Having been diagnosed with multiple sclerosis at 15 years old, Stone Middle School teacher Kenda Felker is using her platform after winning the Ms. Wheelchair Southwestern USA title in March to take a stand for handicapable individuals like herself.
Felker is using her platform – Handicapable: Where There’s a Wheel, There’s a Way – to encourage “the handicapable population to start ‘standing up’ for themselves.
“I think we have been pushed aside and seen as less than for far too long,” she said. “When I started looking for a place to park when eating downtown and couldn’t find a handicapable space it made me question if there even were any in the the new downtown.”
Felker said she and her husband drove two blocks in each direction from Paris’ downtown and found one handicapable space out of more than 260.
“I was furious and the more I thought about it the madder I got,” she said. “Why? Why would you make a new downtown and exclude a group of people, or at least not make it accessible for everyone? I’m pretty sure our money spends the same as everyone’s.”
Felker said she wants the community and the world to see handicapable people are worthy, and for handicapable people to know their worth and “grab the world by its tail and hang on for the ride.”
I know that we often feel sorry for ourselves, that we are not getting to do everything able-bodied people get to do,” she said. “When I was diagnosed with an incurable disease at 15, I had two choices: let the disease take me down; or fight it with all I’ve got and take this disease down. I chose the latter. And 30 years later, here I am still kicking its butt!”
She said the reward that comes with not giving up outweighs the risk and discomfort. She encourages everyone – young and old – to tackle difficult tasks with a smile.
“If you see something unfair or inaccessible say something, ‘stand up’ for yourself. The answer will always be ‘no’ if you never ask,” Felker said. “I tell children, I too was a child when I became handicapable, you can do this! I won’t lie and say that there won’t be hard times and days when you want to give up, but don’t!”
As someone who enjoys fishing and dancing, Felker said it is important to get up, get out, work and have fun – “these are essential parts of life.”
“Don’t let people tell you you are disabled, you simply have modified abilities,” she said. “In order to live, you have to make life worth living, it starts with you.”
Come July, Felker will compete against 19 other women for the Ms. Wheelchair USA. The Ms. Wheelchair USA pageant will be in Ohio.