This is a story about overcoming the odds, about doing exactly what others have said could not be done. It is a story about tragedy and prejudice turning to triumph and enlightenment.
Carol Leish has been overcoming the odds ever since she was ten months old, when a car accident left her with slurred speech, permanent hand tremors, and blindness in one eye. In 1963, a drunk driver hit the VW Bug that Carol was a passenger in. This was before seat belts and infant car seat laws, and baby Carol was placed in the back storage well while her two older brothers rode in the backseat. Her mother and brothers suffered only minor injuries, but since Carol was in the far back, she took the brunt of the collision. She suffered severe brain stem trauma and was unconscious for ten days. When she finally awoke, the doctors said she would never function as a “normal” person.
Just When You Think It’s All Over, It’s a Good Time to Start
As Leish grew up, family and friends treated her as just one of the kids. Her parents did not feel the need to place her in special education classes, thinking it would only slow her down. They wanted her to live up to the capabilities they knew she possessed, to develop the courage and confidence needed to lead a productive life.
As we are all aware, a child who is “different” will suffer socially. Leish grew up with the usual teasing and mimicking most kids suffer, but hers was magnified many times over. Friendships were few, hard-won, and far between, but because her upbringing molded her “capable” attitude, she kept her focus on the positive things in her life and valued the few friends she had.
As if her life challenges weren’t difficult enough, her mom died suddenly from a serious illness just before Carol Leish’s 14th birthday. This took its toll on her, and depression was added to her list of challenges. She began to see a counselor, who encouraged her to develop humor as a tonic against depression and negativity.
In high school, Leish challenged herself physically by taking piano lessons, working on hand control while learning to adapt chords to her playing capabilities. She made the junior varsity swim team and soon became the most improved team member. She began working with counselors from the State Department of Rehabilitation, who put her through various hand-eye coordination tests, but she just couldn’t pass them. When she started thinking about college, she was advised against it-even though she had never had any difficulty academically.
The Greatest Pleasure in Life Is Doing What Others Say You Cannot Do
Attitude is 100 percent of everything we do in life, and Leish’s “capable” attitude kicked in once again. Ignoring the rehab agency’s advise, she enrolled in college. Hand tremors made writing virtually impossible, so she took notes in class by recording lectures and using a portable typewriter. Proving the experts wrong once again, Leish graduated from college with a B average. She went on to earn her master’s degree in education and counseling from California State University, San Bernardino, graduating with a GPA of 3.6.
Leish says many people mistake her condition for cerebral palsy, a condition characterized by impaired muscle control due to brain damage, usually at or prior to birth. They also assume she is deaf because she has slow, slurred speech or that she isn’t paying attention because her left eye wanders.
Assumptions like these prompted Leish to become a disability consultant, launching her business, Call Me Capable In-Services, in 1997. She realizes that people genuinely want to be helpful and courteous towards the disabled, so her program teaches them to be more sensitive and to broaden their perspectives. “My main goal,” she says, “is to eradicate the prejudice that people have about people with physical disabilities. I hope that education in this area will help people to be more comfortable working with the disabled, and all of us will be more productive.” Leish notes, however, that nondisabled people aren’t the only ones who may need to changes their attitudes. People with disabilities also need to focus on possibilities rather than limitations.
Focusing on those possibilities, Leish continues to gain recognition and has received several awards for her community achievement in promoting mutual understanding and respect of others. Among these awards are: Top Outstanding Young American (California Finalist), 1998, from the U.S. Junior Chamber of Commerce; Outstanding Young Californian, 1998, from the California Junior Chamber of Commerce; and the Spirit of Networking Award, 1997-1998, from the Ventura County Professional Women’s Network.
The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of the dream -Eleanor Roosevelt
Carol Leish has trained her slow, quivery voice to hold the attention of audiences at businesses, schools, hospitals, clubs, and nonprofit organizations. She invites audience members to join her on her personal journey of coping with visual and speech challenges. She uses her wry wit and genuiness to deal with this sensitive subject in a way that inspires and educates the listener. Ironically, one of her clients is the very same state rehabilitation agency that, back in high school, advised her to forget college.
An important part of Leish’s presentation is Call Me Capable, a game she developed in college while earning her master’s degree. The game is actually a noncompetitive discussion started for both kids and adults. Players move around a board that prompts them to select cards with thought-provoking questions such as “How can you enjoy dancing if you cannot hear?” The game is both a fun experience and a way of fostering acceptance and empathy for people with disabilities.
It was Leish’s dream to get this game published, and in November 2001, that dream came true. Through a networking connection, she was introduced to Franklin Learning Systems, which gave her the green light to get Call Me Capable on the national market.
God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference. -Serenity Prayer, Reinhold Niebuhr
Leish sees every challenge as an opportunity to find constructive solutions, ways to improvise, and the humor in each situation. There are many ironies in Leish’s life: even with depression, she went out into the community and networked; with only one good eye and shaky hands, she went further in school than 90 percent of the population; and with her slurred slow speech, she has become a motivational speaker.
She draws strength and inspiration from some of her favorite historic heroes. In the Bible, Exodus 4:10-16 tells that Moses had a speech impediment but delivered one of history’s strongest messages about life. Helen Keller, who was blind and deaf; said, “I thank God for my handicaps, for through them I have found myself, my work, and my God.” Thomas Edison had a learning disability; Abe Lincoln suffered from depression; and Beethoven was deaf when he composed his Ninth Symphony.
Leish accepts that God has an important mission for her, too. “Through the lessons of life, I have realized my goal is to help others,” she says. Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “Life is a succession of lessons that must be lived to be understood. I have learned and continue to learn lessons that can educate others, making them more aware of everyone’s capabilities. Thus, remember to call me capable and yourself more capable.”
By Linda McCarthy
Masters of Success
by Ivan Misner, Ph.D. & Don Morgan M.A
Entrepreneur Press, 2004