A lot of people asked me how I felt right after I won the Geek of the Year Award at the Philadelphia Geek Awards 2015. I told them it felt like I was in a dream and I would wake up any second to realize this wasn't real. I told them that was the reason why I wasn't jumping around everywhere going crazy (not that it's physically possible, anyway). But that wasn't even the half of it.
The inside of me was very much like the flask of a mad scientist - full of all different kinds of emotions battling against each other to get the best of me. I was scared. Why? First, because I had no idea what was next. The media attention (my Twitter feed was exploding at that time) was one thing but far more important than that was the scare of flying so up high that I would forget that my feet were on the ground once. And second, "With great powers, comes great responsibility". I knew the minute I held this award that it wasn't going to be just a piece of decoration for my room (although, it does look awesome with the lights and all - shout out to NextFab for a job well done!). It would demand responsibility. Remember how all moms are notorious for putting you in place whenever you do something wrong? That's what it'd be, except that it wouldn't yell all the time and just stare from the shelf.
I was happy, of course. Partially because of the award, yes. But primarily because for the first time in my life I wasn't defined and recognized for being handicapped. There weren't God-bless-yous, you-will-walk-agains, or stay-strongs. Instead, there were talks on possible collaborations, technology, and making Philly a better city. I was also sad. Because they didn't let me take the "Geak Awerd".
Fame has a funny side to it. People who haven't ever talked to you would suddenly talk about you as you're their BFF. Then you'd get messages like "Yo dude, long time man. Saw your award man it's so cool. I would love to borrow it and play with it for a couple of weeks if you'd be okay with it. Can't wait to hold the gold dude." Yeah... No. Also, it's not a toy? And you live a few hundred miles away? And we've never met?
But on the positive side, this award helps you meet and connect with people who are 25 thousand times cooler than you. Jason, Eric, Mikey, Kara, Team Geekadelphia, Adam, Denise, Amber, Leslie, Jon, Alexis, Claire are just a few to name. It also becomes the reason for you to appear in Philly Weekly, get an offer from The Black Tribbles to come to your apartment and do a podcast (all the reasons to clean up my messy apartment), and your former university - University of North Dakota, Magee Rehabilitation Hospital and ABC Medical to run a story on you (wish I'd have received the same support, or at all, from my current university - Saint Joseph's University).
Having a disability automatically enrolls us in a life where not everything is ideally perfect or universally designed to suit the needs of people with disabilities. Which is why disability rights advocates do their best to make their voices heard - and rightly so. But some of them don't do a great job in highlighting the grassroots efforts. For me, the Geek of the Year Award is a triumph for the entire disability community. For decades, we've talked about the tech community not being inclusive enough. This award shows that the tech community here in Philly exercises no discrimination and complete inclusivity for any individual. And for this, I would like to thank each and every single person in the tech community. I would like to thank the Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University for providing excellent accommodations. I would like to especially thank Andrew Gormley for closed captioning my acceptance speech video and I hope that this wasn't just an exception for my video but will become a trend among all videographers. So, congratulations disability community. This award has introduced people to the importance of accessibility. It's definitely worth celebrating!
So, how does it feel like to be the Geek of the Year? It's like winning an Oscar, except that I can't act to save my life.
Published on: 23rd August, 2015.