When you meet someone who has a disability, what is the first thing that you notice? Is it limitations or inabilities, or are you able to recognize what the person has to offer? People who have a disability, along with their friends and family, tirelessly advocate to be accepted for their abilities, the work they can do and contributions they can make. I continue to be encouraged by the stories that inspire acceptance and an appreciation for diversity and inclusion.

The one that resonates the most with me during the holiday season is the story of Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer. Adapted from a song, the story is about a reindeer named Rudolph, who has a unique characteristic. He has a shiny nose. This meant that he was different and unlike all of the other reindeer, who, by the way, chose to laugh and call him names. Rudolph’s own parents viewed his difference as a flaw and tried to cover up the unique characteristic about their son. When your own parents are embarrassed or not accepting of you, that really hurts.

The one person who did accept his difference was a cute reindeer named Clarice. However, her support was quickly silenced by her father, who also wanted nothing to do with Rudolph.

Rejected by his friends, coach and parents, Rudolph decides to run away from home. He is joined by Hermey, an elf who also deviates from what is expected of him. Instead of wanting to work as a toy maker, Hermey wants to be a dentist. Rather than be supported to reach his dreams, he too was shunned.

As Rudolph and Hermey go along their journey, they find themselves in the Island of Misfit Toys, where unconventional toys go when they are rejected by their owners; unwanted because they vary from a normal or typical toy.

After a long expedition, Rudolph and his friends decide to return to the North Pole. There he learns that his parents and Clarice are off looking for him.  He also finds a troubled Santa who is about to cancel Christmas because the weather is too bad for him to take the sleigh out. As he begins his announcement, he suddenly notices Rudolph’s red nose. Santa’s “aha” moment! Rather than be viewed as a flaw or inadequacy, his nose provides the means that saves Christmas Day.

The point I am trying to make is that there is deeper meaning in the story of Rudolph. As a parent who had a son with multiple disabilities, I can certainly relate to the inability of others to recognise what my son had to offer. He wasn’t included in the school play, yet he had a smile that could light up a room. I have heard countless stories from parents who work tirelessly to convince others that their son or daughter has the ability to work, learn and play with everyone else.

Each of us has unique qualities, diverse strengths, and assorted interests. I hope that the story of Rudolph inspires people to embrace the diversity in all of us and that we find a way to make sure that no one is shunned or excluded from anything. It is what is different in us that can make a difference for others.

Lisa Raffoul

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Lisa Raffoul specializes in family coaching, training and planning in the social profit sector. As the parent of a child who had multiple disabilities, she is passionate about working with people and organizations to realize new possibilities and implement ideas for transformation and change. She is a dynamic public speaker and has offered workshops and seminars to human services professionals, emergency response teams, health care workers, University and College students, teachers, municipalities and families.

Lisa holds a Bachelor of Human Kinetics in Applied Kinesiology, and a Bachelor of Education, and has additional teaching qualifications in Special Education. She has received certification in Alternative Dispute Resolution (and is a Certified Master Coach Practitioner). She is a a trained Community Conversations Facilitator and a graduate of Leadership Windsor Essex, Class of 2015.

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