Edmonton·Point of View

It's not just my battle. Together we can make a difference

Ceilidh Corcoran became disabled at the age of 40. She had to learn to navigate her surroundings in an entirely different way. She hopes her experience will help others understand the importance of accessibility.

An Edmonton woman is using her disability to advocate for accessibility

Ceilidh Corcoran uses her wheelchair to cross a busy downtown street. (Sam Martin/CBC)

Becoming disabled and losing the ability to walk like the average person was not something I thought would happen to me at the age of 40.

I have a diverse background in urban design and city planning which allows me to have a unique perspective on universal accessibility.

I used to think I was so aware of my urban environment, but I have encountered so many challenges I had never thought of before, and it has changed me.

About four years ago, I started having pain right around the area where your leg meets your body. I call it the crease. An MRI showed that I had bilateral femoroacetabular Impingement, or FAI.

Basically it meant that there was too much bone in my hip sockets. I had combination FAI in both hips that had significantly torn the labrum, which is like the gasket that keeps the hips and legs secured.

A problem with her hips led to Corcoran becoming disabled in her 40s. (Ceilidh Corcoran)

The diagnosis was swirling in my head. I had never thought it was my hips. My legs were always my strength, my foundation.

My life became pretty limited. The financial impact was immense and trying to get a job while navigating my condition became a challenge.

In October 2016 I had my first hip surgery. It was an incredibly long and painful winter. My recovery was not going as quickly as I had hoped. It turns out that the recovery from this surgery is more difficult than recovering from a total hip replacement.

In April 2017 I had my second surgery, and by the end of June I was limping again.

I started back to work in July of that year. By August I was using crutches, but by September I needed a wheelchair.

That first night with the wheelchair I stared at it, trying to believe that it was temporary and that I would get better, that I just needed it to get around.  

Ceilidh Corcoran shows us the challenges she faces while trying to navigate the city in a wheelchair. 1:54

Without the help of my friends to get around those first few days, I don't think I would have pushed through.

As I began to venture out, there were sympathetic smiles and kindness from strangers. I found myself educating my friends and the people around me to my needs, finding the grace to understand that people can't possibly know what it's like.

With a wheelchair comes stigma

There is a stigma that because I use a wheelchair that I can't walk or that I can't possibly work. I can hobble around and stand, which surprises people at times.

Doctors tried to help me again in April 2018, but that hip scope failed to fix the pain.

Now I have three mobility devices — a scooter, a wheelchair and crutches. At times I can use all three in one day.

The scooter provides me independence to go to work on my own. I take the bus as much as possible. Most days I let everyone know — in a positive tone — when it's my stop. I ask kindly that they move so I can get off.

Corcoran uses her scooter and several other devices to help her get around. (Ceilidh Corcoran)

Since I became disabled, I see the world through new eyes: curbs I can't climb, businesses I can't visit, pathways I can't manoeuvre.

Without the mobility I do have, I don't think I could get around on my own. There are places that I have to go up a ramp, open a door, and manoeuvre my wheelchair to get in. It's impossible!

It's not just me

In other establishments I need to ask for a key to use the accessible washroom. Talk about losing my dignity.

But it's not just me. Our population is aging — our parents will need accessibility, we will need accessibility, our children will, and that need can change at any moment.

I want to educate others on ways that we can change. There are wonderful programs like the Rick Hansen Foundation, which will come into your business and certify if it is accessible.

These days, things are starting to stabilize for me. I've recently been diagnosed with a connective tissue disorder which explains why my surgeries failed and why I am the way that I am.

I have started using my crutches more. I have to choose what I can do daily because pain prevents me from doing the things I used to.

Sometimes, Corcoran uses crutches. (Sam Martin/CBC)

Generally, people are very kind and helpful. I wouldn't be where I am today without the tremendous support of my best friend, my co-workers, my other friends, my chiropractor, my faith and my children.

The moral, physical and spiritual support I've received has got me through some very dark days.

My 17-year-old son helps me with household chores, and my friends help out when I need them. I'm so grateful for the people in my life.

My friends have told me they look at things differently now because of me. They tell me of now noticing places that I wouldn't be able to manoeuvre, and what small changes could be made to improve accessibility.

That makes my heart warm and my need to make a difference stronger. You can become a part of the disability minority group at any moment. A loved one's life can change; your life can change. Mine did.

Be more kind, and help strangers

Disability awareness and inclusion are things I am passionate about now and will continue to pursue.  

Let's be more kind to each other and help strangers when they need it.

Open that door. Do an extra-good job shovelling, and shovel your neighbours' walk, too. Compliment a stranger; there are so many things that can make a difference to one person.

Let's make changes to our urban environment so that our aging population and people who are disabled can get around. Together we are the key to making it a better world for everyone by doing the little things, and thinking of our future needs.

I hope that you have read this and realized that you, too, can make some changes. You can help someone, and create the changes that can make a world of difference to someone who needs it.

Simply put, let's be kind to all, let's plan for our future, and let's include everyone.

It's not so bad if you can get around.

About the Author

Ceilidh Corcoran had to learn to navigate her city all over again after becoming disabled. Now she wants to help advocate for accessibility.

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