You may have heard Joni Eareckson Tada story…the survivor of a tragic diving accident that resulted in quadriplegia, a two-year rehab, and a path ahead of potential hurdles that weren’t yet known. If you know her story, you might have also heard of her triumph over everything that was thrown her way after experiencing a life-changing incident.
While there was the immediate shock by the accident and of course, the disbelief that it occurred, Joni Eareckson Tada eventually overcame the unexpected, and today, she is still overcoming what is seen as a disability. But she isn’t only doing it for herself…she’s doing it for the 1 billion people who have disabilities across the globe. Joni is living proof that success and the ability to thrive remain possible for those with disabilities.
Joni’s name stands out even more today as a visionary, author, radio host, artist, and founder of Joni and Friends, an organization dedicated to serving people with disabilities. Her journey from a tragic accident to becoming an inspiration to millions is nothing short of remarkable. Her life has quite literally transformed tragedy and turned it into motivation, which has touched the hearts of innumerable admirers and given strength to those who need it most.
Joni’s Story and the Foundation She Is Laying
Joni’s story is one that took many by surprise — including herself. On July 30, 1967, while swimming with her sister in the Chesapeake Bay, she swam out to a raft anchored offshore. She misjudged how shallow the water was and dove in. That dive caused a fracture between her fourth and fifth cervical vertebra leaving her paralyzed from the shoulders down.
This was a type of incident that could have happened to anyone, at any time and while accidents happen every day, on that particular day… someone who had no idea how strong she was…or how strong she was going to become, gained a new outlook on life.
Just 9 years later, Joni wrote about her experiences and shared her thoughts on her life story. Her recollection of her past incident and where she is now turned into an unexpected transformation that even she hadn’t anticipated…a best-selling autobiography that left an impact on people worldwide.
While you might not be able to tell that she didn’t initially intend to write her biography, she says that a publisher initiated the idea after seeing her being interviewed on TV. After moving forward with the idea, seeing her life in print likely reassured her that the publisher made a great call. Joni was surprised to see her written work skyrocket to the status of “#1 international bestseller”.
It’s not hard to see why the Joni book became such a popular story. It laid the foundation for Joni and Friends, a foundation that actively does everything it can to support all people with disabilities through practical help and Gospel hope.
Joni has said, “I am filled with amazement at how God has used my broken neck to touch the lives of people with broken hearts, broken marriages, and so much more.” Thinking of others in this way is how she’s become so well-known, well-liked, and well-respected.
Facing the Challenges of Quadriplegia
As Joni faced the challenges that quadriplegia presented, others — both directly and indirectly — learned from her truth, struggles, and perseverance. She mentioned that a friend shared 10 very specific words with her that changed her life;
“God permits what he hates, to accomplish what he loves.”
Joni always passes these words along. For her, these words meant that God permitted what he hated. Her broken neck resulted in quadriplegia. What he loved was the opportunity for her to share the good news of Jesus with thousands of others who have disabilities. With that, she quoted Ephesians 1:11:
“God works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will.”
Throughout her life, Joni has fought for more hope for those with disabilities. During the signing of the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA), she described her feelings in two words…. “Relief” and “Rejoicing”!
She experienced relief knowing that those with disabilities would have better access to jobs, and public accommodations and that additional possibilities were endless. She rejoiced that with the ADA, more doors would be opened to provide better opportunities for those with disabilities.
Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush appointed Joni to the former National Council on the Handicapped. Now, it’s better known as the National Council on Disability. In this role, she was able to pave the way toward the signing of the Americans With Disabilities Act and at the time, she may not have realized just how thankful people with disabilities would be for her dedication.
Global Opportunities for Those With Disabilities…What Joni Hopes to See in the Future
Joni says that those with disabilities may never fully be embraced…not until global cultures start to recognize them for the dignity and strength they have regardless of a physical impairment. These are things that she has worked hard to help the world understand…that the opportunities for people with disabilities are endless and that you never truly lose your power even when you feel that you have.
This is also why Joni strives to work hard at Joni and Friends where, even at the Florida location, she promotes a biblical worldview on disability. That image is a worldview that celebrates every disabled person as they were created in the image of God. More of this, is what anyone should hope for.
Spreading the Feeling of Thankfulness Through Support
If there was one lesson that Joni Tada could teach the world, she says that she would teach the principle behind Corinthians 12:9-10 where God said to the apostle Paul;
“My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in your weakness.”
As a result, Paul happily replied,
“Therefore, I will boast gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.”
Joni echos Paul’s sentiment. She is known as a strong person and an inspiration for those who don’t see themselves in the way that they wish they could. However, she knows that many people think she’s a strong person but she says she’s not. Joni says that she is very weak and while you might wonder why, she states that it’s because quadriplegia is hard.
For anyone, this type of disability would be a struggle, and this is why she takes her weakness to God every morning. God then gives her the power and strength to smile throughout the day. That smile and that strength are contagious enough to touch others as well.
Joni Eareckson Tada is known as a voice for those with disabilities and while her journey is an inspiration she reminds us that every now and then regardless of how far you’ve come, you can still feel overwhelmed.
Recently, Joni spent 25 days in the hospital with a serious respiratory infection. The experience was, for her, overwhelming. But now, she’s back to work at Joni and Friends, helping to give the good news of Jesus to those with disabilities across the globe.
She is thankful for her recovery because now she’s able to breathe well and has the stamina to sit up throughout the day and help people in any way that she can. The strength she finds when she is down, she works to help others find the same.
Joni and Friends In Florida
Now that you know her story, her mission, and her vision…consider being a part of it. You can join in on extending gospel-centered care and gospel-adorned hope (as the ministry mentions), and help to connect families with Christ and provide them with support by working with Joni and Friends-Florida.
To get involved visit; https://joniandfriends.org/florida/ or call (321) 966-9680.