The school bell rings at Abilene High School and it is time to go to class.
Hundreds of students pour through the front entrance of the building with ease, opening and entering through the doors without thinking twice. But one student remains behind, struggling to open the door with her walker in the way.
After a few minutes of effort, she eventually opens the door and makes her way to class in the wake of her peers. This student is 17-year-old TSRHC patient Emily, and this was how she started her day, every day, for years.
“I’ve struggled through anything you could think of my entire life,” says Emily, who was born with cerebral palsy, a disorder that affects muscle tone, movement and motor skills. “I always had to have someone help me – including opening doors – just to get into school.”
While public buildings, including schools, must provide entrances that are wide enough to accommodate a wheelchair or walker, there is no law that requires the installation of automatic handicap doors. Emily looked beyond the law and saw a need.
Last summer, Emily took a stand against the struggle for accessibility for both herself and other students in her shoes. So she launched a campaign to install automatic doors at her school. Little did she know, her efforts would grow into a movement that would take Abilene, Texas, by storm.
Emily decided to name the campaign “Keep Calm Install Handicap Doors.” The phrase and logo was emblazoned on T-shirts, which were sold to raise funds for the cause. Local media, from television to radio stations, shared her story. Billboards and fliers were produced and displayed across town. Eventually the mayor of Abilene became involved, and even proclaimed a day in Emily’s honor to recognize her hard work and success.
“The whole community stepped forward when we began the campaign,” says Emily’s mother, Kimberly. “It was just overwhelming. It went beyond anything we had ever imagined.”
Emily’s initial goal was to have one electronic door installed at her school. But after a story about the campaign was featured on a local news station, several people wanted to lend their support. The original story aired on a Friday night. By the following Monday morning, four doors had been donated to the cause.
“We had no idea the campaign was going to explode, but it did. And it opened everybody’s eyes,” says Kimberly.
To date, the campaign has successfully led to the installation of 15 electronic doors across six Abilene school campuses. But to Emily, the true success of the campaign has been its positive effect on her fellow classmates. “I had to do this not only for me, but for everybody else that needs it. Seeing the reactions on the faces of students using the doors for the first time made me so happy,” says Emily. “We all have a new level of independence. It has been such a freeing feeling.” Emily’s display of determination reaches beyond Abilene and has inspired even her TSRHC doctor, Mauricio Delgado, M.D.
“Emily is a very smart young woman who does not let her mobility challenges stand in her way,” says Delgado. “Knowing that she is working so hard to help other kids like herself is extremely encouraging.”
Delgado is the director of TSRHC’s Neurology department, which provides care for orthopaedic patients who have related neurological disorders, including cerebral palsy. It is the most common physical disability in children, affecting approximately four out of every 1,000 school-aged children.
“Through medical and surgical treatments, along with assistive devices and therapy, TSRHC serves this patient population in a variety of ways,” says Delgado. “We
aim to maximize their functional potential so they can improve their participation in day-to-day activities.”
Emily’s experience at TSRHC helped build a foundation for the skills needed to create a successful campaign. “With the support of the hospital and the treatment I’ve received here, I have been given a sense of security and peace,” says Emily. “The care from Scottish Rite gives me the confidence I need to speak up for what I believe in.”
Emily’s confidence to stand up for what she believes in continues to grow – and she continues to open doors to a brighter future for herself and others.