It has been heartbreaking to witness Houston suffering from the devastation and fury of Mother Nature’s force. In the very heart of our city, homes, cars and lives were lost while others were left in shock, and horror, and fear as we faced the devastation that brought the fourth largest city in our nation to its knees.
The devastation is real. People I know personally, have lost everything. Some of them escaped with their lives.
Upon learning that two members of our disability community have also lost their mobility and independence during the hurricane, I simply broke into tears. I know disaster survivors often lose EVERYTHING, but when that “everything” includes your wheelchair, your accessible vehicle, your accessible home, it becomes a whole different kind of struggle, and one, most nondisabled people cannot fully comprehend until it is explained in simple one plus one equals two kind of ways.
I always like using the analogy of a pair of shoes to help people imagine what it would be like to not have a choice as it comes to walking around in a pair of shoes that are not your style, not even your size. Imagine that after losing all your shoes the only pair available to you is a donated pair that are a size too big, so it’s difficult to walk in them. You definitely can’t run, and even if you stuff them with toilet paper, they’re simply not comfortable. To make things worse, they don’t match with anything you wear and you feel super self-conscious about how you look. Fortunately, you can take them off and choose to stay barefooted, but more than likely, you are going to be immediately looking for a pair of shoes that fit so you can be comfortable and safe and have a real sense of self even though your life is still upside down and will be for a while. Despite everything, you know everyone will understand why, although appreciated, the shoes donated to you were VERY temporary.
As a wheelchair user myself, the thought of being separated from my chair, and having to roll in a chair not made to fit my unique needs is a terrifying thought. Sometimes I even have bad dreams about that. Literally. Yet, that is exactly what is happening to disabled people in Houston after the hurricane. I know all donations are important and having a chair of any kind, like having shoes of any kind, in the midst of disaster and need, is something survivors ARE indeed grateful for.
However, the unique needs of wheelchair users are something that must be addressed as individually and with the same respect and dignity as a pair of shoes. We cannot expect anybody to stay walking around in shoes that do not fit. Why should wheelchair users be expected to roll around in chairs that don’t fit? It’s not that we’re ungrateful. We just want people to recognize that you cannot call our needs special and then do nothing special to help us out.
As soon as the board of directors of NWwDEF, National Women with Disabilities Empowerment Forum, saw my Facebook status about Maria Corea and Berenice Rodriguez who lost their EVERYTHING including and especially so their independence in the flood, NWwDEF jumped in volunteering to donate 100% of incoming donations until September 15th to assist women with disabilities who lost their mobility during the hurricane.
Berenice and Maria, are both active members of our community and regulars at the Metropolitan Multi-Service Center on West Gray which is the hub and heart of Houston’s disability community and where NWwDEF’s office is located. They have both shared with us lessons of independence and survival, crip lessons of hope and resilience, and a huge sense of community. These two young women are truly a live vein in our crip community. They have brought advocacy, fun, education and diversity to our disability community and to the landscape of our city. Right now, Berenice is grateful for the loaner wheelchair she was blessed with from a fellow disabled roller. She’s having to stuff it with a pillow to the side because it’s too big and her feet barely touch the footrests. This is just ONE example of how wheelchairs, like shoes should fit perfectly. Rolling around in chairs that don’t fit is an invitation for trouble at some point including life threatening pressure sores and dangerous falls. Both women lost EVERYTHING! Yet, what they need the most right now is their mobility and independence.
Both Maria and Berenice have their own gofundme campaigns for those who want to donate directly to them.
NWwDEF will team up with a wheelchair vendor able to assist in the specific needs of the kind of wheelchair that will fit like the unique needs of the user.
IF THERE IS A WHEELCHAIR VENDOR WHO IS WILLING TO DONATE A BRAND NEW WHEELCHAIR FITTEED TO MEET BERENICE’S NEEDS AND ABLE TO BE AN HONEST REPLACECEMENT FOR THE CHAIR SHE LOST, PLEASE KNOW NWWDEF WILL HONOR YOU AS A PERMANENT ICON ON OUR WEBSITE AND WILL PERSONALLY WRITE A STORY SHARING HOW YOUR GENEROSITY BECAME THE MAGIC SLIPPER IN A YOUNG WOMAN’S LIFE. Accept the challenge? Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org
So, when you ask yourself, why donating to us would be any different than to another organization? It is different because when you do, you’re helping a disabled woman roll in a pair of shoes that actually fit! Your donation has the power to be a real life magic slipper of independence. Yes, you can do that! And don’t even have to be Prince Charming.
To donate please visit us at www.nwwdef.org 100% of donations until September 15th will go to assist with the mobility needs of disabled women in our Houston community.
The National Women with Disabilities Empowerment Forum is a Houston based, grassroots national disability empowerment 501(c3) nonprofit organization.