“Hello! This is Joel Flair. Welcome to the Joel Flair Show!”
Actually, this is Thomas Hodge and that’s how I open up my monthly music podcast, the Joel Flair Show. I host, edit, and produce this show. I even create the podcast’s music each week! I love listening to the radio and checking out the Billboard stats regularly, so hosting a music podcast is the perfect gig. In addition to my podcast, I’ve also launched a SoundCloud music account (Elf Pie) and started a blog (mrmusicfan.blogspot.com). I’m an author who has completed multiple short stories. I even run the projector screens at my local Catholic Church! I love to watch “Hoarders” with my mom and argue with my brother about politics.
I also love the chance to talk about my disability – cerebral palsy (CP). CP is caused by a brain injury and affects more than 17 million people worldwide. It is a lifelong disability that affects movement, muscles, and posture. Nearly 10,000 children in our nation are diagnosed with cerebral palsy each year. In fact, according to the official website of the CDC, “Cerebral palsy is the most common motor disability in childhood.”
My cerebral palsy (spastic quadriplegia) means that I can’t walk without support, my muscles are tight, and I require assistance for many of my daily activities. It also means that I go to therapy and have since I was a toddler.
At first, I struggled to cooperate with my therapist. Being born with a disability, I felt confused as a child. Even though therapy didn’t make a lot of sense to me, it helped give my parents hope.
When I got my first wheelchair in 2011, I had a lot to learn and explore. Heck, I even asked my parents if I could drive my chair on the grass…or would I flip over? My wheelchair helped me live my authentic, extroverted life.
I disliked some of the extra “jobs” that came with having a disability, but through encouragement, determination, and—let’s get real – being forced to do what I had to, I learned to tolerate the challenges.
Therapy helped me grow stronger, so I started army crawling in 2015. I really enjoyed this independence because my parents used to carry me everywhere.
My strength grew, in part, from working with the Conductive Learning Center—a school helping kids with a variety of motor disabilities. This was my go-to place for therapy when I was younger and it made me feel like I wasn’t alone. I became aware that there were people out there like me.
Currently, I receive therapy at Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital and Rehabilitation Center. Being older and stronger, I felt ready for more strenuous therapy. DeVos did not disappoint. I met my physical therapist, Robin, in early 2021, and have been working with her ever since. Together, we’ve been practicing marching in place, sit-to-stands, reaching activities, and stretches. Robin is an excellent choice for anyone considering physical therapy!
Speaking of excellent choices, I would love for people to choose to treat others with kindness and acceptance. I want everyone to have equal opportunities, especially those with cerebral palsy and other disabilities. Disabled people are human beings, and having a mobility device or needing special therapy certainly will never change that fact. If people who don’t have disabilities think about the opportunities they want, those opportunities should also apply to anyone disabled.
Cerebral palsy is not progressive, but it does present challenges that will differ and change over time. Learning how to navigate through situations is better than just broiling with fury. That’s why my dad and I stretch my tight muscles daily and that’s why I go to therapy. That’s why I use my walker outside and practice—quite literally—one step at a time!
I encourage everyone to treat people with cerebral palsy just like you would treat anyone else. If something is confusing or makes you feel uncertain, just ask the person with the disability. I don’t expect you to know everything about cerebral palsy, and I might not give a perfect response, but I do know about my experience and can give you an insightful answer. I encourage people with disabilities to surround themselves with people who love and care about them. You deserve respect. Everyone does.
I am Thomas Hodge. I’m a musician, producer, author, podcast host, extrovert, and I have cerebral palsy. I surround myself with people who love me and care about me.
Check out Thomas’ podcast on Spotify