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B E E N  T H E R E:  P H Y S I C A L   D I S A B I L I T Y
Hilary Anderson

May 1997

"Don't let anybody stand in your way"

Hilary was 23 years old when she graduated from St. Mary's College. She had a neuromuscular disease that made it necessary for her to use a wheelchair. Some of the support she got came from a place called the Center for Independent Living. This interview took place in May, 1997. On July 31, 1997, Hilary died from complications connected with her disease.

The Hilary Anderson Scholarship for the Mobility Impaired now exists at St. Mary's College. It honors Hilary's memory and serves to make educational funds available to physically challenged students at the school.  

image_of_hilary

The InSite: Tell us about the Center For Independent Living?

Hilary: The Center is a safe haven to go where you don't feel different in the world because everybody accepts you for what you are. They are doing as good as you are or doing worse than you but there's no type of judgment or anything. It's a place to go just to hang out or to do different things. I'm working on applying for jobs, getting my resume together, and they are really helping me with that. I'm finishing school...

TI: How old are you now?

Hilary: 23. I'm finishing my Bachelor's of Science in Child Psychology from St. Mary's College. Actually I was the first person in a wheelchair to graduate from St. Mary's. I had to put up with a lot of ignorance there and a lot of not wanting to change.

TI: You've probably made it easier for the next person in a wheelchair.

Hilary: I hope so! Actually, a few months ago I was going to class and I saw one other guy in a wheelchair. It was the first time I'd seen anyone else in a wheelchair (at St.Mary's) and I just had such a feeling of greatness! It was a great feeling.

TI: What kind of physical challenge are you living with?

Hilary: I have a neuromuscular disease that affects my motor skills, my speech. It's progressive so I haven't always been in the wheelchair. I've only been in it for 7 years. I was diagnosed when I was 12 years old. So I was walking and pretty fine until then. I started by using a walker and then having to use an electric cart to get around for long distances and then eventually I was in the wheel chair permanently.

I have a neuromuscular disease that affects my motor skills, my speech.

TI: What kind of changes in attitudes did you notice from people just passing by in the street?

Hilary: Oh! [long pause]

TI: You could write a book on this, right?

Hilary: Probably I could! [laughing] Probably the big thing is ignorance in people. Not being really aware. For instance, when you're walking around you don't really notice anything. If you do notice people who are different, maybe in a wheelchair or whatever, you tend to look down at them. Because I know from experience, I did that.

TI: When you say "look down at them" you don't mean physically look down at them because they're seated lower?

Hilary: Physically they are lower than you... but I mean your whole attitude, "Well, they need special accommodations. They're different."

TI: And you used to feel that way, too?

Hilary: Yeah. I think so. In some respects.

TI: Then how does it feel to have that attitude directed toward you?

Hilary: Well, it makes me... I don't know... a little angry. But I can understand. And that's why I say "ignorance." You don't really understand if you don't have an open mind. So you can't put yourself in another person's position.

TI: You're right! People are ignorant. And that ignorance sometimes causes them to be insensitive and hurtful without knowing it. But people, especially young people, can change their attitudes if they are made more aware. What would you say to help them change?

Hilary: I think one of the most important things is just people being more sensitive and more open and trying to think about another person and what they might have to go through. Just try to be a little more aware. Nobody can know exactly what you're going through. No one can say, "Well, I know how you feel because I've been there." I mean, nobody can walk in anyone else's shoes, so to speak [laughing]. Really we've all got to work together and give what you can and don't set any limitations on anybody. Just let everybody do what they are capable of doing.

No one can say,
"Well, I know how you feel because I've been there."

TI: How about the idea of offering help to someone on the street?

Hilary: Yeah! I mean, if you notice that someone is having a hard time getting across the street, just don't go up to them and put your arm out and help them! Ask them, "Can I help you?" And then if they say "Yes," then help them! And if they say "No," then say, "Have a nice day anyway. Good luck and see you later." Don't bury people. Don't ignore people. Because one day, you're walking around and perfectly healthy. You never know what's going to happen to you the next day. You might get run over by a car. You might suddenly be struck down by a disease. You have no idea what can happen to you. And so you have to live everyday of your life as though it was... not your last day, but something special.

TI: What do you plan with your degree now that you have graduated?

Hilary: My long term goal is to work with children who have physical disabilities. From my own experience I didn't have a lot of family support, I don't have a lot now.

TI: What would you say to young people who are dealing with disabilities who are sitting at home, coming to this web site, and reading this interview?

Hilary: I say, "Do everything you're capable of doing and don't let anybody stand in your way. Don't let anybody's thoughts or ideas stand in the way of what you feel you can do."

TI: Got any advice for someone who is feeling sorry for themselves, which all of us do at times?

Hilary: I'm not going to say that I don't do that! [laughing] I think it's a part of life, and it's okay to feel that way. It's okay to be down and say, "Oh my God! Why me? Why is this happening to me? I don't deserve this." It's okay to feel that way and then you have to get yourself out of it.

TI: Is there something that you do, to get yourself out of one of those moods?

Hilary: I've become pretty good at talking myself out of it. I try to think about and look at someone who is worse off than me and see what they are doing and say, "Oh my God! I can do it!" And also, just think about the good things in your life. Even the everyday things. "I got out of bed today and brushed my teeth!" That might be a really big thing for someone. I think it's really important to look at your own individual strengths.

TI: Instead of focusing on what you can't do...

Hilary: Or what everybody else can do. Think about what you're doing. Don't put yourself up to anybody else. We're all trying to get through. It hasn't been easy. I can't pretend that it has. But it has taught me a lot and I am very grateful for everything that I've learned. And I really believe there's a reason why everybody has something... for me, I believe there's a reason why I have this disease. There's a reason why I'm here and why I'm doing what I'm doing.

...there's a reason why I have this disease
...why I'm here and why I'm doing what I'm doing.


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