Ten years later: 'Paralyzed bride' shares update on motherhood, advocacy, and life today
This year marks the 10-year anniversary of Rachelle Chapman's accident, which left her paralyzed when a friend playfully pushed her into a pool at her own bachelorette party. Today, Rachelle is a busy mom, speaker, blogger, and advocate for people with disabilities -- living right here in the Triangle.Posted — Updated
This year marks the 10-year anniversary of Rachelle Chapman’s accident, which left her paralyzed when a friend playfully pushed her into a pool at her own bachelorette party. Today, Rachelle is a busy mom, speaker, blogger, and advocate for people with disabilities — living right here in the Triangle.
I’m loving life as a mom, and like so many parents I’m busy these days trying to help my kindergartner navigate virtual school. My husband is a middle school science teacher, and he’s currently teaching his class from our garage.
I stay active with blogging, speaking, and sharing my story on social media because I think it’s important to normalize people with disabilities, especially people with disabilities who are parents. There was so much backlash when I first made my parenting desire public. The reality is, we have a strong family and we are very happy. So, even just posting a picture of my daughter and I together at the beach is advocacy.
Any backlash is due to misinformation and stereotypes, and that’s what makes me sad. It’s one of the reasons I continue to share my personal life and family, to help break down those stereotypes.
The biggest thing I notice is how people treat me now — it’s not negative or mean-spirited, but good intentioned people can often be overly helpful. Once at a college football game, my husband went to the men’s room and I waited just outside the door, casually scrolling through my phone. A stranger walked up to me and asked me if he could stand and wait with me. It was a kind gesture, but it came from a misconception that I can’t be left alone, which isn’t true.
Another example — sometimes when I'm rolling around in public, people will jump out of my way even if I'm still 10 feet away. Now, I'm not talking about nicely stepping aside — I mean they literally JUMP out of my way. They wouldn’t do that for someone walking toward them, so I wish they wouldn't do it for me. It's super awkward and in those moments I'm reminded of how people view me in my chair.
And of course there have been many times when the host at a restaurant will address my husband and avoid me — that’s an experience that is relatable to 99% of people with disabilities.
The bottom line is to just remember the golden rule, treat people with disabilities the exact same way you’d treat an able-bodied person.
My advice to others is simple — if parents treat me differently, your kids will too. I’ve seen well-meaning parents pull their kids out of the way when they see me coming. I know they are trying to be courteous, but the reality is your child knows you're treating me differently. I see the faces on these children and a lot of times they go from smiling and being carefree to being timid and scared. It definitely sends the wrong message. You don't do that for someone walking around so why would you for someone on wheels?
If your child has questions about someone in a wheelchair, use it as a teachable moment. Simply tell them “their legs don’t work as well as they could, so they use wheels to get around.” Make it clear that someone with a disability is nothing to be afraid of. You are either born with a disability or you acquire a disability through an accident. Disabilities are not contagious.
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