Tips for Disabled Entrepreneurs: Non-profits and Expos

I have a faraway friend who has a neurological condition, call it “Condition XYZ”, who is also an entrepreneur.  My friend is super talented, but struggles to earn a decent living, just like many of us creative entrepreneurs.

One day, a support group for “Condition XYZ” required valuable time and advice from my friend, and never offered any kind of financial compensation for my friend’s efforts.  Worse, they made my friend feel guilty for even asking for ANY amount of money.

As a public speaker and self-published author, I’ve also experience this.  People who expect free hard copies of my books in order to review them, refusing a free digital format. People who expect me to show up and play music for free at various expos, not even offering transportation there and back.

Really?  It’s like that is it?

If Disabled Entrepreneurs can’t even get a little bit of money from groups who are paid to be supporting US, we’re in deep trouble.   Instead of going on and on about unfair all of this is, here’s list of suggestions.

To Non-Profit Groups:

  • Understand that we Disabled Entrepreneurs DESERVE to get paid for our expertise and advice. You come to us asking for our advice, so don’t make us feel guilty for being professional. Our time is our money, just like yours.
  • Get creative if you really can’t pay us. Help us advertise our business on your website or in social media.
  • Trade services with us. (Bartering is great!)
  • Write a check to us for the hours we worked, and we will sign it over to your non-profit as a donation. We get to claim a tax credit, and the non-profit gets their money back: Win-win!

Vendor Expos

Now on to a tiny bit of advice you can send to ORGANIZERS of events for Disabled Entrepreneurs: Ask them to waive the cost of a “vendor table” for Disabled Entrepreneurs. We often don’t make that much money, and, the for-profit companies we compete with have a very unfair advantage, in many ways.

To help pay for event expenses, ask organizers instead to charge an entry fee that becomes partially redeemable at the event to purchase from Disabled Entrepreneurs.  Say for example, a ticket would cost $10:  $2 goes to the event, and each ticket would be worth $8 towards any purchase from a Disabled Entrepreneur.

While meeting people is always nice, making money is also excellent.  Charging a redeemable entry fee would reduce time-wasting non-buyers, and make it easier for us to spend more quality time with actual paying customers.

Of course, this idea could be tweaked, but I think it can be a win-win.

Sincerely, Frank Verpaelst, your Wayward Gutsy Dwarf Support

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Stress Free Wedding!

Obviously, getting married to my awesome and lovely wife Bonnie was the best day of my life. I knew that our wedding would be unique the day we came up with our motto:  “No stress!”

From the venue, to the clothes we wore, the flowers we chose, the invitations we made ourselves, we decided this wedding was first and foremost for the two of us.  Being fairly easy to please, we figured, if we were happy, most everyone else would be as well.

At the time, our favorite restaurant was Mesquite, a southern style BBQ joint. Their food was always good, so we asked the owner how much he would charge us if we wanted to use the main room for ourselves and about forty guests, for the whole evening.

We were in for a pleasant surprise:  The owner  decided on $3,500 for the hall AND the food, which included not only outstanding slow-cooked BBQ, but also a variety of Cajun style seafood and steak dishes.  Now that was a price that could not be beat!

Even the wedding cake was unique: Bonnie loved the brownies served at Mesquite, so I asked them to make the biggest brownie-cake ever.  The look of surprise and delight on Bonnie’s face was priceless! And how good was that cake?

Most everyone there that evening ate a very meaty BBQ supper: You could hear groans coming from the guests, as many of them echoed the sentiment, “Oh my god, we can’t possibly eat another single bite.”

Now remember, our wedding cake was not light and fluffy but instead made up of two layers of brownie, with icing. And yet, one by one, everyone sampled and then completely gobbled up their portion of the delicious brownie-cake.

As for the evening’s entertainment, both my wife and I play folk music, and we thought it would be awesome to hire a band to play Irish music for our wedding reception.  The band  even came with a dance instructor. We had visions of our guests dancing more than a few jigs and reels that evening. We also brought our own instruments: I brought my Irish whistles and hammer-dulcimer, and Bonnie brought her fiddle.

After supper, it was time for the first slow dance of the evening in honor of the bride and groom. Due to my disability however, I do not dance much, so we thought it would a nice touch if we played the first slow dance together instead.

Many of the musicians knew me already from the jam sessions I attended, but none of them knew I played the hammer-dulcimer. As my wife and I were heading back to our head table after we played the slow dance, one of the musicians approached me and said, “Now, where do you think you’re going?”.

“To sit at the head table with my new bride?” I hesitatingly replied.

“You’re not going anywhere.  Now sit yourself back down, and play us some more tunes on that lovely dulcimer of yours!”

And that is how I got cornered and ended up playing more than three hours of music at my own wedding reception.  It was such an incredible feeling, playing music, and seeing forty or more guests, including my beautiful wife, jigging it up, and having a wonderful time.  By the end of the evening, even the servers and kitchen staff were dancing up a storm.

We wanted our reception to provide a unique experience, and get our guests up and dancing.  Every time we look at our wedding pictures, I do believe we succeeded beyond our wildest dreams.

There was so much dancing in fact, the Best Man’s shoes disintegrated.  We all had a good laugh at that one: He had so much fun dancing, his shoes exploded from all that joy.

In the end, our wedding was as stress free as we had hoped.  Everyone ate well, many people danced and had a good time, all without breaking the bank.

As with weddings, so as with life:  It’s not how much money you spend along the way, but the laughs and good times you have together that make it all worth while.

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New Year Marathon

Lapointe Family

My mother grew up in a very large family with thirteen siblings, most of whom got married and had kids of their own. When it came time for celebrations, there would often be over a hundred people, when you counted all my aunts, uncles, and cousins.  The biggest of all the celebrations was New Year’s Eve.

Uncle Marc, playing fiddle

Back in the 1970’s, our annual New Year’s Eve party would start at around 8:00pm, in a hall that was part of the home town church my mother and father were married in.  While my uncle played the fiddle, and my cousin played the accordion, the whole family would dance and party the night away.

Of course, there was always some alcohol for the adults, and more than a few would have a bit too much, but they were always a fun loving bunch.  All of us kids would have a blast running and playing in the huge hall.

Typical New Year’s Eve

At the stroke of midnight, the music would stop, and every person would go around the hall, wishing every other person, one by one, a Happy New Year.  With a family that large, it would take almost an hour. Then at around 1:00AM, when most sane people would start to think about going home, everyone headed downstairs into a large dining hall, and ate a big meal.

It was like a huge picnic, but indoors and in the dead of winter, with all the Coleman coolers, disposable plates, and plastic cutlery. There were multiple ovens and stoves and strange as it seems being way past midnight, the smell of meat pies (tourtières), and other traditional holiday treats was in the air.

We all sat down along a long line of picnic tables, one great big extended family, chatting happily and eating our very early morning meal.  At long last, around 2:30AM, most of the families would pack up, and drive home.  By 3:30AM, most of us were tucked into bed, exhausted by the hours of dancing, drinking, and feasting.

I say “most of us were tucked into bed” because every New Year’s Eve, there was always one branch of my mother’s family that just kept right on partying.  Two of my mother’s sisters had married two brothers from the Veilleux family.  Roughly translated, the French name “Veilleux” can mean “one who likes to party” or, more literally, “one who stayed up late”.

Indeed, these two Veilleux families would continue to party after our post-midnight meal.  Instead of going home, they would travel to every relative’s house, waking up each family by singing traditional French folk songs on the porch, while merrily ringing the doorbell.

These Veillieux’s would then try to convince each family they woke up to join them, and continue the singing and dancing at the next family’s house.  My own family would have been barely sleeping for two or three hours when our doorbell was rung at about 6:30 or 7:00 in the morning.

Mom and Dad, dancing the night away

I can’t remember if my parents ever joined in, but one particular year, my parents were so comatose they never answered the door, and the singing on our porch got so loud, the neighbors called the police.

As if this was not enough of a marathon, on my father’s side of the family, they celebrated on New Year’s Day, starting at around mid-afternoon, until around 10:00PM that evening.  With only four or five hours of sleep, we would have to wake up and prepare for that event with bags under our eyes, not at all feeling like going to yet another party.

For many years running,  my family had to endure two parties, and over twelve hours of drinking, dancing and eating, in less than a twenty-four hour period and with not nearly enough sleep in between. I’m not quite sure how my parents survived it all, but I for one am not cut from the same cloth: Ever since I moved out of my parent’s house, my New Year’s Eve celebrations are done in the privacy of my own quiet home.

Now blessed as I am with a loving wife and child, we continue our quiet New Year’s celebrations together, playing games, baking cookies, and watching movies, before the hectic pace of life takes over again.

I wish you all good health, and good luck for the New Year!

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Posted in Humor, Miscellaneous | 2 Comments

True Holiday Spirit: Peace and Love

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Some people like to rant at this time of year about how sad it is that Christmas has become so commercialized. The sentiment is understandable: Starting in early October, it feels like three holidays get squished into one monstrosity I call “Hallowthanksmas” (Halloween, Thanksgiving, and Christmas).

The whole  mess is similar to that culinary item, the  Turducken,  three birds stuffed inside the other (turkey, duck, chicken), and roasted in the oven. It might be tasty, but we can get truly confused as to what it all means.

Personally, I try not let the endless advertising get in the way of spreading some cheer. The Grinches of the world will use this blatant commercialism to discourage the rest of us from trying to get in the spirit of things, as if they are somehow morally superior. Again, I kind of understand: Ninety percent of the year, advertising is geared towards satisfying me, myself and I, in an almost endless loop of self-gratification.

But what exactly is wrong with people giving each other gifts?  Is it really so terrible to think about someone other than ourselves for a change? It’s nice to think about making someone else happy: What others like, and what others might need to make their lives a little more fun or productive, peaceful or pleasant.

Cross-Stitch Ornament I made for mom and dad

If you don’t have any money or really want to strike a blow against consumerism, make something by hand, or print up a coupon that promises something nice to someone you care about: Babysitting services, a massage, or a home cooked meal, whatever you think that person needs.

I have personally given, and received these kinds of coupons, and they always put a smile on people’s faces, not once but twice:  The first time being when they get the coupon, and the second time when that person cashes in the coupon, and you follow through and deliver the promised service.

The worst part of all the anti-holiday sentiment, is that most of it comes from the “I’m trendier than you” crowd, while sipping their Starbucks peppermint lattes , and being hypnotized by their I-phone screens. If you really feel the urge to make an anti-consumerism statement, instead of stomping on our holiday cheer, here’s a challenge: Try a “buy nothing month”.

Excluding essentials like groceries, bus passes or gas for your car, and all the bills one needs to pay, for one month, don’t by anything you really don’t need. No new books, no going out to movies, no expensive coffee, no restaurant food, no bottled water, etc. I’ve done it more times than I can remember, and believe me, that kind of non-consumerism saves you tons of money, and really changes your attitude.

Volunteering your time can also do wonders for your spirits.  Plenty of charities need extra help during the holiday season, why not pitch in? Best of all, you don’t have to spend any money, just your time:  Now that’s walking the talk against consumerism!

My sister and brother, having fun with shaving cream

I do agree that whichever holidays you celebrate, they should be about caring for each other. Don’t let the commercials, advertising flyers, spam, popup ads, and store displays convince you otherwise: It’s not the about how much money we spend, but the good times we have together that matters.

Laugh, play games, do good deeds and I think you will find a positive spirit growing inside of you, that just might last well into the new year.

Wishing you all peace, love, health and happiness!

Laughter is the best gift

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Freedom of Speech vs. Hate Speech?

There is this comedian in Quebec, by the name of Mike Ward, who is contesting a fine levied against him by a human rights commission.  The whole case on the surface appears to be about freedom of speech, but I think it has much more to do with the hatred many of us disabled face in our day to day lives.

Read the newspaper’s update on the comedian’s appeal, especially what the lawyer is saying, then, read my “letter to the editor” that appears after the article link. What do you think?

http://montrealgazette.com/news/comedian-mike-wards-to-have-hearing-on-appeal-of-human-rights-judgment

My letter:

People say the cruelest and stupidest things to me and my disabled friends. Just one example is: “If I were disabled like you, I’d kill myself”.

This is very similar to Mr. Ward’s “jokes” about Jeremy.  In private, hate speech like this is just plain wrong, but sadly, not illegal.  But when hate speech is used as part of a paid public performance, it should never be “free”, especially when directed at children.

As well, it is absolutely ridiculous for any lawyer to claim that Jeremy became fair game for public humiliation because he “put his handicap into play”.   What does that even mean, to put one’s handicap into play?  It’s not like we have a choice to tuck it away in our pockets.  (Now, wouldn’t that be nice?)

It could not get any sillier than if they said:  “The handicapped kid deserved to be publicly humiliated, because he sang while he was handicapped”.  With that logic, everyone who gets robbed is at fault because they own stuff.

Like a bullies in a playground Mr. Ward and his lawyer are trying to send a cruel message:  “You can be a disabled child, or you can have talent, but never both at the same time.  Know your place you uppity crippled kids, or we will publicly humiliate you.”

Jeremy was a minor when he dared to show his talents, dared to be better, and he’s the one accused of using his disability to achieve success?

The fact is: It is Mr. Ward who put Jeremy’s disability “into play” for a cheap laugh, and to make a buck.  Another fact is:  Mike’s “jokes” about Jeremy had a lot more to do with hatred than humor, and I pray the appeal judge agrees.

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Posted in Bullying, Living with a disability | 1 Comment

Portfolio – FV Productions

Become a Patron

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When you have your head lowered, working as hard as you can on making your dreams come true, you don’t always notice how far you have traveled.

What follows are some of my projects that made the transition from the virtual world, and into the real world of radio, TV, and print publications.

While it is true that I am trying to run a creative business that also can some day support my loving family, the bigger goal is to contribute something positive to the world, something my daughter can be proud of as she grows up.

If you want to participate and spread the word, feel free to share this post, a portfolio of my published works, that I promise to continue expanding:

TV Appearance

City TV:  Interview on Breakfast Television with Sheila and Leander

Books

My first children’s book: Leander the Late Bloomer.

Articles

EMSB’s Inspiration Magazine – Focus on Ability (page 5)

Bioéthique Online – Disability Is in the Eye of the Beholder

Bioéthique Online – “A Very Embarrassing Moment”

Bioéthique Online – A Pain in my Neck (Painting included)

Radio Appearances

CBC:  How I “saved the day” with a Leatherman pocket tool

CBC: A crazy story about my dad and his chainsaw

 

 

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Accessible? My Ass!

Sometimes, I do a slow burn when something really makes me angry.  Like the time this spring, when I got trapped in a public washroom.  While I did “share the moment” on Facebook, it took me the whole summer, AND a post from another blogger to get off my behind to craft an appropriately snarky article that you also could contribute to.

On that day, while there was a handy sign indicating that the washrooms were “wheelchair accessible”, after I washed my hands and tried to leave, I noticed the handle on the exit door was five feet off the ground!  With my short stature, stretched to full height, I did not have the leverage to pull the door open.

Worse still was the fear that while I stood there, pulling uselessly, some able-bodied person would smash into me when they opened the door from the other side. Because of course, there was no window in the door so you could at least step back before someone came in.

Who knows how long I would have been stuck there, if another gentleman had not been sitting in another stall. Here’s the kicker:  He was one of those people who takes FOREVER when on the can.  At least, it felt like forever while I was waiting there, plotting my potty room rescue.

I actually started chatting with him, because my fear was, he would think I was some kind of stalker, standing at the sink, waiting for some ungodly reason.  The conversation went something like this.

Me:  “Um, sorry to bother you.  I’m only waiting because I’m stuck, and can’t open the door to get out.”

Stranger: “OH.”  Slight chuckle.  “No problem, I’ll be done soon”.

Me, slightly embarrassed:  “Thanks.”

After he flushed and came out of his stall to wash his hands, we both marveled at the stupidity of it all.

I think these “wheelchair accessible” bathrooms need to be tested by the able-bodied contractors and builders who create them.  Tested while they are in a wheelchair, and then, walking on their knees. Tested while they are hung over, or sick with the flu, to really understand our predicament, and how our various states of health can affect our access to their less than brilliant designs.

Also, their testing should take place only AFTER they drank a full bottle of water, AND, taken a dose of powerful laxative AND forced to wait past the point of no return waiting for the ONLY accessible stall available on a busy day.

Some of the obvious things they might discover might be:

  • Are all the door handles the right height?
  • Can you get into the accessible stall, with a wheelchair, park it, AND close the stall door?
  • With that wheelchair in the stall, is there room for an attendant?
  • Are the sinks at the right height for knee clearance?
  • Are the faucets, soap, and hand-wiping/drying materials also accessible?
  • If the door is NOT automatic, do you need the strength of Hercules to pull the damn thing open?

I’m sure there are other scenarios and stupidities we encounter that I can’t even begin to imagine.  In your experiences while using public “accessible” washrooms, what other features and tests do you think should be required?  What other amazingly asinine design flaws have you had the displeasure of encountering?  Please share your thoughts!

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Posted in Living with a disability | 11 Comments

White Lion of Courage

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When I was around the age of six or seven, I used to dream of a friendly white lion.  He would listen to my problems, and offer me advice, and courage.  This was a repeating dream, and when I woke up from it, I always felt better.

Other than the white lion, the dream itself was pretty plain: No details, no excitement, just me and the white lion, in a small empty room, talking.  Sometimes I’d cry, and he’d listen, then, offer me kind words and love, always a feeling of love.

Then one night, the dream changed.  My white lion told me, I would dream of him no more.  I was old enough, and did not need him anymore he said.  I cried. He said not to worry, that he gave me all the courage I would ever need. And that was that.  I never dreamed of that white lion ever again.

As I grew older, I realized that my white lion was right:  I WAS brave enough to face the world without him.  But, to this day, I still miss him.  I like to pretend that after he left me, he went on to help other children in their dream worlds, giving them courage to face their problems.

I told this story the other day to my seven year old daughter Annika. I asked her that if she ever dreamed of my white lion, to tell him he helped me so much, and that I loved him, and truly missed him.  Her eyes sparkled.

I wonder, will my white lion of courage visit her dreams one day? I hope so!

Posted in Stories for Children | 2 Comments

Standing Up To Bullies

Frank, circa 1973

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Although I doubt it will change the world, I did my part yesterday to stand up and challenge at least one bully.

There has been a news story here in Quebec, about a comic by the name of Mike Ward. Mike had to pay a fine according to a judgement laid out by a human rights tribunal. The reason for this fine was that Mr. Ward made some nasty jokes about a young disabled boy.

This tribunal decision released an avalanche of social media on both sides of the “freedom of speech/don’t be an a-hole” coin, a debate I do not want to add to.  What I did instead was offer myself up as a sacrificial lamb to the comic “genius” of Mr. Ward.  I wonder if he’ll ever have the guts to take me up on that offer?

Here’s the letter that I posted on Mike Ward’s Facebook page, and that is printed on page A7 of today’s Montreal Gazette, Friday, July 29, 2016:

Willing to be Ward’s next punchline

I’m here to make you a deal Mr. Ward. I offer myself as a sacrificial lamb just for your comedy show Mr. Ward. I’m a 53 year old dwarf. I have tons of surgical scars, a crooked spine, stubby fingers, club feet, and knobby knees. Oh, and I’m really REALLY short, that’s a great thing to make fun of, and always gets the crowd laughing.

And I’m a Montreal celebrity too, according to your definition, so, I am “fair game”:  I have been a guest on CBC Radio and CJAD.  I am also a self-published author, and a blogger.

Here is my challenge: I promise you Mr. Ward, if you make fun of me in your act, I’ll never sue you, or take you to a human rights tribunal. Just leave the children alone, and donate ALL of your crowdfunding to a good cause.

Yours Truly
Snarky, the eighth dwarf.

 

Posted in Bullying, Living with a disability | 5 Comments

Shame On Me

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I freely admit, that I have always felt uncomfortable interacting with people who have intellectual disabilities.  My brain knows, not all of them can understand what a dwarf is, and many of their reactions are truly innocent.  But my emotions do not understand this.

My dilemma is always: Is this person a jerk laughing at me, or, do they have some hidden disability that could explain things better?  Something happened to me this week that I hope to never forget.

My wife Bonnie and I were at the food court the other day.  As we sat down to figure out what we wanted to order, I noticed a fellow drinking coffee just a few seats away.  The gentleman looked at us with a big goofy grin, and I swear, he laughed out loud. Immediately my weirdo alarm bells began ringing.

Bonnie and I decided on different lunch menus, and went our separate ways to order our food.  A few minutes later, scanning the busy tables, the ONLY spot available, was the one with the LOL fellow. Reluctantly, I sat down and waited for Bonnie to return.

Normally, I’m a friendly person, prone to starting conversations with friendly people at the drop of a hat. Not so with LOL fellow. I just sat there quietly, wondering to myself: Creep or not?  You never can tell just by looking.

Despite my best efforts at ignoring him, while I began unpacking my meal, I looked up several times. He looked at me, nodded and smiled. I smiled back, but still felt unsure where all this was going.  Thankfully I was given a chance to justifiably ignore LOL fellow again when Bonnie arrived with her lunch tray, and we started eating and chatting.

Almost immediately I noticed there were no napkins with the food I had just purchased.  I said to Bonnie, “Man, I specifically asked for napkins to be included, and guess what?  No napkins!”

“No problem” Bonnie replied, “have one of mine”.

At one point, LOL fellow had left. I breathed a sigh of relief that I would not have to fend off strange questions, or face awkward moments.  Then I noticed him walking towards me, napkins in hand, with that same big grin on his face as when he randomly laughed out loud what felt like hours before.

My heart skipped a beat, but I managed a smile back at him and said, “Oh, for me?”

“Yes.  Self-serve. Right at the counter over there” he replied, his smile growing even wider.

I took the proffered napkins and said to him “Well, that’s very kind of you sir, thank you so very much!” Again, his smile grew to the size and intensity of an incredibly warm summer sun.

Then he shaped his hand into the universal “fist bump” symbol, and I replied in kind as we shared a friendly fist bump.  Feelings of shame washed over me as I realized how prejudiced my thoughts had been. And double shame on me, being disabled and all, fearing even the possibility that I might have to deal with a person with an intellectual disability.

Talk about the universe slapping me around and waking me up. As uncomfortable as his laugh might have made me earlier on, clearly, his behavior thereafter showed he was intelligent enough to understand my words, and nice enough to act upon my needs in the nicest way possible.

May I never forget the lesson I learned that day:  Reserve judgment until you know for sure if a person is a creep, or, just a person with different mannerisms but a heart gold.

Posted in Living with a disability | 6 Comments