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  • Chenelle White

I’m Disabled and it Matters!

Updated: Mar 26

I am a part of EmpowHer Camp, a yearlong leadership program for disabled young women and it starts with a week of camping in the Adirondacks, followed by a yearlong community impact project that I will complete with the help of my mentor. Camp was a long week, but amazing. It started with my first airplane ride EVER which was extremely nerve wracking but turned out great. Once I arrived at camp it was refreshing to meet so many amazing people. I got to experience the wilderness for the very first time. I lived in a lean-to, which was a very humbling experience. I used an outhouse and I learned how to build a fire (mine was the longest lasting fire of the week). Most of all, I learned the importance of advocacy, not only for myself, but in the Disability Community.


A young black woman with braids smiling at the camera

Everyone keeps asking: “What did you learn?” Initially, I answered with the obvious, “I learned how to build a fire and live in a lean-to.” It took me really thinking to understand the bigger answer. What did I learn? Out of the eight years I’ve been disabled, it took me seven days to learn: I’m disabled, and it matters.


Prior to my injury, I never experienced disability, nor did I know anyone with disabilities, so I had a lot of stereotypical views about disabled people. A lot of my views were based on beliefs that a person with a disability was not able to have a full and successful life which is something I struggle with even now eight years after my injury. I often felt alone and confused because I didn’t have people around me that understood physically and mentally what it meant to be disabled. This caused me to have a negative view about my disability. I had to surround myself with like-minded people, and people like me physically, to be able to be comfortable in my own skin again.


I never thought of myself as part of the Disability Community. Although I use a wheelchair, I used to take pride when my peers would say “I forget you’re disabled.” Up until camp, it never occurred to me that my disability identity matters!


Being at camp and initiating conversations that I’ve never had surrounding my disability and being able to be vulnerable, especially as I still struggle with internalized ableism, was huge for me. Learning to advocate and initiate conversations around topics such as Emergency Preparedness was a major breakthrough for me because, honestly, I never thought I had to. Although society will tell us “We are accessible to all,” it really isn’t and it’s one of the hardest things I had to realize.


When I leave the house, there’s a checklist I have to go through such as: Does the place have a wheelchair accessible entrance? Do they have a bathroom that’s accessible? The list goes on. Even when getting a job or moving out on my own there are questions, and sometimes discrimination, all because I have a disability. Honestly, it’s messed up that after all this time the Disability Community is looked on as less worthy or capable. I learned all of this from EmpowHer Camp, and I learned I have to look out for myself and my disabled peers. I can’t wait for others to do it for us.


Looking forward - that’s exactly what I plan to do: I plan to look out for myself and the Disability Community as I work on my community impact project which is focused on training disabled people and school officials on active shooter protocols for people with disabilities. I will explore protocols that are in place and collaborate with my local Disability Community and school officials to adjust policies to ensure they are realistic and safe for ALL because I cannot wait for someone else to think to keep us safe.


For more on Advocacy & Disability Rights, click here


Chenelle White is a proud teenager with a disability living in Missouri.She volunteers with Disability EmpowHer Network on the social media committee. She also recently took a big roll in the right direction by joining EmpowHer Camp’s Class of 2024! While she had a lot of fun at camp, she also learned a great deal of information and plans to take charge and make change within her community!



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