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After Beth’s high school graduation, a nonstop summer swept us away. Swim training fit in-between time with friends. She wore new contact lenses, pleased when she practiced and figured out how to put them in and out on her own with uncooperative hands.
In Columbus, Beth helped Coach Peggy with an adapted demonstration for Ohio Swimming coaches. From there, we drove across town to her second Youth Leadership Forum (YLF) for students with a disability. As a staff assistant instead of a delegate, Beth made it her first completely independent trip of five consecutive days. No small feat with a C6-7 spinal cord injury, even with an accessible hotel room. The day after YLF ended, she had one night at home before her flight from Cleveland to Washington, DC, for her first National Youth Leadership Network conference for youth with a disability.
“It was my first independent flight,” Beth said. “I’m not sure why, probably just something new and being nervous, but I got teary when Mom left me at security.”
On the jetbridge, Beth instructed staff on how to lift her to the narrow aisle chair. They waited while she broke her leg spasms on her own. She helped with the seatbelts and held her arms tucked in as they pushed her down the aisle of the plane to her seat. They stowed her wheelchair underneath with the luggage, minus the cushion and sideguards. When the plane landed, she waited until the rest of the passengers left, reclaimed her wheelchair, and met her contact in baggage claim. A van with a lift waited to take her to the conference. I breathed easier after her phone call from a nice hotel. I had stressed needlessly. Her experience in DC made the stress of the solo flight worthwhile.
“When I represented Ohio at the national conference,” Beth said. “I came to understand that the Americans with Disabilities Act and the work of the early pioneers in disability rights was far from over.”
“My generation has grown up since the ADA so it’s easy to take it for granted, because we didn’t have to fight for it. Learning from the people who did have to fight and listening to their stories was empowering.”
Next: An unexpected new role on a college team!
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