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Local motivational speaker helping students overcome disability stigma

Speaker uses only big toe to communicate
Posted at 6:50 AM, Dec 06, 2021
and last updated 2021-12-06 07:39:35-05

HOLLAND, Mich. — Friday was International Persons with Disabilities Day, aiming to promote inclusion and understanding. It was the perfect opportunity for local motivational speaker Chris Klein to share his experiences with West Ottawa Public Schools' Lakeshore Elementary about how a disability is not so much that, but is more of an ability to be great.

Signs read "Welcome Mr. Klein" at the school Friday as Klein prepared for his presentation with the young students.

Klein tours all over the world sharing his challenges and experiences living with severe cerebral palsy, using only his big toe to communicate with a tablet.

"The thing is, even with a constraint you can do all things because the spirit inside of you is stronger than what is in your way," Klein said through his tablet Friday.

He was invited to Lakeshore Elementary Friday thanks to the recently formed Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Committee at the school. The DEI Committee of six teachers including Nayeli Venegas and Ellen Meeuwsen focuses on exposing young students to different cultures, languages, races and abilities.

"For me, as a teacher, it is very important to teach my students about different abilities. We like to call them abilities instead of disabilities," Venegas said.

Knowing that exposure to someone as inspiring as Klein can bring other students living with disabilities hope.

"It's really exciting and a little emotional for me," Meeuwsen said. "He's so intelligent and so passionate and such a positive member of the community and I want all of our special education students to know that is available as well."

The educators wanting to promote the message that a disability is not the end, but is the start of a new beginning.

"You, as young students, have a great opportunity to change the way people view disabilities and other diversities. You can realize all people have some kind of struggle and everybody has abilities," Klein said.

Klein says he loves traveling and speaking to students and the response he gets at these events fills him with gratitude every time.