Monday, March 4, 2013

Dealing with wheelchair situations: advice from a roll model

This is a guest post by Stacy Mayfield, a 32-year-old preschool teacher who has cerebral palsy. I read a guest post she’d written for Offbeat Bride about her Dr. Seuss wedding, loved her spirit and sense of humor, and asked if she’d share some of that here. Stacy lives in Austin, Texas, with her husband, two bulldogs, two cats and forthcoming baby (due in April). As she describes herself, “I push the norm with every push of my wheelchair.”  

“Can you please keep an eye on the door while I help my daughter?” my mom pleaded with the stranger, transforming an innocent bathroom user into impromptu security guard. It was 1986 and we were in a Disney World restroom. The largest stall was only large enough for one adult, had no grab bars and required immense creativity. Mom left my wheelchair outside the stall and lifted my 6-year-old self onto the toilet.

This was before the American with Disabilities Act in 1990. Now there are buttons that open doors, grab bars and sometimes even more than one designated accessible stall (gasp!). Progress is evident; however, “accessible” to one person might not be to another. I’ve been in places where the doors wouldn’t close behind my compact manual wheelchair to afford privacy. Heaven help those with motorized models.

Thus, I offer my first morsel (nuggets seem too large…everything in moderation): Know what “accessible” means to you and your family before you go out. Do you need ramps in every situation, or can you/someone you trust safely jump a curb? Can your child walk at all if there are steps with railings? What is his/her physical limit? Once you have answers, you also have the ability to plan. You can call ahead and ask about certain wheelchair-friendly features and be more comfortable if you encounter unexpected inaccessibility.

Maybe I should say when you face inaccessibility. My favorite ribs place is a hole-in-the wall restaurant with a maximum capacity of 40 (including staff). I’m glad I bring my own wheelchair to save space, but I’m 8 months pregnant, so I guess everything cancels out. When I have my own child, they may have to sit on my lap.

I love this place…but I’m also very vocal about the difficulties I face, and I continually ask the owner about the progress of his building remodel. Which brings me to morsel number two: When you advocate for physical accessibility, it teaches your child to do the same. My mom would inform managers of inaccessibility issues, write letters to schools and tell me, “Baby girl, you’re worth every bit of effort. Don’t let anyone say you’re too much trouble. If everyone had to spend the day in a wheelchair, the world would be full of ramps.”

Amid her physical accessibility rant was perhaps the biggest piece of advice yet (a nugget, even): When you challenge the perception of “normal,” your child will, too. I remember being in a toy store when a young woman with a toddler asked my dad what was “wrong” with me.  He said, “Nothing. Well, she can be stubborn. What about your kid?”

As I grew older, I learned to answer the question earnestly, while still reframing the word “wrong.” If people asked my mom or dad the question when I was present, I’d say, “I can hear you just fine. There’s nothing ‘wrong’ with me, I just get around in a chair instead of walking because my brain makes my legs work differently than yours.”

When I became a preschool teacher in my twenties, I told my classroom the same thing and allowed as many disability-related questions as they could manage. I was comfortable in my own skin, self-confident and happy to create a new “normal” for the next generation.

I still am. As I embark on my first-time parent adventure, I am grateful for parents who made me feel like I could adapt to anything “out there” in the world…even motherhood.


  1. Great post! I love Stacy's story.

  2. Wow. I learned so much and have been inspired. I will now look for opportunities to make the world more accessible. Thank you for sharing your story.
    Also, you made me laugh. Great sense of humor!

  3. wonderful, wonderful. You go girl.

  4. Oh wow! I loved this, and I even read it to my Emma. We both learned so much, and I am sure that Emma was as inspired as I was. This makes me want to be a better advocate for Emma and accessibility. This also makes me dream bigger...on so many levels. Thanks for this awesome post.

  5. Thanks Ellen for sharing Stacys story, just brilliant x

  6. Stacy is my niece and she is as spunky as they come. She went to Germany as an exchange student in high school all by herself and attended a school that spoke German. Through all of life's challenges she maintains a quick wit and lots of laughter. She is a superb writer ... she gets much of that talent from her mom and dad. We can't wait for the arrival of baby "Sprout" due in a couple of weeks.

  7. Awesome, awesome, awesome -- and so informative! Thank you so much, and best wishes to Stacy for an easy and safe delivery!

  8. She's so beautiful that God gave her a wheelchair as a throne.

  9. This was so inspiring. I love this story and hope that it helps build self- esteem for others.

  10. As Stacy's mother, I thought I might share with you all one of my favorite memories. In her early academic career (K-3), she attended a consolidated school (grades K through 12) in a small Alabama town. Each grade level had cheerleaders. And every little girl wanted to be a cheerleader, including Stacy. It was a prestigious position. I had always tried to instill in her that she could do anything she set her mind to and she had her heart set on these try-outs. How could I possibly say no? So I didn't say no...and I told her she could cheer just as loud from a wheelchair as anyone standing. Well, this led to quite a few afternoons of cheerleading practice...and trying to figure out what kind of "stunt" she could do. You see, for the try-outs each girl was required to do a cheer and a stunt.

    The day of the cheerleading try-outs finally came. As I waited outside the auditorium with all the other cheerleader hopefuls' mothers (we weren't allowed to go in and be "stage moms"), I heard a tremendous applause and whooping and hollering. As the try-outs ended and the girls emerged, Stacy was the last to come out. With a smile on her face she said " I didn't get it, Mom, but I got a standing ovation and the crowd went wild!" If there was any disappointment you couldn't tell...she and I both knew she had tried her best...and maybe her "wheelie" she tried for her stunt wasn't so good, but for a seven year old, she gave it her all! I was so proud of her then and continue to be now. Stacy's undaunting spirit and infectious smile makes her my hero! I tried to teach her to believe in herself like I believe in her...and maybe, just maybe, I succeeded.

  11. I think you and Stacy both succeeded!
    Love your story:)

  12. Ms Stacy ,

    I am so inspired by your story . It gives
    me lot of hope for Vikram . Good luck
    with your Baby

    Preeti Sidhu

  13. LOVE this! I love that she's a teacher...God's using you to spread much-needed tolerance and acceptance to the next generation. The little ones are most receptive to it anyways, and then they'll be the ones to keep spreading that. Way to go Stacy! Good luck with the baby!!


Thanks for sharing!