By Hannah Evans
Special to The Nor’Wester
Editor’s Note: This is an essay written by 14-year-old Hannah Evans of Hope, BC who is a paraplegic. Her grandparents are Glenn and Dulcie Evans of Springdale. Hannah has been to Springdale to visit her grandparents and loves Newfoundland and Labrador to the fullest.
The water feels great as I swim to the deep end of the swimming pool. I am wearing a snorkel and mask with a small oxygen tank vest because I am taking a scuba diving course. The instructor has thrown items that sink to the bottom of the pool for the divers to collect and I practice staying under water to collect the items. The swimmers around me kick hard with flippers on their feet trying to get the items as fast as they can –but wait, you may be thinking, how can a paraplegic like me be in the pool snorkeling and swimming? Well, the answer is simple: I am swimming with arms only.
What does it mean to be paraplegic? A person who is paraplegic is paralyzed from the waist down due to spinal cord damage. Some people like me are born with spinal cord damage or other types of disabilities, and some people become paraplegic because of accidents or illness.
Some people might think that a paraplegic can’t do the things able bodied people do. That is not true. Paraplegics can do lots of things able-bodied people can – we just do it differently. For example, if you have ever watched the Winter or Summer Paralympics, you would have seen wheelchair athletes competing in sports like downhill skiing, curling, sledge hockey, swimming, or racing in wheelchairs. Para-athletes use adapted equipment, like sit skis, push brooms, racing wheelchairs or swimming and cycling with arms only to compete in their sports. Just like able bodied athletes, their goal is to train hard and win!
Another example is the Rick Hansen Man in Motion tour, which is celebrating its 25th anniversary this year. Rick Hansen was only 15 when he had an accident that caused him to become paraplegic. Rick Hansen loved sports, so he worked hard to find ways to still do all of the activities he loved while using a wheelchair. He noticed that there were a lot of physical and attitude barriers for wheelchair users. Rick Hansen did a cross-continent tour using only his wheelchair to raise money and awareness for spinal cord injuries. He also wanted to show people how important it is to provide adaptations and accessibility for wheelchair users so they can fully participate in everyday life. Rick Hansen is a great example of someone who believes that disability does not mean inability.
It is not just sports, but everyday things wheelchair users can also do – just differently. For example, wheelchair users cook, drive, go to school, work at a variety of jobs, shop and travel. All it usually takes to do everyday things are adaptations like ramps, automatic doors, elevators, wheelchairs washrooms, hand controls for driving, accessibility to materials/supplies and inclusion attitudes in the community.
Sometimes I get asked why I am in a wheelchair. What I would like people to know is that I am not in a wheelchair – I am a wheelchair user! Saying someone is in a wheelchair is an old fashioned term and wheelchair users would prefer you to think of them as people who use a wheelchair.
Swimming, biking and wheeling with arms only, along with a can-do attitude, allows me to do most things able bodied people do – just a bit differently. Just like you, I have dreams and goals, things that I love doing, and things I find challenging. What I try to do is live by Rick Hansen’s Motto: “When you believe in yourself, anything is possible.” I encourage you to do the same.