by Emily Shryock
Emily & Morey are graduates of ICAN’s December 2010 Graduation Class. Morey is a successor dog for Emily’s first dog, Jessee, that she received in May 2006)
When I was eighteen I was going to college, working part-time and doing volunteer work. None of this was seen as out of the ordinary until I started using a wheelchair. All of a sudden doing the same things that were previously expected of someone my age was seen as exceptional. “Wow, it’s great you are going college”, “I’m impressed you can drive”, “You are so inspiring how you stay so busy” were frequently heard comments on activities I’d been previously doing with no former comment. I quickly learned that when you have a disability expectations are pretty low and when you exceed the very low bar you are seen as inspirational or awe-inspiring. This became a source of frustration to me as I was striving to live my life as normally as I had before. To me, the fact that I now rolled instead of walked hadn’t changed the expectations I had for myself but it certainly changed people’s perception of me.
Adjusting to life with a disability can be a challenge but with the right equipment, tools and supports a disability shouldn’t keep you from pursuing an academic, career, athletic, or personal goals. I am fortunate to have all the tools and supports I need to live an independent and productive life. I have my super ICAN service dog Morey, a lightweight wheelchair I can easily load into my vehicle, four sports wheelchairs (rugby, tennis, handcycle, and track), my Freewheel (which helps me go off-roading through grass, mulch or gravel), an accessible house, and a variety of other gizmos and gadgets that help me complete my day to day activities. With these tools, I have had the opportunity to travel and compete internationally, complete a graduate degree in Social Work, work full time at the University of Texas at Austin, serve on various Board of Directors, take agility classes with Morey, grow a backyard garden and experiment with new recipes in the kitchen. I am grateful to have the tools I need to make the most of my abilities and to live my life to the fullest!
Next week I will be competing in a half marathon. I will be one of many almost-30-year-olds and yet I will likely be the only one who is hailed as inspiring, simply because I will complete the race powered by my arms instead of my legs. It is my hope that one day in the future people with disabilities contributing to and participating in their communities will be seen as something that is simply expected instead of something out of the ordinary and inspirational.