|Posted by SheWillNotFall on September 15, 2016 at 10:15 AM|
In early 2007 when I was just 13 years old, my entire world changed. Over the course of a week, my body basically shut down. I lost almost all sensation and strength that I had throughout my body. I went from running a mile in under 10 minutes to not even being able to get up out of bed. After multiple short and extended stays in the hospital, hundreds of tests, MRIs, CAT scans, lumbar punctures, and guess after guess, it was concluded that I had Transverse Myelitis/Myelopathy. I am not going to lie and say that I accepted the diagnosis easily or immediately. I was in denial for a little while after. When I look back at it now though, being diagnosed with this autoimmune disease opened my eyes to a whole other set of perspectives that I likely would have never encountered otherwise.
Because I acquired a disability as opposed to being born with one, I never knew there was such a thing as a "disabled community" or "culture." I had no friends or family who had a disability. I had no clue of even half the struggles that people with disabilities go through, or any of the legislation that has been passed to try to alleviate discrimination. I, along with much of the rest of American society, had the "out of sight, out of mind" frame of mind when it came to anything disability-related. Since I wasn't aware of disability rights or disability communities, I continued on trying to live a "normal" life along with my able-bodied friends. Since I wasn't exposed to the disabled community before, I never knew the injustice, inequality, and discrimination that they sometimes faced. I was naive and didn't know, or was even interested in the different types of disabilities. I might have even contributed to the popular American belief mentioned above.
After being accepted into UTA, I became involved with Delta Alpha Pi (DAPi), which is an honor society for students with disabilities. DAPi focuses on destigmatizing disability, encouraging leadership by students with disabilities, and highlighting the achievements of students with disabilities who excel academically. I eventually became president. While serving in this role, I hosted quite a few discussions over meetings and helped to organize events about different disability-related topics, such as a public led discussion of Vital Signs: Crip Culture Talks Back. Being involved in the honor society helped me become more aware of disability culture, and I was able to learn more about different types of disabilities and the struggles that people with disabilities still face.
At the end of my freshman year, I also became involved with UTA’s Disability Studies (DS) minor—the only one in Texas. As part of that program, I have taken classes such as “Disability and Art,” “Film and Disability,” “Research in Disability Studies,” and “History of Disability,” among others. The minor has helped me learn about all the past movements and legislation that occurred in order for me to attend school and be social without a lot of barriers—something that older generations didn’t have. It has also helped shape how I view myself today in regards to my disability, that I shouldn’t be afraid to ask for help when I need it. That is why in the future, I want to work with others who are having difficulty combining their old “able-bodied” self with their new “disabled” self. I want to help newly disabled people realize that they do not have to choose one identity over the other. Instead, they can maintain aspects of both. All of these experiences have helped (and are still helping) me become a better advocate, not only for myself, but to speak up for other minorities who are facing discrimination.
In December 2016, I will be graduating with a BA in Interdisciplinary Studies and a minor in Disability Studies. I chose this route because it will provide a good background, combined with my experience as a patient in a children's hospital, to pursue a career with a foundation or charity focused on rehabilitating people with disabilities. I want to give back to the community that gave so much to me when I needed it and use my own experiences to improve those of others. Ultimately, I would like to help people with newly acquired disabilities realize that their future plans do not have to change. You just have to adapt the way you get to it. Through my health struggles I have realized that no one will fight for you if you don’t fight for yourself first, and that includes pushing the boundaries when someone limits your ability to do something. I want people in these difficult, life-changing situations to realize that they need to be their own advocate in their life, and make their voice heard in matters that involve their health, academic experience, and future. I want to help them understand that there are always multiple routes to one’s end game, and I want them to know that they can do the things that they have always dreamed of, and even things far beyond that. After starting my career and working for a few years, I would love to go back to school and continue with graduation work in Disability Studies. I am beginning to realize that even when you think you know a lot about Disability Studies and Disability History, there is still quite a bit to be learned