5 things I want kids (and parents) to know about living with a disability

Kelsey Kleimola, Ms. Wheelchair Michigan, and her family.From the minute a child is born, that child’s parents develop dreams for their child. While rocking them to sleep at night, and looking into that perfect little face, a parent dreams of who that child will become, and what he or she might accomplish. An author, a photographer, a doctor.

I’m sure my parents dreamed of these same things, even after I was diagnosed with cerebral palsy. Since then, I’ve come a long way. I’ve accomplished so many amazing things, despite my disability. I’ve overcome numerous hurdles, and faced countless challenges. And through it all, I’ve learned some things during this journey.

  • It’s OK to ask questions. It happens more often than you’d think. I’m in a public place, a restaurant or store. A child is with his or her parent, and the inevitable question is asked. “Why is that lady in a wheelchair?” And, more often than not, the parent steers the child away from me, quietly whispering that asking that question isn’t polite, and didn’t I teach you better than that? Personally, I’d rather that child have asked me. How else do we learn? How else do we push past our own assumptions and choose to grow? We seek knowledge. So, ask the question. Learn.

  • I’m not lucky. If you’re reading this, you probably think I’m nuts for saying this.  Of course I’m lucky. I’m lucky because I have a wonderful husband, two beautiful children, and an unending amount of support. But I am not lucky to be in a wheelchair. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not bitter. This is all I’ve ever known. But it doesn’t mean that there are days I wish things were different. And I’ve heard it said, “You are so lucky to be in a wheelchair.” No, I am lucky to be alive. I am lucky to breathe. I am lucky to live.
  • Just because I have a disability, doesn’t mean I’m not capable. There seems to be a negative stigma around having and living with a disability. And, while some things are far from easy, that doesn’t mean they can’t be done. I remember when my husband and I began talking about having children, many people wondered whether I would be capable. Could I change a diaper? Bathe the baby? Could I be a mother? Well, I would never know if I didn’t try. And that’s what it comes down to. Never knowing what the outcome might be, but stepping out in faith, knowing that if you hadn’t that would’ve been your biggest failure to begin with. That you hadn’t tried at all.
  • My wheelchair is not a toy. With the exception of my own children, I don’t let anyone climb on my chair. My own kids only do this if I need to carry them somewhere, and they know it’s not something to play with. My chair may look fun, but my chair is my legs, my mobility, and my freedom. It helps me to be who I am, it’s a part of me.
  • I am worthy, and so are you. Growing up, I didn’t know anyone else in a wheelchair. Because of this, I often felt isolated, and assumed I would never find anyone who would accept me unconditionally. But then, I did. And I realized not only am I worthy of being loved, I am great at loving people right back. I am enough.

Ms. Wheelchair Michigan eventSo, these are some of the things I’ve learned in my nearly thirty years of life. A life that hasn’t been easy, a life that hasn’t been without pain and disappointment. But a life that has been monumentally wonderful in what I’ve been blessed with. Truth be told, I don’t think about my disability or the fact that I use a wheelchair all that often. Because there’s far too much joy in my life to even give it much thought. There are moments I fancy myself able bodied, like when I held each of my children for the first time, or when I married my husband. In those pockets of time, everything I’d gone through to get there was worth it. I’m perfectly imperfect.

Take the next step:

  • Meet Kelsey Kleimola, Ms. Wheelchair Michigan, at a free event on June 18, 2014 at 6:00 p.m. at the Pediatric Rehabilitation Center, our new location on Commonwealth Boulevard in Ann Arbor.  RSVP to 734-763-2554. Kelsey will speak with our guests about “Holding onto hope: Growing up, having big dreams, and living life to the fullest, despite disability.”
  • Learn more about cerebral palsy services at C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital.

Kelsey Kleimola, Ms. Wheelchair MichiganKelsey Kleimola is the current Ms. Wheelchair Michigan.  She is 29 years old and resides in Ypsilanti, MI. Kelsey advocates for people with disabilities and wants to put a face of hope to people living with any disability, encouraging people to reach for their dreams! Kelsey graduated Aquinas College with a Bachelor Degree in Communication and a Minor in Journalism. She’s been married to her wonderful husband, Kevin, for 7 years and they have two children together, ages 3 and 5.


best children's hospitalUniversity of Michigan C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital is consistently ranked one of the best hospitals in the country. It was nationally ranked in all ten pediatric specialties in U.S. News Media Group’s “America’s Best Children’s Hospitals,” and among the 10 best children’s hospitals in the nation by Parents Magazine. In December 2011, the hospital opened our new 12-story, state-of-the-art facility offering cutting-edge specialty services for newborns, children and women.