I’m Disabled and it Matters!

I am a part of EmpowHer Camp, a yearlong leadership program for disabled young women and it starts with a week of camping in the Adirondacks, followed by a yearlong community impact project that I will complete with the help of my mentor. Camp was a long week, but amazing. It started with my first airplane ride EVER which was extremely nerve wracking but turned out great. Once I arrived at camp it was refreshing to meet so many amazing people. I got to experience the wilderness for the very first time. I lived in a lean-to, which was a very humbling experience. I used an outhouse and I learned how to build a fire (mine was the longest lasting fire of the week). Most of all, I learned the importance of advocacy, not only for myself, but in the Disability Community.

CC White

Everyone keeps asking: “What did you learn?” Initially, I answered with the obvious, “I learned how to build a fire and live in a lean-to.” It took me really thinking to understand the bigger answer. What did I learn? Out of the eight years I’ve been disabled, it took me seven days to learn: I’m disabled, and it matters.

Prior to my injury, I never experienced disability, nor did I know anyone with disabilities, so I had a lot of stereotypical views about disabled people. A lot of my views were based on beliefs that a person with a disability was not able to have a full and successful life which is something I struggle with even now eight years after my injury. I often felt alone and confused because I didn’t have people around me that understood physically and mentally what it meant to be disabled. This caused me to have a negative view about my disability. I had to surround myself with like-minded people, and people like me physically, to be able to be comfortable in my own skin again.

I never thought of myself as part of the Disability Community. Although I use a wheelchair, I used to take pride when my peers would say “I forget you’re disabled.” Up until camp, it never occurred to me that my disability identity matters!

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Being at camp and initiating conversations that I’ve never had surrounding my disability and being able to be vulnerable, especially as I still struggle with internalized ableism, was huge for me. Learning to advocate and initiate conversations around topics such as Emergency Preparedness was a major breakthrough for me because, honestly, I never thought I had to. Although society will tell us “We are accessible to all,” it really isn’t and it’s one of the hardest things I had to realize.

When I leave the house, there’s a checklist I have to go through such as: Does the place have a wheelchair accessible entrance? Do they have a bathroom that’s accessible? The list goes on. Even when getting a job or moving out on my own there are questions, and sometimes discrimination, all because I have a disability. Honestly, it’s messed up that after all this time the Disability Community is looked on as less worthy or capable. I learned all of this from EmpowHer Camp, and I learned I have to look out for myself and my disabled peers. I can’t wait for others to do it for us.

Looking forward - that’s exactly what I plan to do: I plan to look out for myself and the Disability Community as I work on my community impact project which is focused on training disabled people and school officials on active shooter protocols for people with disabilities. I will explore protocols that are in place and collaborate with my local Disability Community and school officials to adjust policies to ensure they are realistic and safe for ALL because I cannot wait for someone else to think to keep us safe.

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 Author's Bio: Chenelle White is a proud teenager with a disability living in Missouri.She volunteers with Disability EmpowHer Network on the social media committee. She also recently took a big roll in the right direction by joining EmpowHer Camp’s Class of 2024! While she had a lot of fun at camp, she also learned a great deal of information and plans to take charge and make change within her community!

About the Author - Reeve Staff

This blog was written by the Reeve Foundation for educational purposes. For more information please reach out to information@christopherreeve.org

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The opinions expressed in these blogs are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Christopher & Dana Reeve Foundation.

The National Paralysis Resource Center website is supported by the Administration for Community Living (ACL), U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) as part of a financial assistance award totaling $10,000,000 with 100 percent funding by ACL/HHS. The contents are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily represent the official views of, nor an endorsement by, ACL/HHS, or the U.S. Government.