If there’s no quit in Aggies, there’s a whole lot of Aggie in Deshae Lott ’94 ‘99. You don’t have to meet her in person to bask in the glow of her positivity, her apparently unbounded energy, her passionate desire to live life to the max and help others do the same. When she’s not teaching online English courses for Louisiana State University Shreveport (LSUS) or overseeing her 501(c)3 nonprofit (CMMS Deshae Lott Ministries, Inc.), she’s writing books, columns, and articles. Or researching health topics. Or reading or taking in a foreign film or participating in a wine-and-cheese tasting or concocting vegetarian recipes or corresponding with former teachers, friends, and colleagues.
She does all that and more … from a wheelchair. While she breathes through a ventilator.
See, Deshae Lott has Limb Girdle Muscular Distrophy (MD). She lost the ability to walk at age 17 and the ability to breathe for herself just before she turned 32. What she hasn’t lost is the ability to live fully and well. She hasn’t lost the ability … or the desire … to serve others.
I recently interviewed this remarkable Aggie by e-mail, and what I found was … well, inspiration.
KD: Tell me about your current job.
Since becoming ventilator dependent in November 2002, with the Spring Term 2003 I teach part-time and online-only for LSUS. My online teaching career, however, began at the University of Illinois in Springfield, where I worked as an Assistant Professor. My husband, an Associate Professor of Political Science at LSUS, and I were the first faculty at LSUS to design and lead 100% online courses.
KD: What do you find most rewarding about teaching subjects like professional communication and literature?
Analyzing literature exposes us to diverse perspectives that can help us refine and define our own beliefs. I have also taught many sections of technical and professional writing. The material covers communication skills that, when embraced, can provide life-long benefits professionally and even personally. I love being a part of a process that enhances to any degree life-long personal empowerment for others.
KD: What challenges you most, professionally? What do you find most rewarding?
What I most like about my career is the pursuit of intellectual inquiry and helping facilitate that for others. English professors and instructors can help others cull communication, research, analytical, and abstract-thinking skills; and our field also delves into philosophy, which can help interested students learn more about themselves and other human beings, as well as about who they wish to be and how they can share that self with the world.
But participating with a broader scholarly community has become a greater challenge due to my health. My survival routines require 8-10 hours each day on the easiest days; that along with the machinery required to sustain my life and promote mobility make participating in person in a broader scholarly community a challenge. Technology such as Elluminate combined with very generous conference organizers and remote tech support staff have enabled me to present at an international conference from home. Collaborative efforts with colleagues also enables me to co-create presentations that a partner then delivers. I am grateful and enjoy these opportunities, but I do miss traveling and seeing colleagues from various campuses face-to-face … and making more time for original scholarly research and writing.
KD: Tell me more about your disability. What special challenges do you face? How do you overcome them?
Living with the combination of a severe physical disability and a driven mind requires a team effort to help my body and mind maximize within my physical limitations. For example, I must plan when I eat and drink around another person (employee, relative, or friend) who commits to meeting me at a scheduled time. This kind of interdependency and planning can be hard to imagine for people who drink when they’re thirsty and find a restroom at their convenience. In my life, almost everything is orchestrated to a minute level. This lifestyle makes me keenly aware that each life is fragile, that our choices and circumstances deeply affect one another, and that team efforts (mine plus others “on my side”) create many unexpected, positive possibilities.
To handle my personal challenges to the best of my ability, each day I engage prayer, meditation, venting/grieving/forgiving, problem-solving (i.e. creativity!), and collaboration (supporting others and welcoming their support of me).
KD: Your nonprofit is geared toward helping people with disabilities. What, specifically, does CMMS Deshae Lott Ministries, Inc. do for them?
The organization itself is nondenominational and nonsectarian.
Our Outreach Program works to help American citizens with severe mobility limitations maintain hopeful, purposeful, engaged lives by providing some financial support for medically-necessary home-health-care services not covered by insurance (private or governmental) and not covered by any other non-profit organization. We also award scholarships to people with physical disabilities pursuing education beyond bachelor’s degrees. Few scholarships offer financial support for people with disabilities in their pursuit for certification and degrees beyond the bachelor’s level. Since students with disabilities face extra expenses related to personal care that other students do not, the scholarships can help severely disabled scholars defray such costs.
You know, whenever I read a viable CMMS Deshae Lott Ministries Inc. scholarship application package, a sense of wonder overcomes me. These are good people doing good things. I cannot express how honored I feel to learn about these individuals and how grateful I am that my non-profit has an opportunity to support, in a small way, their admirable life choices.
I’d love to see some Aggies or Aggies’ family members apply for the scholarships and grants my non-profit offers!
KD: What are you passionate about? And if you could only use five words to describe yourself, what would they be?
God. Living my spiritual beliefs. Facilitating inner personal development in myself and others.
In that order. I love participating in the exchange of ideas. I love investing in my friendships, which are a priority, not a hobby.
As for five words to describe myself …. Determined, grounded, grateful, compassionate mindful. My husband right off gave these words when I asked him this question: smart, cute, moral, generous, strong. If he had six words, he’d addemotional.
KD: Is there anything else you would like to say? About anything at all?
I consider my recent writing award [an EXCEL Gold Medal from the Association of Media and Publishing, presented for her Quest Magazine column, “Call Me A ‘Good Cripple’ If You Must”] a tribute to my excellent education at Texas A&M and all of the support that I received while there and have received from the Aggie faculty, staff, and student-body “family” ever since. As an Aggie, I can’t help but think “Go team!” any time I achieve something positive, for I know it’s born in part of my affiliation with Texas A&M University.
Deshae received her bachelor’s in English from Louisiana State University in Shreveport and a master’s in English (minor: sociolinguistics) from Texas A&M. Her doctorate in English, also from Texas A&M, includes minors in philosophy and religious studies.
Deshae was recently recommended to the Governor for membership on the Louisiana Developmental Disabilities Council. Pending receipt of an appointment letter, she is slated to begin working with the LDDC later this month.
Find out more about Deshae at her website: http://www.deshae.net/. You might also want to check out her award-winning column athttp://quest.mda.org/article/call-me-a-good-cripple-if-you-must. Another article, “No Way Out But In: Responding Positively to Chaos with Forgiveness and Grief,” shares Deshae’s strategies for coping with her situation. You’ll find it online athttp://www.deshae.org/health_care/forgive.pdf. Finally, her collection of personal essays, Lemonade for Sale, is available at http://Lulu.com, also from Amazon (via Kindle).
Details on CMMS Deshae Lott Ministries, Inc., including information on recent recipients and how to apply for financial support, can be found at the organization’s website, http://www.deshae.org/cmms/.