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Finding My Way as a Young Adult With A Disability

My name is Zoe Carlson. I have had to use a wheelchair throughout my life because I was born with Spina Bifida. Like many different disabilities, Spina Bifida varies in severity, and can be very different from person to person. Spina Bifida often comes along with a learning disability, which I also have. However, I have been very blessed that my learning disability is not too severe. I graduated from high school in 2014. I am currently attending college, studying graphic design and multimedia. Some of the things I enjoy doing are reading/watching classic stories, adaptive sports (especially rugby, and basketball), learning different computer graphics programs, and hanging out with friends.

I am not fully sure what I want to do specifically for my career. Like anyone else my age, I am still trying to figure things out -- and that is ok. But what I do know is that whatever I do, I want it to be of substance. I want more than just a paycheck; I want it to feel meaningful. I also want to earn enough to support myself. I look forward to moving out on my own, or with roommates, with some help from an assistant. In order to reach this goal I am taking a self reliance course, and I watchTED talks. Additionally, I search out other disabled people in person, and through YouTube, to get advice on how they get things accomplished. I feel so lucky to live in a time where those with disabilities are able to reach out to others through social media!

At this time I am serving a Young Church Service Mission for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Over the course of my mission, I have had the opportunity to serve at my church’s genealogy center, food bank, and temple. It truly has been a wonderful experience! The ASL that I studied in high school has been useful, even though I’m still a novice. Additionally, I have had the pleasure of meeting people of different walks of life. I’ve interacted with retired professionals, former Olympians, a variety of people with disabilities, people of other faiths, and people who are in between jobs for all kinds of reasons. It has helped to give me perspective about life being different than a person usually expects.

About a month ago I broke my leg playing sports with friends. As frustrating as it has been, I have always known that being involved with sports would be a risk. But that's what life is about, right? Taking risks is what keeps life interesting and what promotes growth. As many of you know, a disability creates the opportunity to find interesting ways to accomplish tasks. My having an injury in addition to the disability has made things even more interesting. However, I am getting through it, and I remind myself that this level of inconvenience is not a permanent situation.

Speaking of risks, dating and putting myself out there is definitely a risk! Overall, my experience with dating has been mostly positive. Most of the guys I have dated have been very accepting of my disability. I have learned that it is not my responsibility to make everyone comfortable with my disability. It is normal for people to be uncomfortable with what is unfamiliar. I try to let people know that if there is something that they are curious about, I would prefer them to please ask me. As long as they are asking from a place of respect, I am happy to answer. In my experience, there are very few times where a question asked was completely inappropriate.

Everyone has issues at one time or another with body confidence. I experience this too! With all the poking and prodding of doctor appointments, my surgical scars, and the level of assistance I need with personal care, I get frustrated. It is hard to feel like I have control over my own personal care. It can make it particularly difficult at times to feel attractive and “normal.” As a disabled young woman, I believe that it is very important to do what I can to take care of myself as much as possible. I am referring to personal care as well as maintaining physical appearance. For example: exercise, finding clothing that is flattering and fits, keeping up with hygiene, etc. I am still working on trying to get where I want to be with this. There are some things I need assistance with that I hope to learn to do on my own. It is a work in progress. Sometimes I try to turn it into a game, to see what I can check off the list of things I need help with. I have found when I do what I can to care for myself, I feel a bit more comfortable in my own skin. The feelings of self doubt become a bit more manageable.

Lastly, I personally I do not like to be called “an inspiration” for the simple fact that I am still alive and participating in most of the activities that are common for my age. If people must call me an inspiration, I want it to be because I did something that would have earned an able-bodied individual just as much praise. Everyone has challenges, some are just more visible then others.

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