When a stranger asked, 'What's wrong with you?' this disability advocate had the best response

Accessible Beauty is a miniseries of profiles that Yahoo Lifestyle will run the week of Dec. 3 in order to continue the spirit of that date’s International Day of Persons With Disabilities, created by the United Nations. That story focused on six empowering individuals, and today we highlight one of them, Xian Horn, 34, a New York City disability advocate living with cerebral palsy.

Why she considers her disability a “blessing”: It’s the blessing of my life. It has afforded me so many opportunities that I really just enjoy it. I traverse the world with two ski poles, and what it means is that the world does not forget you. I had a cab driver recently who said, “I had you 10 years ago, we had such a great chat, I’m so glad to see you again, thank you so much.” I was like, “Thank you so much!” I thought of the hundreds of thousands of people he’d had over those 10 years … I feel like it’s started a lot of conversations, and also I think being able to use my disability to shed light on our universal beauty as humans is a really important and wonderful gift to have in my life.

The idea behind her self-esteem program for girls, Give Beauty Wings, taught at New York University: I named it that because it was about putting our beauty and gifts to action. For a long time, I didn’t know what my place in the world was, and what’s good about that is I’m able to use that in my classes. It’s my own curriculum, and is an inside-out approach to beauty about how we can reframe things — negative thoughts or things that were said or done to us — to become a source of empowerment and strength. We start with the pain, to get the clouds out of the way, because it’s about taking action once we feel empowered and whole.

On facing stigma: I think that we have control over our narrative. We don’t have control over how people treat us, but we do have control over how we respond. I had a situation where I was in a store to get a pair of glasses and a woman who was waiting said, “What’s wrong with you?” So I said, “I have cerebral palsy, but it’s the blessing of my life, thank you so much for asking,” and I turned to get my glasses. And she started to bawl, waterworks, and said, “I’m so sorry, I got laid off today, and I’m having the worst day, and seeing how you handle yourself, I see that life is pretty good.” And we hugged it out and became friends on Facebook. Again, it’s how do you choose to respond to a situation? I know who I am. The one area of my life where I’ve had confidence is with my disability. As a girl becoming a woman? I was completely a mess.

On working with Open Style Lab, a project of Parsons School of Design, to create an accessible raincoat just for her:
 I had a team of five or six girls who were just devoted to making me something that would make my life easier. Not only does it have snaps so I don’t have to use the zipper — because I’m walking with my hands full — but one of the cool things they noticed about me is that I usually put my coat on sitting down, and I kept getting my coat caught on the back of my chair, so they created it with higher coattails in the back so that doesn’t happen anymore. That collaboration was life-changing.

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