LEARNING & EDUCATION

Oh, that's right! You're in a Chair

Spinal Cord Injury (SCI)

Jeff Hill

The Best Compliment

Don't get me wrong, I'm not taking away from anyone else's accomplishments; I think it's great to climb mountains, flip in skateparks, jump outta airplanes, but sometimes the common can be overlooked.

Christmas Eve, 1993, I was teaching my younger brother how to snow ski for his birthday. He was doing so well, I was hitting the upper slopes to enjoy some of the most wonderful snow we had received in WNC in a long time. He was getting tired near lunch, so I told him "One more run and we'll have lunch". Never made it back down.

Next thing I know, it's almost 3 wks later, I come out of my coma, and I'm laying in a bed tilting me back and forth so steeply I felt I was going to fall out. I try to kick my legs out to catch myself, and get my first introduction to the new state of being. I find I have a T-8 complete SCI, a C-7 fracture, and an AHI causing short term memory issues. Things are never going to be the same.

But that's my point: just because everything is different, doesn't mean there can't be some normalcy in a disabled person's life. I mean I do a lot of things that some people might find impressive or inspiring like kayaking or handcycling, but to me one of the most appreciated things is when someone says "Oh, that's right! I forgot you were in a chair!" I don't want my disability to define me or what I can or can't do. When applying for a job in a phone interview, I never disclose my paraplegia. Not because I'm ashamed or embarrased of my condition - I just prefer they not have a predisposed opinion regarding my ablilities.

I work 40-50 hours a week as an automation engineer for a world-level manufacturer of automotive connectors. I travel to vendor sites to assist with troubleshooting as well as process improvements in our manufacturing line. I use mirrors and my cell phone camera to see where I can't reach, find ways to get to things I can't, and on the few occasions I can't get where I need to, I work with the plant technicians to get the job done.  When volunteering at the local hospital SCI unit, I always like to encourage the recently disabled by telling them, "it's not what you can or can't do, just figuring out how to do it differently". 

I think everyone should push themselves to achieve lofty goals and inspiring efforts, but sometimes it's good and worthy of recognition just to accomplish the ordinary.

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