"About Us" is a series of interviews with accomplished self-advocates in Florida.
Tallahassee native David Jones has an associate's degree from Tallahassee Community College and a bachelor's degree from Florida State University. He started his business career at Winn-Dixie and retired after 15 years with the company at the age of 34. Jones then started his own business but wound up transitioning to the health insurance field after a hunting accident that resulted in a severe brain injury. While recuperating in the hospital, he had the opportunity to participate in therapeutic recreation as part of his rehab.
As a result of his inspiring experience in rehab, he started a nonprofit organization that would help other people get back to living after traumatic injuries using the secret formula that worked for him -- recreation and leisure activities. As a result, the Florida Disabled Outdoors Association (FDOA)was born.
In this edition of “About Us,” David talks about the importance of recreational leisure for people with disabilities.
Question: How important is being a person
with a disability to your identity?
David: It means a lot to me. I have found my place in life because of my disability. I was a very typical fast-living young person who looked out for myself first and other people second, if at all, prior to my injury. I ran hard and if you couldn’t keep up with me then stay out of my way. After my injury, I realized that everybody can’t run fast and stay on that track of life. I realized that everybody could benefit from a little compassion and help from others. Creating the Florida Disabled Outdoors Association really has given me the identity as an advocate for recreation and leisure for people of all abilities and really an inclusion advocate.
Question: When did you begin to identify as a self-advocate?
David: In 1988, after being in a coma for 10 days I woke up to a whole new world I had to adjust and adapt to. While in the hospital, I learned one valuable lesson that has always stuck with me: No matter how bad you have it, or think you have it, all you have to do is look around to see people much less fortunate than you. In the hospital setting I saw many people with many more severe issues to deal with than mine. I automatically became a cheerleader and a positive, reinforcing advocate for the people around me. I found myself trying to cheer them up and encourage them. I became involved in advocacy as a natural process. It was in me all along, all I had to do was discover it. I feel like the more I help other people, the more I help myself.
Question: What is your funniest disability-related story?
David: I have many but one was when I was still in the hospital. I am an outdoors type of person and I was in a wheelchair. I was a hunter before my accident, but because of my accident, I didn’t ever think I would be a hunter again. So, what I thought I’d become was a bird watcher. As part of my rehab program, I had built a bird feeder in the hospital and hung the feeder out in the garden in the outdoor area of the hospital. One of my favorite things to do was for my wife to take me out to the feeder and watch the birds feed in the feeder. She would push me up the hill to where the feeder was located, and we’d spend some time there together. While she was pushing me, one of my feet came off my footrest. I leaned forward to put my foot back on the footrest and when I did, not being used to the wheelchair, I rolled out of the chair and fell to the ground. My wife was so worried hospital personnel would see us on the ground and never let us come outside again.
Question: What disability-related issue is most significant to you?
David: Giving people the opportunity to participate. One of the reasons is that I wasn’t given the opportunity to participate when I left the hospital setting. This also applies to all other areas in life. Give people the opportunity to get engaged. Remove the barriers and open the doors.
Question: Can you share a time when your disability inspired a behavior, comment, or reaction, that you found particularly obnoxious?
David: One thing that does happen because of my injury, but it’s not particularly obnoxious, is a left-side neglect. I fail to recognize objects and people many times on my left side so I bump shoulders with people passing on that side because my brain isn’t giving me enough distance to know they are there and I kind of ignore them. I’m sure people might think I am rude, so they may get mad.
Question: What about a positive experience?
David: People thank me for the Florida Disabled Outdoors Association all the time. That is what fuels me and keeps me motivated -- the thank yous and sincere appreciation for all that we do. It’s like in creating FDOA I have created something special for people and everyone is very grateful for the organization. However, there are also a bunch of people that make it happen too.
Question: If you could invite one person with a disability, living or dead, to have a conversation over coffee, who would it be? Why?
David: This is kind of a personal answer but, it would be my daughter Kristy, who passed away this past January. She was a type 1 diabetic and a kidney and pancreas transplant recipient with mobility and other disabilities. She lived with chronic illness most of her life starting at about 16 years old. People would challenge her when she went on to the beach with one of the special beach chairs I have because most of her disabilities were invisible. They would ask her what are you doing riding on a motorized vehicle on our beach? Then she would have to explain to them the she had a mobility impairment and that this was a tool for her to go to the beach where she would otherwise be unable to go. I would like to talk to her about her different stories about her perspective of disability.
Question: In 10 years, what would you most like to be different in the lives of persons with disabilities?
David: My vision for disability is for it to be more accepted and included in the mainstream. I'd like for disability to become less of an issue and more accepted, just like some people have brown hair and some people have red hair, some have grey hair, some have a disability and some don’t. People should look at it as not a big deal.
The FSACentral staff would like to thank David for taking the time to participate in the interview. Let us know what you think about "About Us" on Facebook! If you know an accomplished self-advocate in Florida you think we should showcase in "About Us," contact us here or via Facebook.