30 April 2007
My meeting with Linda and Maria of Chair Advocates took me to another distant corner of the fine borough of Brooklyn (have I mentioned how ENORMOUS New York City is?). I met them at Starbuck’s Coffee just minutes from the one of NYC’s most charming beaches. Both in wheelchairs, the ladies seemed hardly affected by their disability.
Just minutes into our conversation I learned that they felt the same way. “It’s part of you, so you shouldn’t be ashamed of it,” Linda said. “Just be yourself…and be proud.”
Through their Youth Venture – Chair Advocates – Linda and Maria are working to raise awareness about and access to supplies and equipment that ease the lives of those disabled. This includes anything from the more obvious wheelchairs to the lesser known “grabber” devices that allow wheelchair users to more-easily pick up items that may have fallen on the ground.
In less than three months they have already had multiple pieces of equipment donated that they plan to distribute to low-income families. As I learned from Linda and Maria, what usually happens when parents have a disabled child is that they feel a constant need to be at home with them at all times with the idea that they are “protecting” them. More often than not they have to quit their job to dedicate 100% of their time to caring for their disabled child. This leads to economic hardship and they lack the financial resources to supply their child with the necessary tools and equipment that help to ease their lives. Chair Advocates is about supporting those families.
Maria and Linda themselves are incredible young women. They both commute over an hour by public bus to college three and four days a week, respectively. Maria is studying Political Science and has every intention of pursuing advocacy work in local NYC politics. Linda lives alone on the eighth floor of her apartment building. “It makes it really complicated when the elevator doesn’t work,” she said.
Nothing gets these girls down. They’re driven and passionate. “We just want to encourage young disabled people to speak up about their needs and realize that they’re people just like anybody else. At the same time we want to educate people on what it really means to be disabled, because it gets really annoying when people stare at you all the time like you’re from outer space.”
For more information on Chair Advocates please visit their website at www.chairadvocates.org.
Also, in case you were wondering, I asked the question that is always on my mind: Is it rude to offer to push a person in a wheelchair? The answer, according to Linda and Maria, is no. It’s always nice of someone to offer. Just don’t be surprised if the person in the wheelchair says “no thanks.” They’ve usually got it under control. They both wanted me to note, however, that the people who were hired to push them around in high school got really annoying, especially when they wanted to have a private gossip session about friends, boys and teachers. So, all you volunteers out there – hang back every now and again! Give a girl some room to breathe!