Adversity and the Power of Disability

By Al Etmanski

A photo of Al Etmanski reading his book.“The Power of Disability reminds us of what we have in common, the power to create a good life for ourselves and others no matter what the world has in store for us.” – Michael J. Fox

“The advantages that people with a disability offer, and there are many, are the perfect remedy for the troubled times we live in.” That sentence is from the introduction to my new book, The Power of Disability: 10 Lessons for Surviving, Thriving and Changing the World.

Little did I know when I wrote it that the hard earned lessons and insights of people with disabilities and their families would be essential in dealing with the global pandemic and its aftermath. Here is one of the lessons:

Adversity is an opportunity: Many of the world’s most enduring advances have come from people whose determination and love in the face of adversity was so strong that they had no choice but to rise again. And again and again.

Adversity calls forth our ingenuity. In whatever form it appears accident, loss, hardship, cruelty, destruction or pandemic. We must do something because no one else is or will. Justice burns brightly. We try anything, borrow anything, cobble together anything at any hour of the day and night until something works or somebody does something. We act with a focus and creativity that we never thought we had. Adversity also cracks us open. We see the world as it is, not as we thought it was or want it to be. We embrace its complexities, contradictions, and ugliness, with a determination and love that we never thought possible.

One of the stories in my book is about a group of mothers in Brazil who fought society’s prejudice against their babies born with Zika syndrome. “Our babies are citizens, they have rights, and while they cannot speak we are their voice,” says their leader Germana Soares. These mothers have been described as “the domestic scientists” who have been key to understanding Zika syndrome. And guiding the “white coats and biomedical groups.”

They illustrate a truth that those of us who are part of the disability community know: love and ingenuity in the face of adversity is a powerful combination.

The Power of Disability is a collection of 100 short and readable stories about people who have not only advanced the disability agenda. They have also shaped the world we live in. Some of them are well known, like Michael J. Fox. Others deserve to be.

Together they reveal people with disabilities as authoritative sources on creativity, resilience, love, sexuality, interdependence, and living a good life. You can browse the Table of Contents and read the Introduction on my website. If you like what you’ve read please tell a friend or your favourite professional or service provider. I’d like to see a copy in every classroom, board room, employer table, government department and Prime Minister’s podium!


Al is an author, community organizer, social entrepreneur, and co-founder of PLAN and Plan Institute. Al’s new book, The Power of Disability, is available in print, digital, and audio format and can be purchased online through and or from one of your local bookstores. 

Click here for more information about the book and for purchasing options.