An accomplished young woman with two engineering degrees has not let her disability stop her from achieving great things for herself as well as advocating for others.
This amazing young lady with degrees in mechanical and biomedical engineering from Carnegie Mellon University, was diagnosed with a rare neuromuscular disorder, Spinal Muscular Atrophy Type II (SMA) at the age of one. She received Early Intervention Therapy from teli to address childhood developmental delays caused by the disorder.
Heather was diagnosed with SMA Type II which affects motor neurons in the spinal cord causing progressive muscle degeneration and weakness. Heather’s parents were concerned about her inability to crawl or move similarly to her peer group. They immediately searched for supports for their child, found teli and began to receive Early Interventione (EI) services. teli was one of the first agencies in the Pittsburgh area to provide these services through federal funds authorized by Congress in 1986 under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).
THE teli IMPACT:
“I was too young to remember,” says Heather, “but my Mom remembers traveling to teli’s Center based program in the South Hills to receive Occupational, Physical and Speech Therapy.” Heather received Early Intervention Services through age 3, at which point she transitioned to outpatient services through middle school. “That early start was important to get me on the right road for the future. As I got older, I was able to reduce the amount of therapy.”
Heather now works as a research coordinator at the University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health and is close to completing her master’s degree in Public Health. To realize her goals, Heather credits her parents for instilling in her the importance of academics and establishing friendships, so she could be like any other student vs focusing on her disability. “I am not saying my disability wasn’t a big part of my life but it wasn’t the only focus. I had my school work, I wanted to go to college. I had a great group of friends with whom I still keep in touch. I never had the feeling I didn’t fit in. I went to a normal public school and I did the normal things that kids that age did.”
Heather’s intent is to make an impact for the disabled by ensuring that they have a voice. “I want to be sure to fight the battles that need to be fought to ensure access is not an obstacle for another person,” explains Heather. “The future really excites me! “ Heather was just recently crowned Ms. Wheelchair USA and has begun to interact with a variety of people such as legislators and officials as well as business leaders and advocacy groups, allowing her to have opportunities to raise awareness.
Heather’s advocacy is focused on the things that so many of us take for granted such as day to day accessibility in the areas of transportation and parking. The lack of accessibility can be very isolating to people with disabilities purely because “they can’t get there”. She has tried to impress upon people the value of “prior planning” of the use of accessible elements rather than thinking about them after the fact.
Follow Heather’s journey on her blog www.theheatherreport.com to learn more about her love of fashion, theatre and much, much more!
” Don’t focus on your disability, it is a part of your life but don’t dwell on it, live your life no matter the challenges.”