Rising above disabilities, student thrives at Elmhurst College

Aknock on the door tells me to wake up. I turn over to press the door opener Velcroed to my bed. Still tired from doing homework the previous night, I get up at 8 a.m. for my 9:30 a.m. class. My assistant turns my DynaVox on along with my laptop. I greet her. As she starts to dress me, I’m thinking about the speech I have to transfer to my DynaVox so I can actually say it in class.

My assistant transfers me to my wheelchair and gets the cereal. I check my email. I have 11. “Normal,” I think. My assistant accidentally spills some cereal on me. I don’t mind. In fact, it is pretty much part of my normal routine. We transfer my speech for class and I am off.

I have to knock to get into class. The professor opens the door, “Hey Hannah Banana.” I smile and walk in. The professor begins with a lecture on Aristotle and his role in persuasive communication before our presentations. “I can handle this,” I decide.

After the lecture, I quickly raise my hand to go first in the presentations. Maneuvering my way to the front, I deliver my speech flawlessly, like a ballerina in “The Nutcracker.” I expect this out of all my presentations. If I don’t demand excellence out of myself, who will?

I am a 20-year-old in a wheelchair who is a full-time student at Elmhurst College using a communication device, my DynaVox, to speak. Who’s going to expect more than the bare minimum? I am.

After class, I take a shower with full assistance. After showering, I go to the coffee shop on campus and order my usual, a white chocolate Frio. Then, I go to the cafeteria where the staff members know me all too well-they predict my order.

During lunch, I am constantly getting waved hello to and the fraternity men know I always expect a hug. Yup, Elmhurst College knows Hannah Thompson! My assistant helps me use the restroom and do any last-minute errands before she leaves.

In the afternoon, I have privacy for a few hours, which I enjoy very much. I am preparing to be confirmed in the Catholic Church and getting a camera crew together for a documentary about my life, which takes up quite a bit of time. I am also an active member of a sorority, Phi Mu. My sorority sisters love me for who I am and are the last people to care that I have a disability. I am thankful for them every day.

One of my eight assistants arrives in time for dinner. After dinner my main focus is homework.

At the end of the day, despite the challenges, I make it a point to show a love for my life: I have friends who support me, scholars that embrace my talents and a family that would move heaven and earth for me.

They make it easy to be independent when it is a challenge.

After my assistant puts me to bed and shuts the door, I always think to myself: “You did it again and you will have the privilege of being independent tomorrow.”

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