Bringing up Gary Karp’s name in the disability community is akin to talking about Joe Montana or Vince Lombardi with a bunch of football fans. With over 40 years of disability education, advocacy and leadership on his resume, Karp’s legacy is known far and wide. Heck, he was even inducted into the SCI Hall of Fame in 2007. Karp will now bring his expertise and insight to United Spinal, as the newest member of the board of directors.
Karp, 61, comes to United Spinal on the heels of a highly successful 11 years where the Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation sponsored him to educate people working with and around disability about how best to work with the spinal cord injury/disorders community and people dealing with new injuries. During that period, Karp spoke at 70 universities and 25 rehab centers and helped thousands of future professionals, while also honing his own understanding of disability.
Despite ending his affiliation with the Reeve Foundation, Karp continues to speak, write and train others about disability. His books, Life on Wheels, From There to Here and Disability and the Art of Kissing, are available online and remain must reads years after publication. At the root of much of his work, is his gift for telling stories and his understanding of their power and potential to change the way others think about disability.
“I’ve always tried so hard to tell my story in a way that gets across the universal lessons of disability, that human beings are adaptable in our nature and everybody wants to find their way to be OK with themselves and what’s possible,” he says. “It can’t be a matter where people with disabilities are seen as remarkable individuals, it has to be a matter of everybody getting a shot and believing everybody has the potential.”
Karp conveys that message in all of his efforts, and is looking forward to delivering it via United Spinal’s advocacy efforts.
“I think that through our advocacy we can help the legislature by having conversations to help them get their heads around the new frame of disability and get over all these old ideas — that they are taking care of unfortunate people, that the disabled are a burden — it’s a new world where we want to invest in independence and what is actually possible without having to be inspirational heroes to do it. The chance to get that across to legislators and the broader population is really exciting.”
In addition to helping bring about that cultural shift, Karp is eager to work on funding for complex rehab technology, addressing how short rehab stays have become and improving employment opportunities for people with disabilities while also helping employers better understand how to work with people with disabilities. “Very early in this process I set my sights on making myself a value to employers and that meant I had to go beyond mobility and start learning about broader disability.” One outgrowth of that process is Real People, Real Potential, a video training series specifically geared to helping educate workplace cultures about disability.
Working on a board will be nothing new for Karp. From 2004-5 he sat on the board of directors for the National Spinal Cord Injury Association. During his involvement with NSCIA he served as the executive editor of SCILife, the organization’s newspaper. He has also been a regular contributor to New Mobility magazine.
Karp was born in Detroit, Michigan, but currently resides in Tempe, Arizona. He has been living with a T12 SCI since 1973 when he fell from a tree at the age of 18. For more information on his speaking, books or Real People, Real Potential, visit his website www.moderndisability.com.