Berenice Rodriguez lives a busy life, an active life, a life narrated through the voice of empowerment, the voice of resilience and strength. That is who Berenice Rodriguez is -an empowered woman whose contributions to society leave a positive mark in the lives lucky enough to cross her path.
When you meet Berenice, you’d probably not imagine the force packed in her small body. But any misconceptions you might have about disabled women go out the window immediately after you experience her smile and the energy of her persona. Berenice is a natural light, a source of power, a visible presence in our Houston disability community and the community at large.
Berenice is the friendly voice of wisdom as a Parent Navigator at North Star College where she assists families with their educational goals. She is also a case manager for a private clinic, and an active member of groups and events taking place in the heart of Houston’s disability community. She is a role model for other disabled women, and she uses her voice of empowerment to share her story from a position of hope….from a position of power. And if that is not already living a full life, Berenice also plays wheelchair tennis and she is a true ambassador for the power behind the benefits of athletics and sports for people with disabilities.
Berenice grew up disabled. She was diagnosed with SMA II which is an inherited, progressive muscular condition. From her childhood friends, you’ll hear stories about how it was Berenice’s HUGE ability to project light and hope in the lives of others what made her so special to so many people throughout her life.
Knowing how independent and active Berenice is in her day to day life, it broke my heart when I learned that she was rescued from her home in a canoe which could not accommodate her $50,000 motorized wheelchair (NO IT IS NOT A TYPO. YOU READ THAT RIGHT). I started sobbing when I found out Berenice sat on a chair without wheels for four entire days and had no mobility at all.
Being a chair user myself, this story brings me to my own personal breaking point. I can attest to how horrible, how scary, how disempowering, how humiliating, painful and freaky it is to have to sit on a chair with no wheels, and I’ve only had to do it for a little while and while within my control. Berenice did not have control, but she did not freak out. She was patient and grateful to be alive. She faced the storm with a smile and with the force of her own unbeatable spirit.
Like Berenice, I grew up with my disability, and although wheelchairs for those of us who need them are important no matter what our disability may be, I think that those of us who grew up disabled have an even closer relationship with our wheelchairs. I have, at times, loved a wheelchair so much that I have, actually, wished it could have outlived me. I know many other rollers will understand. this.
Right now, Bernice is on a loaner chair loaned to her by fellow roller Oralia Diaz, founder of the You Roll Girl, group. Although this chair works for the moment, it is too big for Berenice. She must stuff it with pillows and her feet barely touch the foot rests. Although these might seem like minor inconveniences, she needs to be able to be comfortable and safe to navigate through her life again in FULL control. For this to happen, Berenice needs a chair that meets the unique needs of her unique body. She got the chair she just lost through much active advocacy and fighting her insurance for it. This time they will NOT buy her another $50,000 chair.
There is no “program” to help her right now besides the love of her community. Sadly, the medical equipment industry has made the most basic needs of disabled people unattainable and unaffordable. A $50,000 wheelchair is more expensive than the average car, but there is no wheelchair insurance to protect it from a flood. What is wrong with this picture? This is wrong! I think there is room for creativity here. If cars can get insured, why not wheelchairs? Why can’t we create the ability to insure our wheelchairs?
As if losing her wheelchair was not enough, Berenice also lost her accessible vehicle and her accessible living space She is hoping insurance can cover vehicle replacement, but she has also had other major losses including other medical equipment essential to her survival such as specialized equipment to clear her lungs and help her breathe. None of these losses are easily replaceable, at least not without a lot of hassle or a lot of money.
Her fundraiser campaign hopes to raise at least $30,000 through which she hopes to be able to afford a used “new wheelchair”. My tears begin to flow again as I remember how I’ve been lately using the pair of shoes analogy to educate people about why wheelchair users don’t just stay grateful for the donated wheelchairs given to them after a disaster. Please understand that Berenice’s needs are unique to her body and her disability. Don’t just assume that any chair will do, and this is true for ALL disabilities. I think this will be my rant for the rest of this year.
Please help me to help my friend Berenice to go back to her busy and independt life. Her community needs her. Her friends need her. The world needs her.
If for whatever reason, you don’t feel comfortable donating to an individual, please know NWwDEF will donate 100% of your donations towards helping disabled women Harvey survivors with equipment recovery. The NWwDEF (National Women with Disabilities Empowerment Forum is a grassroots, Houston based, national disability empowerment, 501(c3) nonprofit organization. ALL your donations are tax exempt.
I found out today that Berenice’s birthday is this upcoming September 22nd. She will be 34 years old. Berenice is a woman in the prime of her life, a woman who lives and loves immensely and intensely and who gives fearlessly with her all her being.
Please help me wish Berenice a true happy birthday. Let’s make sure we bring her back to rolling with pride and dignity.
Can you please help me make Berence’s birthday wishes come true?
In the name of love and empowerment, may the blessings multiply.
Maria R. Palacios