The Calgary Journal
The Calgary Journal

Student with cerebral palsy writes about her life, university studies and career aspirations

ThumbnailSome people tell me that I am stubborn and that I can't take no as an answer.

However, being born with a disability and having to cope with the daily physical challenges that accompany it, I sometimes hear the words “you can't do that” or “you won't be able to do that.”

My strategy has always been to simply change those words to “I can” and” I will.”

I have cerebral palsy. I use a wheelchair on a daily basis because my disability affects my gross motor skills.

Perhaps people are correct when they call me stubborn – but in a good way. And quite frankly, I probably need to be stubborn. I don’t see a downside to it. It hasn't stopped me from doing the things I love.

And I’m proud to say I'm learning to be a journalist. When I tell people I am a student-journalist, people sometimes seem baffled by the possibility. I can see them wondering, “How could she possibly pull the daily grind that is involved in being a journalist – what with the numerous interviews and deadlines involved?”

The reality is that my career aspirations come from knowing myself really well – knowing my limitations and when I need to ask for help.

"I know that I may not fit the typical picture of what a journalist should be. So I ask, what is the picture of what a journalist should be?"
— Sarah Harrower 

Having a disability doesn't mean I can't do what everyone else does. It just means I have to do it a little bit differently.

My first year and a half at Mount Royal University, or MRU, has been a big undertaking for me, and I’ve learned so much. And you know what? I’ve noticed that at times it has also created a learning curve for my professors as well.

But there has never been a moment when I thought it was impossible.

I can remember telling my parents when I was in high school that I wanted to be a journalist. They were supportive and hopeful, but I could tell they were worried that I was setting my sights too high.>

For me, it’s about having the right attitude. It seems that the misconceptions surrounding people with disabilities have to do with people's perceptions of things. I wanted to explore this notion, so I spoke to Pat Pardo who is the accessibility services manager and an instructor in disability studies at MRU.

“The number one barrier faced by people with disabilities is attitudinal; there are still misconceptions when it comes to disabilities,” Pardo said. “There are some values and beliefs and assumptions about people with disabilities that continue to be negative.”

I never really picked up on the type of misconceptions people had about me until I was in my teens. It also occurred to me that people who have never been directly affected by disabilities are simply unable to know what it is like to live with a serious disability.

I’ve noticed that people initially don’t how to act, or are unsure of what to say to me. My own personal policy is that if people have questions about my disability, all they have to do ask me.

On one level my personal mission in life is to break down the misconceptions when it comes to people with disabilities.

Going forward, I do have certain things that worry me – especially when I am finished my degree in journalism and ready to begin my professional career.

I know that the numbers are not exactly in my favour.

The Statistics Canada website said that in 2001, two-million Canadians from the ages of 16 to 64 indicated that they had a disability. Only 45 per cent, or 825,000 of the two-million, said that they were in the labour force. LargeImageSarah Harrower is a student at Mount Royal University pursuing her dream of becoming a journalist. 
Photo by: Derrick Newman

This is not to say that every person with disabilities has the same difficulties when finding a job. Every situation is unique. For myself it's a matter of how far I am willing to push.

You can see why it might be a good thing to be stubborn.

Pardo also mentioned how important the role of the employer is, and how they must be able to think differently and encourage diversity in their company.

“I think it's important for our employers to re-imagine how work gets done,” Pardo said.

“A parallel would be the way education is based and how the model is 1,000 years old. The opportunity to increase diversity in the workforce hinges on the willingness of employers to consider that maybe the way jobs are designed needs to be re-thought,”

Regardless of what these statistics say, I am eternally optimistic about my future.

I know that at the end of the day my work will speak for itself and I will find the perfect job that suits me.

There are bound to be hurtles and bumps along the way, but it is the same whether you are able bodied or not.

The main thing I want to accomplish is to work in a career that makes me happy. If that’s being stubborn, then call me stubborn – Stubborn Sarah Harrower.

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