I am often considered “different.” I am not your typical twelve-year-old girl. I don’t know many kids my age like me. At my current school, I am the only kid who uses a wheelchair. But it hasn’t always been like this. I went to a preschool where all of the kids had some sort of disability and about 20% of kids at my elementary school had a physical disability or received individualized services.
Unlike other parts of the country, in New York City you don’t just go to your neighborhood school; there are many different schools to consider. Although most elementary schools only go up to fifth grade, my elementary school also had a middle school. The middle school application process is time-consuming and competitive, so my parents were always thankful that I had the option to stay at that school. However, in fourth grade, I started talking to my parents about going to a different middle school. And guess what? I did!
In fifth grade, I applied and got accepted to my first choice of middle school. While the building is new and completely accessible, I was the first kid in a wheelchair to attend this school. This was a big change for the school and me. There were some challenges when transitioning to this school, but I always advocated for myself so that my middle school experience would be the best it could be.
One of the hardest parts of transitioning to this middle school was the social aspect. When people see me, they often think to themselves, “Why does she have a wheelchair and a weird thing coming out of her neck?” I am more on the shy side, and will sometimes get nervous when approaching people. What will they think of me? How will they react to the way that I look? But over time, I have learned to accept the fact that people might give me a weird face and ask questions. I just have to put myself out there and not let these things get to me. I have to show them who I really am inside.
While the transition was difficult and I didn’t know a single person going into this school, I have made some really great friends and have good memories from sixth grade. Some of those memories include my first school dance, ice skating at Bryant Park for one of our field trips (I went out in my wheelchair and had a blast!), and going to restaurants with my friends at lunch.
There have been many times where I have had to advocate for myself to make things better for me at my middle school. For example, in my cafeteria, there are two different types of tables, and my wheelchair can only fit under one of those tables, the booths. If all of the booths were full, I would have to ask and sometimes negotiate with people to move to another table so that I could sit at their booth, which wasn’t always easy. Luckily, I was able to coordinate getting a booth that was reserved specifically for me (and, of course, my friends). Another time that I had to request a specific accommodation was asking to use the staff bathroom because it is a private bathroom that is much bigger and more accessible for my wheelchair.
Sometimes I feel like a fish out of water, the odd one out, but once people get to know me for who I am, not what I might look like, that feeling changes for me, and others too. I know that I will have to continue to put myself out there and advocate for myself in many ways during my life. Middle school is a good place to start.
This blog was first published on the Reeve Foundation website: https://www.christopherreeve.org/blog/life-after-paralysis/going-to-middle-school