Growing up with cerebral palsy, Rachel Shandler could have focused on the limitations. She chose the opposite path.
“I’m not the type to sit in my house and feel bad about myself because I have a disability,” she says. “I try to do things like everyone else.”
That means attending mainstream schools and classes and going on to college many hours drive from home. It means traveling to Israel this past summer. It means planning a career as a therapist. Some of that attitude comes from her parents and two sisters.
“In my household I’m treated like everyone else,” she says.
Some comes from her personality.
“People say, ‘I don’t know if she can do this.’ That just makes me work harder to show that I can do it. Even if I can’t do it exactly like the other person, let’s figure out a way that I can do it. I love to prove people wrong,” she says.
The CP has mostly affected Shandler’s legs – she can’t walk without help and uses a power wheelchair. Her upper body is weak. She can use both hands, but her right hand is stronger. Her right side is stronger.
Volunteering at MossRehab
This past December, Shandler, 25, reached out to MossRehab to volunteer, to provide support for the organization’s advocacy efforts for people with disabilities.
She is one of about 120 volunteers working at MossRehab at any given time. About half are students looking to build skills and test the waters on various career options, explains Lucille Hummel, assistant manager of Volunteers and the Language Bank at MossRehab. The other half are adults, many of them former patients.
“They had such a positive experience, they want to come back and help someone else,” Hummel says. For former patients, it is part of the healing process to get back into a work environment and there is a comfort to working at MossRehab where they are not worried they will feel out of place. There are benefits for current patients, as well.
“The former patients’ attitudes are the best,” Hummel says. “It is so rewarding to have a former patient say to one of our current patients, ‘You’ll get there.’”
For someone like Shandler, Hummel says, volunteering can provide experience, confidence and a feeling of making a difference in the world.
Working with Shoshana Rosen, lead rehab navigator at MossRehab, Shandler has helped create resources for use by patients, entered data, researched tips and advice for the Living Beyond Disabilities program and participated in the Disability Etiquette Task Force.
“I’m really grateful for everything she does,” Rosen says. “She’s always so cheerful, so helpful and thoughtful. She takes the volunteer experience very seriously.”
In addition to her other skills, Rosen says, Shandler brings a helpful insider’s perspective to advocacy for people with disabilities.
An Insider's Perspective
That insider’s perspective was earned the hard way, growing up with CP.
“It was hard because I couldn’t go over someone’s house or stay over and sleep over,” she says. Not being able to drive meant being dependent on someone to bring her home, so evenings out were sometimes cut short.
“In high school and middle school I was the only one in a wheelchair,” she says. “Everyone was super nice … but the social aspect was a little bit tricky because I couldn’t just go like everyone else. I don’t mean to say I didn’t have a social life. I did, but it was just harder. “
When it came to considering colleges, she chose Edinboro University near Erie, Pa. because it offered an accessible dorm so she could receive the help she needed and be around others in a similar situation.
“Because of having the personal care there, I was able to have a normal college experience,” she says.
Shandler graduated in May 2012 with a degree in psychology and aspirations to attend graduate school and become a therapist.
“My ultimate goal would be to become a therapist for kids and teens,” she says. “That is my future, future goal.”
For now, Shandler is volunteering at MossRehab, while looking for a paying job related to her field of interest. She is finding that challenging, but brings her focus on the positive to that search, as well.
“A lot of the time when you interview on the phone and you tell them that you have this [disability] … they will turn you away,” she says. “It’s a little bit disheartening. At least give me a shot. Let me try. Let me show you what I can do instead of what I can’t do. The obstacles are miniscule compared to the things I can do.”
Undaunted, Shandler just keeps chugging along toward her dream.
“I have a lot of drive,” she says. “Having a disability you have to take 10 steps where an able-bodied person has to take five to get to where they are. So, it’s harder, but if you really want it you’ll get it. It’s going to take me longer and I may have to do it differently but I’ll get there.”
Interested in volunteering at MossRehab? Contact Lucille Hummel at 215-663-6045; EPVolunteers@einstein.edu. You can download the volunteer application from the MossRehab Web site.
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