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Chicago Service Provider Works with People Who Acquire Disabilities

by Ramon Canellada, Chicago, IL

I am Ramon Canellada, disability resource coordinator at Schwab Rehabilitation Hospital. I help connect disabled people with resources and information in Chicago and the surrounding suburbs. My position allows me an unique opportunity to meet people who recently acquired a disability. This includes young men and women who get shot in Chicago's mean streets, and individuals who have strokes or accidents. Some of the people I assist are undocumented. I witness first hand the despair that an undocumented person faces with when they acquire a disability and do not have health insurance or financial resources. Each person I've had the opportunity to meet has one thing in common: they encounter challenges and have to overcome them in order to improve the quality of their life.

I was born in Mexico City and lived there until I was nine years old. I am the second of four children. My mother's name is Pilar and that is what she is to me, a pillar of support and strength. My family is my motivation, support and inspiration, especially my older sister Ivonne. Her support helped me reach my potential.

I am a paraplegic. My disability is caused by a tumor on my spinal cord. I found out I had the tumor in 1995. For years before my diagnosis I lived with severe pain and spasms. During those years I could stand and walk. I never considered myself a person with a disability. I considered myself a non-disabled person waiting for the cure and for the pain to go away. Well, it did not happen. As the tumor grew it enveloped and squeezed the spinal cord and nerve endings, interrupting the messages to my lower extremities. One day I realized that my legs could not bear my own weight (at this time I only weighed 105 lbs.) I was very depressed and felt I wasn't worthy of the food I ate. I did not work or go to school. All I did was watch television all day. Also, I did not shave and wore pajamas all day. I longed for the moment that I was going to be cured and would be able to walk and run and jump.

But the cure seemed very distant. During all this time my sister and mom tried everything to cure me. Just to please my mother I even went to the "curanderos" (healers) and drank all kinds of mystic potions. The only running I would do after drinking and eating all this stuff was to the bathroom!

The doctors say the tumor has to be completely removed to keep it from metastasizing into a cancerous tumor that could spread throughout my body. The removal includes the spinal cord that it's attached to. If I were to have the surgery now it would really set me back. I don't think I would be able to play at the level of competition I'm at in Sled hockey with the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago Blackhawks. I would not be able to play in the Chicago Cubs Softball team, play basketball or work 8 to 12 hours a day. I also wouldn't be able to travel to conferences and sporting events through out the United States and still have time for friends and family. Even though I know a disability should not be an excuse to interfere in doing all the things a human being is able to accomplish, regardless the level of function an individual possesses, I still worry about feeling limited and having to depend on people again.

But my worries are in vain. I've met people who, from my point of view, couldn't have more challenges to overcome. Many of my friends and teammates, for example, who are "quads" or have multiple amputations, can push faster, throw further and hold their liquor better than me. Those individuals are great role models for me.

Part of the re-integration process is education. I don't mean get a Harvard education. I mean education about the rights and responsibilities we have in society and the resources that are available so people of all abilities, colors and races have an equal opportunity to obtain their American dream.