Recently I had the opportunity to have a portrait session with three time Paralympian and doctor of movement science, Kerri Morgan. Dr. Morgan had been an inspiration to me long before we had even met; when I was inquiring with Delta Center, my local independent living services, they used her as an example of why I shouldn’t feel guilty about using a wheelchair. “Kerri Morgan wasn’t using one” they told me, “And after she decided to, she was able to get around campus so much easier and faster -- and she won four medals at the Paralympics!”
Granted, winning the Paralympics isn’t in the cards for most people who use a wheelchair. But it was enough to change my perception on what a wheelchair user actually can (and frequently does) look like, and enough to make me decide to make that life change. It’s one I have never regretted.
At our shoot, Kerri and I talked between setups, about disability culture and her Paralympic experiences. I was surprised to learn she hadn’t started training until her 30s, and she told me about the Paralympians she knew who were in their 60s.
It’s my favorite part of disability culture: the opportunity to reinvent yourself, to become who you’ve always wanted to be, to get rid of any excuses for not doing exactly what you’ve dreamed of. People tend to look at disability so negatively. And being disabled isn’t easy. But what makes it difficult is living in an able-bodied world. Because what I and so many of my friends have learned from becoming disabled, having the rug pulled out from under us, and our entire world turned upside down, is that once we are properly accommodated, we’re unstoppable. I have a friend who became an international model and barrier-breaking athlete after becoming disabled. Another became a world famous advocate and occupational therapist. One friend rediscovered her love of martial arts after becoming a full time wheelchair user. I have friends who have become models, actors, everything they always created excuses for before.
So many of us as disabled people were told “no you can’t” for so much of our lives. We’ve proved them wrong again and again. After breaking limits so many times before, once we’re properly accommodated for, there’s nothing to stop us from doing whatever we set our minds to.