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Be open, listen, be patient

January 25, 2017

Jessie Radcliffe's disability sets her apart, but she doesn't let it hold her back—instead, she celebrates it.

Jessie Radcliffe's disability sets her apart, but she doesn't let it hold her back—instead, she celebrates it.

Jessie Radcliffe's disability sets her apart, but she doesn't let it hold her back—instead, she celebrates it.

“Honestly, everyone struggles with something they see as a flaw about themselves…whether it’s ‘oh, I don’t like my freckles,’ all the way to ‘I don’t like not being able to control my right arm.’”

Senior Jessie Radcliffe laughs, but she speaks from experience—she has mild hemiplegia, or a partial paralysis of one side of her body. While most cases of hemiplegia emerge as the result of a stroke, Radcliffe’s condition is somewhat unique in that it developed because the part of her brain controlling motor function simply never formed completely. She wears a brace on her right leg, which helps her walk, and sometimes struggles to complete fine motor or two-handed tasks, but notes that other than those two things, the disability has a relatively small impact on day-to-day life.

“It’s basically just taught me to work hard,” she explains. “Whenever I’m faced with a task that’s hard for me to do, I have to find a way around it. I’m a person that doesn’t give up easily. I work and work to figure out a way to get my work done and get the task that needs to be accomplished done. Sometimes that does mean asking for help—I’ve definitely had to learn how to advocate for myself…when I ask for help people can sometimes get really confused or frustrated.

“It was probably when I was like 9 or 10 that I finally realized that society had these expectations for me and I was not meeting them.” Radcliffe cites an interaction with a childhood friend, who asked if she needed help walking up the stairs, as the first of many instances in which she was confronted with the fact that having a disability meant others would perceive and treat her differently. “It’s something I used to really struggle with. I used to have really bad self-esteem…For a while I wanted to just blend in and be a quote ‘normal’ person. But over the years I became more comfortable with myself, with who I am and with my disability. It’s a part of me, but I don’t see it as my main ‘thing.’ I’m a person with thoughts and feelings, and I’ve grown to appreciate [my disability] and love it more instead of seeing it as a downside.

“I think [SMA] could do a better job of educating people on disabilities as a whole,” she adds. “We do focus on the minority groups but I think it was be interesting to bring something like that to St. Mary’s to help round out that whole education on people in our community. I think one of the biggest problems is that there’s just not a lot of us. We definitely are a minority, and a lot of the people in that minority don’t necessarily want to speak out and draw attention to themselves. Over the years, I’ve become really passionate about advocating, but I’ve never quite found the right outlet.

“I’d like to make sure the administration keeps an open mind and is willing to listen to people because what you think someone in the disabled community might need is not necessarily what they will ask from you,” Radcliffe adds. “I’d say pretty much the same thing to students: be open, listen, be patient. Differences are something you should really embrace.

“Listen to people who are different from you and learn to take in those different perspectives,” she finishes, “because that can really influence your life in a positive way.” ?

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