My Disability Does Not Define Me

In School people always assumed that the reason I am in a wheelchair is because of an accident. And whenever I spokeup the conversation Stoppedin its tracks. Like most girls I hadinsecurities, but my insecurities are ones I could never hide from. Iremember just wanting to fit in like everyone else. Especially, when I hit middle school. Up until that point, Ihadfelt like every other kid my age. 

I think the desire to fit in with your peers is justas important for a teen with a disability. Because the desire to prove themselves as an equal will be that much more challenging,considering all of the adaptationsand adjustments that would need to be made to make them feel included.  

When I was in school the focus was campaigning for the students and meeting their needs to help them become as successful as possible, rather than being fixated on the title, labels, and “buzzwords. I grew up during the floppy disc era, so my biggest worry back then was what game I wanted to play on the computer, Origami Trail or Wheel Of Fortune. 

I am also extremely relieved and proud to say that my role models growing up were Punky Brewster, Kids Incorporated, and Ghost Writer. As opposed to now, watching and accepting the dumbing down of the female movement with shows like Keeping Up With The Kardashians, and MTV’s 16 and Pregnant. I am not going to lie and say, being a teenage girl who happened to be in a wheelchair was all sunshine and fun—it wasn’t. And believe or not, those difficult times had nothing to do with my peers, but instead the adults/teachers. 

That is not to say that every teacher I had was awful.That was not the case. I just saw and experienced a change once I started middle school that continued into high school. Michael J. Fox once said, “If a child can’t learn the way we teach, maybe we should teach the way they learn.” I have had one or two experiences where this should have been practiced. ButI am not bitter about those experiences. Instead, I find that those negative experiences help me become the person I am today. That is one of life’s truth. Not everyone you come across in your life will be easy to get along with. People are complicated by nature, and when that person comes to you as someone you must look at as an authority figure it can be a sticky situation. 

But with every sticky and challenging situation, I am faced with to this day I adjust, adapt, and get through it. For me,not doing that is not an option. 

Looking back I realize how fortunate I was to notbe exposed to all the pressures that society and social media can bring a child these days. Especially, a child that may have set of unique needs. Every child should be made aware that whatever challenges they may be facing: those challenges don’t have to define them. 

That realization was a real struggle for me once I graduated high school in 2001. And it took a lot of internal work for me to sift through all the crap and uncertainty I had to get through because of some very harsh realities I was faced with at the time. And if I am being completely honest, I have never been more self-assured and confident than I have been in these last two years since I started using my voice for a purpose I truly believe in. And that purpose has beenclear to me from a very young age. To be able to help those less fortunate than me. And I get to do that more now that I have started putting myself out there as a writer.

I also realize now that not only does the unexpected journey lead you to your given destination, but it can also lead you to your destined purpose. My hope for anyone reading this:Anyone who maybe struggling in some way, that whatever they are facing to never let it keep them from reaching their purpose. Because I will never let my disability or anything else keep me from fulfilling my purpose with an absolute passion and determination to help the voiceless find their voice, and finally be heard. 

- Jessica Niziolek

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Jessica is a thirty-five year old disability advocate. She is founder of the blog The Abler, a podcast host and a published freelance writer and poet.