Disabled Female Entrepreneur Spotlight: Searching for Independence

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 Story by Louise Sertis, Founder of Advanced Freedom

It’s been my experience in the past, especially when traveling that I felt as though I was thrust into a pre-kindergarten era. A time where everything is done for me, instead of letting me explore, navigate and learn.

Sometimes I felt my voice was no longer heard, because of my wheelchair. I seemed invisible to everyone except my husband, who is bombarded with impending questions from the airport staff. 

Initially, when I was coping with my disability I was offended as frustration built, and I bit my lip and screamed inside. There will always be people that insist on doing rather than helping, because of the tight airline schedule. 

 

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It’s important to note that disabled people initially don’t want to be dependent, but over time it’s learned helplessness and the belief that they can’t function on their own. Time and time again, people would rather do, instead of waiting for the slowpoke(me) to finish.

I feel like a broken record, insisting that I’ll try. If I need help I will ask.  It’s important to note that most people just want to be helpful, and sometimes society has a lack of knowledge for the inclusion of all abilities.  

Frustration was a familiar response to situations that occurred, once Multiple Sclerosis started really affecting me.  I used to be filled with pent up anger and shame, which completely changed who I was as a person.  After many years of solitude, I was able to channel these feelings into a positive. 

When I started using and seeing my circumstance in a new light, is when things started to change for me.  While I still value my alone time, it’s much more gratifying leaving my comfort zone, meeting new people and being the best version of me I can be. 

It Was Challenging at First, But I’m Doing Things Now I Never Thought Possible.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned from being in a wheelchair, is that you should never live life under someone else’s perception of you. I have struggled with doing the things that I want to do or accomplish because people believed I couldn’t, so I didn’t

In hindsight I recognize now, it’s a self-fulfilling prophecy. I lived my life in the shadows of abled body individuals. I didn’t want to live like that anymore, so I just politely voice my opinion, and that has worked beautifully.

I fought forever to get a power assist device for my wheelchair, something that I thought would give me a better quality of life.  I have Multiple Sclerosis, and regardless of not having had an attack in over eleven years, I was still denied funding. 

I made it my mission to be accepted by one OT, to be considered for funding. Due to the unbelievably high cost of this device ($7500 Canadian), I really needed the government to provide the finances.

Finally, after months of searching, I was able to find an occupational therapist who would give their professional opinion, that I was able to use a power assist safety.  I’ve had power assist for six months now, and I feel freer than I have in years. 

This small success helped me change my views, from frustration to empowerment.  The more positive changes I made within my life, the more independent I became.

 

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It’s about living the best possible life, believing in myself and knowing my limitations. I realize that I may need help in the future, but right now I’m living for today and choose to live in the present.  My perseverance has given me more FREEDOM and independence.

I am trying to be the most independent person in my circumstances. I am more than confident in my abilities and my limitations. When I need help, I will ask, I’m not immune to needing help. 

I never thought that I would eventually feel this way, but I’ve done a lot of soul searching and realize that I can’t bury my feelings any longer.

I believe with any illness/ disability, there is a definite process before reaching acceptance. In retrospect, my process took eighteen years, before I was able to speak of these views. Some people choose a path that is tainted with bitterness and fear, I know this because I was one of those people.

Living in agony was my normal, nothing seemed good or fun anymore. I essentially was just living, looking in as others enjoyed life.

I believe that everyone in a wheelchair should feel safe, independent and free. This is never more evident than when I travel. Since it is just my husband and me, you would think it would be simple. On the contrary, I feel very dependent and lost. I crave responsibility and the trust that others can count on me.

As it is right now, traveling is a time when everything that has to be done, requires help from others. There is nothing that I can do, including holding on to any bags because my hands and arms are busy propelling my manual wheelchair.

I don’t even feel safe with my purse on my lap or hung behind me on the handrails.  It’s not practical or convenient to lug around items in the back of me, especially the essentials that I need easy access too. For me turning my body around, leaves me feeling weak and exhausted.

Similarly to getting the power assist for my wheelchair, which gave me more independence, I had a new idea to give others in wheelchairs the benefits I now experience.  It is for this reason that I have created the “Handi Pac” by Advanced Freedom.

 

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The Handi Pac

It is essentially a backpack redesigned for people in wheelchairs, the only bag created especially for a wheelchair user that sits in front of the person.  No more needing to loose energy retrieving things from the back/side of you. Safety is no longer a concern by placing things loosely on your lap when you are concentrating on propelling. 

The “Handi Pac” will create more independence, and less stress for the person helping. I use the example of traveling, but the Handi pac would be great when going shopping, going to school or just needing a place to store things. Unlike your typical backpack, the Handi Pac has magnetic closers where you would normally see impossible claps.  It will secure around your back, with an easy release strap.

 

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It would run the length of your lower leg (from your knee to your ankle), with an easy access compartment to place your essentials.

This “Handi Pac” fills this much-needed INDEPENDENCE that I have craved since requiring a wheelchair. I will be able to do things easier like traveling, shopping, and errands.

This will allow me to safely and easily, rely on myself to carry things. Something so small for abled body people, but huge to anyone using a wheelchair.

 

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Traveling now will be fun, as some responsibility is regained. Inclusion is a word rarely spoken, but it is my hope that the “Handi pac” will be used to bridge the gaping hole that exists presently. 

Every person in my circumstance regardless of the reason will see the benefits of the Handi pac. Personally, I feel this greater independence will give me more confidence to do more, something that I will welcome.  I miss the days of having some independence, something that will help to create inclusion, safety, and freedom.

 

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Although the Handi Pac is the first of many ideas I have, this is a starting point.  It is empowering to create products/company to help others, rather than feeling sorry for myself.  I feel it takes much less effort to be positive instead of negative.

Through my frustration and solitude, life became boring and very tiresome.  I was tired of just living, rather than living and loving life.  Yes my situation isn’t desirable, and my legs don’t work as they should, but I have a lot to offer the world depending on what I choose to focus on.

By deciding to embrace my life in a wheelchair, I’m able to be present today, instead of dwelling on my past life.  Although I’m in a chair much of the day, I’m the same individual with all my hopes and dreams.  I use my past experiences, to integrate into my life today.  Essentially my hope is to help and create items to impact individuals in similar situations.


Are you an Entrepreneur with a Disability and want to be featured on PUSHLIving?  Join our Entrepreneurs with a Disabilities United Facebook group, tell us more about your work and we might choose you for our next month’s Spotlight feature. 

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