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Focus on abilities, not disabilities? A blind advocate says Yes!

I've got a crush on Becki Forsell.

This could be a problem given that I've been married for 22 years, and Becki and her husband, Craig, celebrated their 41st anniversary this year.

But I can't help myself. Becki exudes a positive energy that I find enthralling. She started a nonprofit, Yes! Of America United, nine years ago to help people defy their disabilities — much like she defies her own.

In 1996, Becki lost her vision because of surgical complications, but as she says, her ebullient attitude opened her eyes in a different way.

Now she preaches an upbeat message that captures the attention of county commissioners, legislatures, business owners, agency heads and one very smitten columnist.

"We don't have a disability; we just have a need for an accommodation," Becki says. "We have to step outside the smokestack and see people as people, see people who have abilities, not disabilities.

"It's not about what they can't do; it's what they can do."

Now you see why I love her? And I'm not alone. This summer, the Yes! Of America United board, with financial support from the community, flew Becki to the American Council of the Blind's annual meeting in Reno, Nev.

Becki thought the council summoned her to give a speech on how her group has enriched, educated and empowered people living with disabilities to be self-advocates.

Turns out, however, that Becki had earned the council's national Durward K. McDaniel Ambassador Award after being nominated by the board. The surprise still hasn't worn off.

"I never dreamt in a million years that I would win," Becki said recently. "I came out of there weeping, crying, excited and overwhelmed. I never expected people to thank me. I'm still overwhelmed."

I'm overwhelmed by her energy and spirit.

On Monday morning, Becki and Craig take a hot air balloon ride to celebrate Yes! Of America's upcoming ninth birthday. They're inviting friends and media to see them off at American Balloons (4906 Land O'Lakes Blvd., Lutz) at 6 a.m.

On Wednesday, she goes before the County Commission to accept a proclamation about the nonprofit's upcoming Family Abilities Information Rally, or FAIR, scheduled for Oct. 1 at the All People's Life Center (6105 E Sligh Ave., Tampa).

On Sept. 29, she's welcoming individuals to the HCC Dale Mabry Campus to initiate a study with Vanda Pharmaceuticals on how the lack of light affects individuals who have lost all their sight.

On Oct. 8, Becki and Yes! Of America team with Profits Benefit Children to hold a Holiday Smiles Fundraiser at the Elks Lodge (7201 Congress St.) in New Port Richey.

Go to if you didn't get all of that.

Of all the events, it's the FAIR ( that's dearest to her heart.

In four short years, she has grown the event to include hundreds of vendors and public agencies, plus kid-friendly activities and performers, such as a deaf group that signs and dances, and a disabled veterans band that plays Motown hits.

It's all done with the goal of empowering people with disabilities and helping the community "overcome attitudinal barriers." She drew 400 her first year but expects more than 1,000 this time.

I remain dazzled. She remains humble.

"Fifteen years ago I did not have anything, but I know the Lord wanted me here for a reason," Becki said. "I'm doing his will, and I need his strength.

"I'm not that good. I'm just Becki with an 'i.' "

No Becki, you're so much more, and I love you.

That's all I'm saying.

Focus on abilities, not disabilities? A blind advocate says Yes! 09/15/11 [Last modified: Thursday, September 15, 2011 4:30am]
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