Tennessee Kindred Stories of Disability

A collection of stories from individuals with disabilities, families, friends, and disability service providers in Tennessee

Rhonda (43), Cerebral Palsy, Davidson County

"My goal was to move here, to Nashville, and become totally independent."

  • A Student interview of self-advocate's Perspective
  • Posted on 8/21/2013

I grew up in Green Bay, Wisconsin. I moved out before I graduated from high school. My parents, still to this day, can’t accept the fact that I have CP (cerebral palsy), but it is what it is. I came down here (to Nashville) several times, and wanted to work in the music industry. I decided to move down after I graduated college the first time. I have a Bachelor’s degree in Communications. I worked part-time for United Cerebral Palsy of Middle Tennessee for two and a half years booking music talent for their telethons.

My goal was to move here, to Nashville, and become totally independent—because when I moved here I couldn’t even dress myself and I had to have an attendant. Because I was so independent, I couldn’t get government help, but my goal was not to stay on it. My goal was to get a full-time job with insurance and work like everybody else, because that’s what I went to school for. If you’re capable of working, you need to be working, because there’s a lot of self-worth to working. I literally took my resume, in my chair, door to door down music row. I was in radio up in Wisconsin—I was a DJ. If you’re behind a microphone and a radio, no one knows you have a disability. They can’t see you.

I got my service dog, Art, in 2008. He’s the best thing that ever happened to me. He can pick up things, open doors, put the clothes in the dryer if I drop them. He’s amazing. He knows over 60 commands. He’s a little spoiled, but I wonder who did that?

I’m very motivated and organized. I run my household like it’s a business. I’m very goal-driven, but sometimes that also gets me in trouble. I grew up in an abusive home, and that’s one of the reasons I moved out on my own. But I choose not to be a victim. The only thing I can’t do independently on a day-to-day basis, and it drives me nuts, is drive. My van is paid for—I paid for it—my friends drive it, and because I don’t drive it, I have to pay high-risk insurance. But that is what it is, too.

I use Access Ride, which is the public transit, and it’s bad. I have to book, for the whole week, everything on Sunday. If I have to go to the doctor for an emergency, they don’t do same day service. You notice there’s no sidewalk on Thompson Lane. So, I can’t even get to a bus stop. In Wisconsin, I took my wheelchair everywhere, because there are sidewalks everywhere.

I don’t clock in at work until 12:45, but in order to ensure that I get to work on time, I get picked up at 10:15. I only live 20 minutes away from my place of work. But there is no guarantee, because I use public transit, they’re not going to pick up more people before they take me to work. Even though they pick me up from my house, we could still pick up two, three, four people. And I’ve been told if I’m late again, I will be fired. I’ve been late before because of Access Ride. I basically get to work two hours early, and I work until 9:15 and I don’t get home until 9:45. There is a lot of wasted time because of public transit. I guess if there was one message to advocate for everybody, what we really need in Tennessee, especially in Nashville, is affordable competition for transportation. Because Access Ride is the only affordable, non-medical, public transportation there is.

This is what I’ve been told by Access Ride: “We’re providing what the ADA requires, and that’s all we’re going to provide.” I think unless somebody—whether it be the governor, legislators, mayor—puts heat on them, nothing is going to change. There are some drivers who refuse to pick me up because of my service dog. You cannot tell me, “I am not taking you because you have a service dog.” That is totally against the ADA. One thing I advocated for, and it took three years to be put in place, is that the Access Ride drivers should be paid the same as regular bus drivers, because they weren’t paid the same before and we would lose a lot of the good drivers to the big buses. I went to the media and everything with it. I don’t stop. When I advocate for myself, I don’t advocate just for me, I advocate for others.

Right now, I need a house that is totally accessible, because my biggest fear is ending up in a nursing home. That and transportation are my biggest needs right now. I also have more to offer than what I do for work. I have two degrees, but I’m a medical receptionist. I would love to be a certified financial counselor.




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