Bonnie St. John was the keynote speaker at the event at the Third Annual Disability Matters Award Banquet and Conference, which honors companies for their work in supporting people with disabilities. She’s an author and inspirational speaker, whose book, Live Your Joy, talks about how joy can dramatically transform life’s tough situations. Bonnie is no stranger to tough situations, either.
“I’m disabled, I’m a woman and I’m black.” That’s how she opened her address, underscoring an important point: Disability is the one thing that cuts across everything, including gender and race.
Bonnie’s right leg was amputated when she was a child living in San Diego. Nevertheless, she wanted to learn how to ski. She received a scholarship to a ski school in Vermont, and went on to become a silver and bronze medalist in ski racing the 1984 Paralympics.
Her message of falling down and getting up resonates with companies as well as individuals – with or without disabilities. You may have seen her inspirational messages on your Starbucks coffee cup, for it’s the Way I See It campaign: “I was ahead in the  slalom. But in the second run, everyone fell on a dangerous spot. I was beaten by a woman who got up faster than I did. I learned that people fall down, winners get up, and gold medal winners just get up faster.”
Learning to ski was a long, hard journey for Bonnie. “Let’s face it, there is nothing graceful about the first day of skiing no matter how many legs you have,” she said. “Disabled people absolutely have to be the best at adapting.” She went on to become a Rhodes Scholar, and started her own business as a writer and speaker.
She credits perseverance for her successes, and compared her determination to win – to be the best athlete — with companies’ desire to be the best in their market. “Finally, we’re learning [that disability] isn’t just about charity. It’s about winning,” she said.