Paul Gelderloos is always dancing.

He has spent most of his life with a combination of dystonia and cerebral palsy, a condition he developed when he was 18 months old and living in Holland with his parents.

A flu left him so dehydrated he went into a three-day coma. When he woke up, his body was in almost constant motion. The condition is now called Sydenham's chorea, also known as Saint Vitus' Dance, after the patron saint of dancing.

Despite the almost-constant jerking movements that hinder some of his activities, Gelderloos, now 32, does not say he has a disability.

"If you think about it, a disability means you're kind of broken," he said.

And Gelderloos is decidedly not broken.

Instead, he has coined the term "diverse ability."

He said his dancing body "slows him down a little," but there are so many things he can do, including snowboarding, driving a car and swimming. He has an associate's degree in drafting, and is a computer whiz, which helps, he said, given that his handwriting looks like something a kindergartner would be scared to turn in.

He has an unfailingly positive attitude and said he is perfectly happy with who he is, yet, "I noticed how people react to me and it's not always nice."

That experience led to him to form a nonprofit organization, People Without Limits, through which he is working to change perceptions of people with diverse abilities. He is particularly focused on working with students.

"Their minds are fresh and they actually use information you give them," he said. "Hopefully, they will be more accepting of people who are different than them."

Gelderloos said he's seen a lot of changes in students already, and though they may be small, it is a step in the right direction.

"They come up and say ‘hi,'" he said.

One of the members of his board of directors is his new wife, Tess.

Tess Gelderloos met Paul four years ago, when she was a psychology major at Montana State University interning at Eagle Mount, where he came to give a presentation to volunteers. The couple married in August.

She said she finds her husband's diverse ability, his dancing, humorous. And said, "it's really weird" that he lies still when he sleeps.

Like the rest of his family and others who know Paul Gelderloos well, she said his constant movement isn't an issue.

"I don't notice it any more unless someone mentions it," she said.

In part, that is what Gelderloos seeks to teach the students, to see beyond the unusual.

And it works, said Adam Galvin, president and superintendent of Arrowhead School in the Paradise Valley, where Gelderloos has spoken to middle school-age students.

"His presentation lasted for about an hour and had an impact on students that will last a lifetime," Galvin wrote in a letter dated May 16, 2008.

Gelderloos' ability to relate to the students and get them to open up through his own honesty about his abilities was amazing, Galvin wrote.

"By the end of the hour there was a remarkable transformation noticeable within our students. They expressed a far deeper understanding of who Paul was on the inside and how best to understand who he was on the outside," he wrote.

Gelderloos is seeking funding to travel to all 870 Montana schools in the next five years. Then, as the schools have new students, he'd like to do it again.

Ultimately, he hopes to change people's attitudes and create more positive interactions with those of diverse abilities.

"I like being treated with respect, like a human, not a creature," Gelderloos said.

For more information on People Without Limits, call Paul Gelderloos at 223-7123 or e-mail superman_59027@yahoo.com.

Rachel Hergett may be reached at rhergett@dailychronicle.com or 582-2603.

 

Sidebar:

Diverse ability etiquette tips

* Use common sense and extend common courtesies to everyone.

* Don't patronize; treat adults like adults.

* Be patient; people with diverse abilities might require more time to express themselves or move about, but don't automatically assume that they do.

* Relax and be yourself.

* Speak directly to the person and maintain eye contact; don't speak through a companion, aide or interpreter.

* Describe and address people with diverse abilities appropriately; use people-first language and avoid words like handicapped, afflicted, victim or disabled.

* Help make your community accessible; become familiar with accessible building standards; reserve accessible parking for those who require it.

* Ask before you assist people.

* Don't pet, feed or distract service animals. They are working animals, not pets.

* Above all, use the golden rule -- treat everyone how you would want to be treated.

--DBTAC Rocky Mountain ADA Center/edited by Paul Gelderloos, People Without Limits

 

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