was standing, looking at the sky across the balcony waiting. He saw me looking at the sky crossbar and he was like, Oh, okay. And he came around, saw my wheelchair. He looked at me and looked at the wheelchair and then left. I was like…..”
Feeling like some men looked at disabled women as “less than” women.
“I met some really nice people but also terrible people. For some of the guys, it was really clear that they had cited all of the quote ‘normal’ girls and were now ‘scraping the bottom of the barrel’ by dating disabled girls.
When she met her now husband ten years ago, she explains how the simplicity of his actions, how he made the dates natural and focused on her, not only her disability.
“He didn’t ignore my disability completely. He just saw it was just part of me just as much as how your hair formed and I passed him my drink as we went to the table and he just knew what to do right away and we had a real conversation. He was just really easy to be around from the beginning.”
A powerful message that isn’t excluded to people with a disability, Lisa calls out to those sitting in unsurety, sitting in frustration and not knowing if there is a future ahead where they see themselves fitting.
“It’s probably not what you want to hear at the time because you want a quick fix. But it is a time thing. And I know. I’m 17 years post, everything happening so all of the TED Talks and great stuff happening that you see now, it was a very different story 17 years ago The splashing out of the park has only come after a lot of time and a lot of therapy and a lot of sitting and thinking and writing and more writing. Don’t underestimate time and sitting with really uncomfortable thoughts. Don’t be afraid of those uncomfortable thoughts and don’t push shit under the rug. Seek professional help if you need it because it’s worth every cent if it can help you lead a more fulfilling, relaxing life and have deeper connections with family.”
Watch her Ted talk below and take a minute to reflect on how you can make adaptations in your business or way of life to be more accommodating to humanity.