Welcome (or shall I say welcome back!) to Boston Mamas Rock! -- where I share the voices of fabulous local mamas from all walks of life. Read on for today's interview with Janet Lee Harrold, mother of one, artist, book author, and special needs advocate by way of her efforts to support her granddaughter Hailey, a 3-year-old with Athetoid Cerebral Palsy. Read on to learn about Janet's impassioned efforts on behalf of her granddaughter and the special needs community as a whole. Then go ahead and nominate a fabulous fellow mama!
Janet Lee Harrold, Artist, Author, Special Needs Advocate
Christine: Welcome, Janet. You're a local artist and your granddaughter Hailey is 3 years old and has Athetoid Cerebral Palsy. Before we talk about Hailey, can you tell us a bit about your history as an artist?
Janet: Sure, Christine, but first I would like to say thank you for interviewing me and giving me the privilege of being on Boston Mamas Rock. I am mostly a self taught artist who has been pushing paint around for over 20 years now. Growing up in Boston was a constant inspiration for me. I love to paint the brownstones in the South End, and the magnolia and dogwood trees when they are in bloom. I enjoy painting street scenes, traffic lights, umbrellas, and most of all people. I also love to paint different areas of the Boston Public Garden.
Christine: When did you decide to start selling your artwork to raise money for Hailey's alternative therapies that are not covered by insurance?
Janet: I have just recently started to sell my artwork to raise money for Hailey's therapies.
Christine: Have you had an opportunity to see your contributions at work? What kinds of alternative therapies have you helped Hailey with? How is she progressing?
Janet: Well not as of yet but hopefully soon. Our first priority is to get Hailey into a Conductive Education Program (Conductive Education approaches physical disabilities from an educational rather than a medical or paramedical perspective). Because there is not a Conductive Education Center here in Massachusetts, we have to fly to a facility out of state; this form of education is typically done in 4-5 week sessions and ultimately costs a few thousand dollars.
Christine: You've written and illustrated the lovely Boston-based book ABC's, Flowers and Trees: A Walk in the Public Gardens. Tell us about the inspiration for that book.
Janet: Hailey's love for books was my inspiration for writing and illustrating this book. Hailey loves to be read to and I thought it would be a nice idea to write her a book with a personal touch. Though the book is written for all children, there are a lot of hidden messages in the book that are specific to our family.
Christine: I understand you're also working on a line of greeting cards for people with disabilities. Can you tell us more about this project?
Janet: After 3 years of learning more about people with disabilities, I thought there should be a line of cards that may reflect their feelings, etc. For example, instead of picking out a birthday card for my granddaughter that has a perfectly postured ballerinas, I thought that I would paint a picture of a ballerina wearing braces, or AFO's as they are called in the special needs world. Or maybe an "I love you" card with an image of someone showing the sign for "I love you" in sign language for people who are deaf or nonverbal. Or perhaps a child/person in a wheelchair portrayed on the front of a greeting card would be a nice touch to give to a person who may depend on one. I have been working pretty hard on this project and am not too sure how I will market such a thing. Maybe your readers have some suggestions on how to do this.
Christine: You are so passionate about helping others with disabilities find resources. Do you have top resources to recommend to my readers?
Janet: I have found Exceptional Family TV to be most helpful. The site gives a voice to the stories of exceptional families through a professionally produced docu-reality series; the shows offer a window to the rest of the world into the realities, struggles, and triumphs of amazing families raising children with special needs. They also provide a multimedia platform focusing on the wide variety of topics in the special needs community -- family stories, news stories on the special needs community, information on new therapies/treatments/equipment/adaptable toys. They also hold real and open emotional discussions.
Christine: And you also are passionate about "educat[ing] others about how to talk and play with people who are a bit different." What are your key pieces of advice for people interacting with individuals with disabilities for the first time?
Janet: I think the important thing to remember is that people who have disabilities -- even if they are severe -- deserve to be treated with respect and kindness. Don't let the lack of knowledge about a person's disability stand in the way of being kind. It is always appropriate to say hello, even if someone is nonverbal and cannot respond to you in words. They may respond with a smile (or they may not), but I think it is better to say something kind and acknowledge that they exist, rather than say nothing at all. I think the mistake a parent sometimes makes is to pull their child away from a person who has a disability in fear of them saying something wrong. They are actually sending the wrong message to their child (and ours) -- they are indirectly implying to them that they should fear that person. Or that they should stay away. Curiosity is a natural feeling for a young child when they see someone who looks a bit different. If you don't know how to answer the questions in their inquisitive minds, I'm sure the parent of the disabled child or the disabled person would be happy to educate you. This will help everyone to better understand.
Christine: You grew up in Boston. Do you have favorite spots to enjoy with Hailey and her family in the city?
Janet: Yes, there are so many...where to start? I love to walk around Jamaica Pond, my family enjoys hanging around at the playground at Larz Anderson Park, and the Swan Boats are always a personal favorite.
Christine: We've talked all serious up to now. Tell us about the favorite things you do to unwind or any hidden/unusual talents you may have.
Janet: Aside from spending time with Hailey, I like to unwind by the fireplace with my laptop and my dog Benny, writing blogs for a couple of special needs sites, one being Exceptional Family TV (I blog weekly there) and Kidz Krew (I blog monthly there). And this talent is not that unusual or hidden but my full time job is working as design manager at Cedar Grove Gardens.
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