“If you want to do something, you just have to figure out how to do it. There are not many things I won’t try at least once,” says Lakeland Care member, Stephanie.
Stephanie, a 31 year old woman living in Green Bay, was born with Osteogenesis Imperfecta (O.I.), also known as “brittle bones disease.” O.I. is a congenital condition manifested by weak bones and for some, short stature. After graduating high school in 2005, Stephanie attended St. Norbert College and graduated with a Bachelor of Arts Degree in Political Science. Given her interests in disability rights and advocacy Stephanie considered going to law school after graduation, but instead decided to work on disability policy in Washington, D.C. She describes her time living and working in the D.C. area as a “challenging, growth experience.”
Stephanie came back to Wisconsin in 2010 and became a volunteer working with inmates at the Brown County Jail through the Norbertine Volunteer Community. She credits this experience for influencing her choice to go back to school to obtain her Master’s Degree in Pastoral Counseling from Loyola University in Chicago. After living in Chicago for three years Stephanie moved back to Green Bay and rented for a while until her current disability-accessible apartment became available. Stephanie is grateful to have an accessible place to live because she knows that not everyone with a disability is as fortunate; affordable housing is an issue across the United States, but it’s acutely difficult for people with disabilities.
“There have been times were I have had to re-think about what ‘independence’ means as a person with a disability. I have redefined my relationship with my disability to think more about being ‘interdependent’ and recognizing that allowing others to help me live a life full of vitality isn’t about being incapable, rather, it’s about honoring my limits and strengths,” she says.
Stephanie joined the Family Care Program in 2017 and is grateful for the support that Lakeland Care provides. She says, “With Lakeland Care, I have the sense that I’m more than just a member. I’m more than my medical diagnosis. For me, that’s really important – to be seen beyond my wheelchair.” The services she receives allow Stephanie to truly live “independently/interdependently” in a way that’s safe and comfortable.
Stephanie uses a power wheelchair during waking hours and in the past, she’s struggled to receive a wheelchair that meets her needs. “Being a little person presents its own set of unique needs and to have a wheelchair that enables me to successfully navigate the world means more than words can capture.” She also utilizes in-home technology; an app on her smartphone and iPad helps with things like locking doors and turning on lights by simply pressing a button. This kind of assistive technology supports Stephanie to live more safely than before, when she had to climb on furniture to turn her lights on and off.
“Disability or no disability, anyone, by virtue of being human, will encounter road bumps. It’s how we navigate them that can make the difference.”
Stephanie is engaged throughout the Green Bay community, working with different volunteer groups and advocating for improved services for those living with mental health diagnoses. She co-facilitates a class on self-advocacy skills for high school students with varying disabilities, helps medical students practice certain skills, and has her own counseling practice. She also volunteers at the local homeless shelter and at a local drop-in resource center for people experiencing homelessness. Stephanie says “Being an engaged member of my local community, volunteering, and doing my best to leave the world a little better than the day before helps me stay true to my belief that, whether we want to acknowledge or not, we ARE all interdependent. I’m glad that I chose Lakeland Care and it’s because of my care team that I can continue to be me – disability and all.”