"About Us" is a series of interviews with accomplished self-advocates in Florida.
Shelby Stoner has been a disability advocate and educator since the age of six. Today, one of her passions is to help those in her community reach their fullest potential.
With more than 100 presentations under her belt, Shelby continues to speak on disability topics such as self-determination, assistive technology, and inclusion. Along with her work as a FL SAND Fellow, she is a vocational evaluation technician and employment specialist at The Grow Group, a nonprofit organization assisting Floridians with obtaining employment. She also has experience in behavioral intervention case management and working with people with traumatic brain injuries.
Shelby has a bachelor's degree in psychology from the University of South Florida - St. Petersburg and a master's degree in rehabilitation and mental health counseling. In her free time, Shelby enjoys going to baseball games, spending time at the beach, and going to Disney World. Her life philosophy is that her disability is not all of who she is, only a tiny part.
Question: When did you start to identify as a self-advocate and why?
Shelby: I began to identify as a self-advocate at the age of six. My father has been a disability advocate since I was born. I would often go with him to work functions out of care necessities. I would pipe up with comments here and there while tormenting my dad. As I matured, I realized I had a voice, and no one could tell my story better.
Question: Who or what has most inspired your advocacy journey?
Shelby: My journey to self-advocacy has been twofold. For as long as I can remember, my parents have been fundamental in helping me discover who I am. They always instilled that although I had a disability, I could do anything I put my mind to and that my disability was only a tiny part of me. My fierce determination and need to do things “my way” is another factor that has influenced my passion for self-advocacy. It is these messages that I strive to share with others.
Question: What advocacy related issue is the most significant to you?
Shelby: Freedom of choice is the most significant advocacy-related issue that has influenced my life. This along with passion for self-advocacy comprise the most basic form of self-empowerment.
Question: Can you share a time when your disability inspired a behavior or comment you found particularly obnoxious?
Shelby: My husband and I were Christmas shopping at Walmart. As we entered the store, a woman walked by us and said, “Boy, I wish I had one of those.” She was referring to our wheelchairs. I found this particularly offensive because she was just thinking about how comfortable it must be to sit all day. This is offensive because, in reality, sitting all day is uncomfortable. We contend with daily back pain, muscle soreness, and potential pressure sore development. We sit because we have to, not because we want to.
Question: If you could invite one person with a disability, living or dead, to have a conversation over coffee, who would it be?
Shelby: If I could have coffee with anyone with a disability, it would be Stephen Hawking. Dr. Hawking’s determination to live his life to its fullest potential, even at a very young age, is similar to mine. His contributions to the world are unparalleled.
Question: In 10 years, what would you most like to see change in the lives of persons with disabilities?
Shelby: I believe that a common misconception that society holds is that people with disabilities do not crave romantic relationships. This is the farthest fact from the truth. David and I have been married for almost a year. He also has cerebral palsy. Like any other couple, we've experienced the trials and tribulations of being newlyweds. With the loving support and assistance from our families and caregivers, we are living happily ever after.
Question: How important to your identity is being a person with a disability?
Shelby: My disability is one part of my identity. When meeting new people, I often say, ‘Hi, I'm Shelby. I'm a daughter, a sister, a wife, and a friend. I enjoy reading, spending time at the beach, and going to Disney World. I also have cerebral palsy.” I don't let my disability be the sole focus of my identity, as it is only a tiny part of what makes me who I am.
Question: What unique strengths have your disability given you or otherwise influenced your life?
Shelby: My disability has afforded me numerous strengths that I am grateful for. Persistence is the most significant. Persistence is critical in all aspects of life, particularly self-advocacy. As my father always taught me, “the harder you work, the luckier you get."
Question: Can you share a product, way to complete a task, or life hack that has made life with a disability easier?
Shelby: My power chair has been the most significant tool that has made my life easier. I began driving at the age of three. Independent power mobility has allowed me to experience typical developmental milestones and physical freedom. One of my earliest memories of being in a power chair occurred at four years old. I went outside to pout because I was upset I couldn't have candy before dinner. At first glance, this may not seem like a big deal, but for someone who relies on others for all physical aspects of their life, this small act of independence meant everything to me.
Question: Do you have a favorite quote that inspires you?
Shelby: Yes. “You cannot prevent the birds of sorrow from flying over your head, but you can prevent them from building nests in your hair.” ~Chinese proverb
The FSACentral staff would like to thank Shelby 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.