Vick – Rachel Bell: Life With a Disability

Olivia Vick, Messenger Reporter

Everyone has a story, and Rachel Bell’s is exceptionally inspiring. Though I know her as the smart, hard-working, kind girl that wrote poems with me Freshman year, there’s a lot more to her than that – and her story is worth telling.

Rachel is a senior at McCracken County High School and has a mild form of cerebral palsy, called hemiparesis. This affects the right side of her body, weakening it, but not paralyzing it. This majorly limits the use of that half of her body. While it isn’t entirely certain, the doctor’s believe this was caused by a stroke in her left hemisphere while still in the womb, due to an insufficient intake of oxygen. Her mom noticed this very early on because any time put anything in Rachel’s right hand, she would immediately move it to her left. Knowing that babies don’t form hand preferences that early, she called the doctor. He acknowledged her concern, and so he called her in.

The doctor told Rachel’s mother she wouldn’t walk until she was three years old, but determined to prove them wrong, she practiced walking with Rachel like crazy, helping her hold onto furniture just like you would with any other baby. Then one night, when Rachel was thirteen months old, Rachel and her mother were in the living room when her dad came home from work, and she ran to him. Those were her first steps.

When she was a little older, it became more obvious that Rachel was walking on her toes instead of walking heel-toe, as would be expected. She had two surgeries; one at two years old and one at six years old, on her hamstring and Achilles’ tendon. Because of this, she started first grade with her leg in a cast. But she didn’t slow down.

Though Rachel never lets her disability stop her, she states, “it affects everything.” Basically, she must use one hand for everything she does. Some things, she’s figured out a way to do on her own, but other times, she needs help. Her parents are a big help and support in her life, and one important thing they do is practice certain tasks with one hand with her so she can see how to do it. Other times, Rachel just has to be innovative and figure it out on her own. And she does, sometimes to the astonishment of others, even those closest to her. She added, “I’m slowly becoming more independent in preparation for college, but I’m taking baby steps. Learning to do things that most people learn before the age of ten can be embarrassing, but I’m proud of my progress and people are generally really supportive.” Rachel also talked about how, sometimes, she needs a little help with things, and that while she doesn’t want people walking on eggshells about her disability, this shows that she trusts you to help her in that way.

One interesting thing about Rachel’s individual situation is that she’s never minded talking about it. She expressed that she wants to help educate people about her disability, and how disability isn’t a bad word. “I don’t want people to be afraid of offending me…And I’m always open to questions. I’ve always been open about it.” she elaborated. When asked about why disability is considered such a taboo in our society, she mentioned that she wants to be a part of the end to the stigma surrounding disability. She is not ashamed, “People see disability as some sort of tragedy. It’s not like that at all,” Rachel explained, and she wants to change this view by starting a conversation about it. People are curious and usually courteous, and Rachel has the ambition to change the view of disability.

Some people only see Rachel for her disability, or try to categorize her (on very rare occasion) as the “girl with a limp” but she has never let this define her. She is able to manage her disability very well because she never lets it stop her from doing things. At times, people are even able to forget she has a disability because this is not something they associate her with. However, it has affected who she is as a person. Rachel is optimistic, positive, and grateful in a way most people are not able to be, always able to find a silver lining. Rachel stated, “I’m grateful for being alive because I know what a stroke can do to a person. I think the world is a beautiful, lovely place because I know how lucky I am to be here.” While she added her disability is a part of her,  it’s one part of many. “I’m a writer, I volunteer in my free time, I have a disability. There are so many parts that make a whole.”

One point Rachel made that a lot of people don’t think about is how much it bothers her when people use individuals with disabilities accomplishments to shame others. “There are all those pictures of people with disabilities, like, running a marathon or something with the caption ‘What’s your excuse?’ That’s one thing I’m against. I want everyone to be proud of their accomplishments, disability or not. I don’t want to have any part of putting people down for not doing something, especially if it’s something as awesome and difficult as running a marathon. That’s a high standard for someone to hold themselves to.” Rachel explained. She strives to inspire people, and she called it an “indescribable feeling” of joy when people have told her she has inspired them to do more with their own lives.

Rachel has a beautiful future to look forward to. She has maintained a 4.0 GPA and been accepted to college, as well as working towards that increased independence she would need in that setting. In the way of jobs, she currently volunteers in her spare time and has an internship at City Hall. While she acknowledges she does face some limitations, she knows what she can and can’t do. Though she admitted that the vast unemployment rate of individuals who are disabled could be intimidating, she professed “I hope future employers see my work ethic, not my bent hand.”