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John Lawson speaks in a Zoom window with an ASL interpreter in another window.

2019 Lab Alumnus John Lawson Mentors 2020 Lab Participants, Says to Own Your Story

Los Angeles, California, June 17, 2020 – John Lawson is a man who wears quite a few hats: he is an award-winning writer and director, he has acted in notable shows such as Law and Order: SVU, American Horror Story: Freakshow and Switched At Birth, and is a certified pilot and scuba instructor. And those are just a few of his many accomplishments.

Speaking to the 30 participants and five-member programmatic team of RespectAbility’s Summer Lab, Lawson began his talk with the story of being forced to accept his disability. He lost both of his hands in an electrical accident that occurred while he was working. Even though he lost what most of us consider vital body parts, Lawson referred to two quotes that helped him process an inevitable new chapter of his life:

“The great American poet Robert Frost said, ‘In three words I can sum up everything I’ve learned about life: it goes on.’But probably, the most helpful wisdom I received after my amputations was by an unknown author. It was passed on [to me] by my mother, and she said, ‘No one ever finds life worth living. You have to make it worth living.’”

In regard to his many accomplishments, Lawson emphasized that those successes were not to become ‘the first certified scuba instructor without hands!’ or ‘the first amputee pilot!’ He became a scuba diver because he wanted to, and he became a pilot because he simply wanted to fly.

Lawson reminded the participants that he does not see himself as an inspiration, or as an exceptional person.

“I’m not special in the things that I have done, whether flying an airplane with no hands or diving in the depths of the oceans with the conditions that I have to deal with to do them. I could not control the circumstances that burned my body and resulted in the amputation of both my hands, but I can control what happens after the flesh has healed. I can control my attitude.”

The analogy that Lawson offered as a comparison to those with disabilities was to a hundred-dollar bill. Even if a little piece of the bill was broken off, or even if it was crumpled and stepped on, the bill is still a bill. Regardless of what is missing or is tarnished, the value of it does not decrease.

“Many times in our lives, we are dropped,” Lawson said. “We’re crumpled, and we’re ground into the dirt by decisions we make or circumstances beyond our control that come our way. And we may feel as though we’re worthless. But no matter what has happened or what will happen, you will never lose your value. Dirty or clean, crumpled or finely crisp and creased, you’re still priceless.”

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