Don't Diss the Ability


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Originally, I became a caregiver for the money. Not gonna lie. I was dead broke and willing to do just about anything that would get me a buck. Yes, that means I was willing to let my integrity get shot to hell if it allowed me to pay my bills for the month. Any job that gave me a leg up on accruing some financially stability was a winner in my book.

I went to meet Lara without expecting much. I walked into her room, anticipating long days of little conversation and eventual backaches from heavy lifting or bending over. I assumed that Lara would be dependent on me, even when it came to the simple things like brushing her teeth or eating food.

Let me tell you, I can't even begin to explain how wonderful it feels to be proven wrong. A majority of the stereotypes that go along with being disabled throw off a lot of people. They assume that having a disability translates to an utter lack of self-sufficiency. Those people, whoever you are, could not be more wrong.

Disabilities differ on so many levels, from mild cases of back spasms to conditions such as Lara's (she has cerebral palsy). But for Lara, the disability hasn't stopped her from embracing life to the fullest. A senior majoring in film, Lara jets around with alacrity on her powered wheelchair, zipping in between foot traffic to her next class. She takes her studies seriously, and her potential career even more so.

As an aspiring television screenplay writer, Lara has more tenacity and ingenuity with the written word than some of the esteemed faculty on this campus. She is creatively devious, keeping you reading page after page of her scripts that she pens with her own hands.

With any disability, it is sometimes hard to see that despite the wheelchair or the bag or the crutches or the walking stick, at the end of the day these people are just that, people. They do not change or morph into some alternate human form because they have a handicap. I know I have unconsciously assumed such things in the past, and so have many others who forget that physically, mentally and emotionally, no one is perfect.

Although she is sometimes frustrated, Lara is not thrown by her disability. Nor are a majority of those who are handicapped. People who are able to walk, see, hear, touch, etc. take their abilities for granted. Lara, who cannot walk to and from school or up and down stairs, is still able to maneuver and make the most of her life. She refuses to sit back in her chair, throw her hands up in the air and give up.

Lara is not the only one who has persevered. We had a wheelchair-bound president pull this country out of the Great Depression in the 1930s, a blind woman revolutionize the way in which we can communicate with the deaf or the blind - we even have witnessed incredible athletes compete in the Olympics. If that isn't a sure sign of heart and rising to the occasion, I don't know what is.

Disabilities throw people off, and I admit with absolute embarrassment that I was unsettled by Lara and her wheelchair when I first met her. I was afraid I would hurt her or make her angry or somehow totally just screw up. But Lara was and is fierce, refusing to let me think for even a moment that she is fragile or that I could cause any sort of serious damage.

Lara has reminded me time and again that even with a wheelchair, she is no different from me. I came to understand how Lara views herself. I was able to witness how she advocates for others with disabilities. As such, I have come to reject the belief I once had that those who may have a disability are so different from me.

Lara is no longer a job. She is a friend. In the year that I have come to know Lara and others who have disabilities, I know just a little bit more of what it takes for Lara and others to be seen and treated as equals. And I appreciate her all the more for it. She has opened my eyes to a way of life that I could not have imagined or really attempted to appreciate had I not accepted to work as her caregiver a year ago.

So, while some bills still need to be paid, what I've gained working with Lara is much more valuable than making cable and electricity payments on time ... most shows are online anyway.


Help Katie pay more of her bills at [email protected]

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