Thank you for taking the time to read my story. I hope this will help you better understand what it is like to walk a mile in my shoes, (or roll a mile on my tires :-) The most important thing to remember about me is that I am a human being. It isn't necessary to stare at me or anything of that sort. I am an 18 year old college freshman from the Midwest. I am very short for my age, and I love to laugh. I am very close to my family. In addition, I love music, singing, writing and dancing. I have cerebral palsy, too, which consists of speech problems or muscle incoordination as a result of lack of oxygen to the brain during or after birth.
I think the best thing about me are my biceps :-) (which are very large as a result of pushing my manual wheelchair.) However, the people who know me generally agree that my smile is one of my best features. One thing about me that I would like to improve is my insecurity. I am not very confident in myself. Something that really bothers me is people who assume they know me before they actually take the time to talk to me.
Going to school is really enjoyable for me. I love to learn, and I thrive on the feeling of accomplishment. However, getting there is a challenge since I can't drive. I have relied on my family to get me to and from school now that I'm a college student and the yellow limousine is no longer an option. It may seem like school has always been a breeze for me.
This just isn't so. Throughout my elementary school years I struggled to keep up with my classmates after numerous surgeries on my legs. In middle school, I was spit on, and in high school I was called a retard. Another problem in high school was the handicapped bathroom stalls, which were often unnecessarily occupied by students smoking cigarettes.
I think if I were in charge, I would try to take everyone into accout when designing a school. The needs of a student in a wheelchair are often overlooked in some aspects. In my opinion, people tease others different from them because they are not educated. I would strive to educate students about physical disabilities.
Some of the greatest friends I made were in the Concert Choir. This was because we all had something in common which was more important than obvious outward appearances. We loved to sing. They did not judge me because of what I couldn't do. Instead, they saw what I was capable of doing. If they were curious about something, they asked. Many times, if we were singing at a school which was not equipt for a student in a wheelchair, many never hesitated to lift me and my chair up the stairs. Some of the closest people in the world to me were in choir. It always helped to seek out a specific person and tell them how I was feeling that day.
One of my fondest memories was of the senior party, which I attended just after graduating high school with High Honors in June of 1999. It was there that I had my first experience dancing with a guy. I will always hold a special place in my heart for him. He honestly wanted to be there, and he made me feel as though I belonged on the floor busting a move with him. In addition to this, his girlfriend was also in attendance and she encouraged us to dance and have a good time. Oh man, did I ever!
I hope you have enjoyed my story! Telling it has certainly been a pleasure. I would love to hear from you. Tonia
Fleitas, Ed.D., R.N.
Associate Professor of Nursing, Lehman College, CUNY
Bronx, New York 10468
Last updated: November 14, 2004