My disability has changed my life for the better

Brianna Paauwe

In 2011 Brianna Paauwe, who lives in the US, became paralysed after a car accident. Brianna shares her story of navigating life with a disability and how her experience helps others.

Brianna Paauwe in her wheelchair at the beach

Back in August 2011, I made an unfortunate decision that would change my life forever. I got behind the wheel of my car after drinking alcohol, which led to a serious accident, causing my car to flip. As a result, I suffered from a spinal cord injury and spent a month in the hospital. I was then sent home with minimal knowledge of how to live an independent life as a T-10 paraplegic

It’s taken a while to learn how to navigate the changes in my life, but things started falling into place in 2021. I met Jesi Stracham, an adaptive athlete, public figure and advocate for the wheelchair community. After working with her remotely for 10 months, I moved in with Jesi, and she helped me to become more independent.

My life changed overnight

Before I met Jesi, certain areas of my independence were rather difficult. I needed to be home every five to six hours to use my own restroom, which meant time out of the house was limited. I was also using a transfer board, a piece of equipment designed to help those with a physical disability to move from one surface to another. Now, I no longer need the transfer board, and I can use public restrooms without needing a commode for bathroom routines. I can also travel alone, which gives me a tremendous sense of independence and freedom. 

For so long, I avoided trying new things and going to new places because I feared all the things that could go wrong. Things will go wrong occasionally, but it’s not reason enough to stop you from living your best life. We are a lot more capable than we let ourselves believe. After my injury, I went back to college, travelled the country, and had my own apartment for five years. I have attended dozens of music festivals and volunteered with many different organisations. My disability didn’t stop me. 

As tragic as this all sounds, my disability changed my life for the better.

Wheel with me

Helping others has always motivated me, which is why I work with the Wheel With Me Foundation, a Non-Profit organisation geared at growing the independence of wheelchair users. We host online events and in-person meet-ups to help wheelchair users connect. I also help manage Wheel With Me Fitness, an app created for wheelchair users by wheelchair users. This includes a Facebook support group where individuals can connect and support each other. Community is so important. 

When it comes to the change needed, communication is key. We must look at how people and organisations communicate with the disability community. Many lives are dictated by what others say or rules made by people who aren’t disabled. Change needs to happen in ways that will positively affect our community and independence. As tragic as the accident sounds, my disability has changed my life for the better. Before that day, I was on a path of destruction, and the accident gave me a new purpose in life and allowed me to help others along the way. 

I use social media to share my personal growth and experience, hoping this will empower others to do the same. You can follow my journey, Wheel With Me Foundation, and Wheel With Me Fitness.

Where you can find Brianna