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I have spent a long time pondering 2011 and all the lessons and opportunities that I encountered during the past year. I ask myself how I can take those lessons and use them to improve the lives of people with disabilities. As a diehard technologist, I believe that social media can expand our voices. I also believe that social media can be used to help people with disabilities around the globe find their place in the world.

The time has come for people with disabilities to find our voices. Let’s use social media to be heard and to help others be heard. We can change the lives of billions of people by including people with disabilities in all aspects of society. We need to help change the mind set that having a disability is a bad thing or something to be ashamed of.

Instead of it being a bad thing, let’s celebrate our differences and allow people with disabilities to be seen as whole and not broken. During a recent speaking engagement a young man asked me if he should disclose his disability to an employer. I have been asked this question a thousand times and it breaks my heart each time. What I hear is a young man saying that he is afraid to be honest about who he is because an employer might judge him negatively. In many cases that may be true and it is a failure of our society on so many levels. We need to allow people to be proud of every aspect that makes them different, and encourage them to celebrate their differences and special abilities.

A few years ago, my daughter was sitting at the table with my husband and I was nearby. She said, “Dad, Mom is doing it again.” My husband said, “What is Mom doing?” Sara quickly responded, “She is telling people that I have Down syndrome.” It brought tears to my eyes, and I jumped up and said, “Sara, you have brown hair, hazel eyes, a great smile and Down syndrome. Never be embarrassed about the way God made you.” We talked about it for a long time and she told me she was not embarrassed but sometimes did not understand why I talked about it all the time. I told her that this was our path – to help people understand why people like her add value to the world. Sara has spoken for global audiences many times since that conversation and she firmly believes the world is a better place because she is a part of it.

We are all different but at the same time we have so many similarities. As I travel all over the world that point becomes more and more clear to me. I believe that families across the globe want the best for their family members with disabilities. I have had the fortune to meet parents of children with disabilities in Qatar, Oman, Pakistan, Africa, Australia, New Zealand, Germany, Costa Rica, Canada, Mexico, Brazil, Ecuador, Ireland, India, England, Russia, China, Singapore, Thailand and all over the United States. Without exception these families wanted their family members with disabilities to have opportunities and have the resources to meet their goals, follow their passions and have their dreams come true.

I have also had the pleasure to meet talented people with disabilities all over the world. I believe that something amazing is happening. People with disabilities and the people that love them are finding their voices. Social media tools like Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Four Square, Tumblr and BlogSpot are wonderful ways for people with disabilities to find their voices. Other countries are using tools like Renren, Youku.com and Sina Weibo in China, and Bebo in the UK – opening new opportunities for people with disabilities to have a voice.

I believe there is a trend to move away from the charity based model of, “let’s help those poor people with disabilities,” and instead we are witnessing a movement toward a model of empowerment. A more robust and promising model where everyone is included because society benefits when everyone participates to the best of our abilities. Plus, we all benefit when people that think differently work together to improve the world and solve societal problems.

Let’s look at the problems that exist globally with inclusion and put our minds and hearts together and solve these issues. Work to include people with disabilities in technology, internet, communications, education, employment, transportation, travel, housing and every other aspect of society. As you hear about success stories, share them across your networks.

Find your voice and help others in the community find their voices as well. Let’s celebrate and embrace our differences and let our voices be heard – blog, write articles, tweet your thoughts and share interesting articles. Follow other thought leaders and become a thought leader in your own right. Look for opportunities to mentor people with disabilities around the world.

Please join me in giving people with disabilities a solid and positive voice in 2012.