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March is Cerebral Palsy Awareness Month

March is not only Women’s History Month, but also Cerebral Palsy Awareness Month.

In 2006, the Reaching for the Stars advocacy group, run by parent volunteers, realized a cerebral palsy awareness day didn’t exist and established March 25 as National Cerebral Palsy Awareness day. According to the Cerebral Palsy Guide and Cerebral Palsy Foundation websites, the group chose a St. Patrick’s Day green to be the official CP color. 

(Image courtesy of Cerebral Palsy Foundation)

Cerebral palsy, in general, is a condition caused before, during or after birth by permanently severe brain damage or irregular brain development that affects the brain’s motor system, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The affected people have difficulties controlling most body movement, coordination, posture and/or balance.

One process to diagnose which type of CP a person has looks at the affected body part. CP types include hemiplegia, diplegia and quadriplegia CP, according to the Cerebral Palsy Foundation. Hemiplegia CP affects the extremities on the same side of the body. Diplegia CP affects mostly the legs and slightly the arms. Quadriplegia CP affects all extremities. The other diagnostic process looks at awkward body movement patterns. 

Arcelia Mendoza competes in the El Paso 5K Marathon Sunday, Feb. 13, 2022. Mendoza finished it in 50 minutes. (Photo courtesy of Concepcion Mendoza)

Cerebral Palsy is the most common physical disability in children worldwide. A child is born with a type of CP hourly in the U.S. All these CP types may improve or worsen with time depending on the length of treatment and therapy provided.

While Cerebral Palsy Awareness Day — since its first celebration — has become a global event in which the lighting of buildings all over the world and recently world-famous landmarks have gone green on March 25, the whole Cerebral Palsy Awareness Month consists of advocating for positive changes to educational, health care and occupational systems so people with CP receive better opportunities.

The growth of this event has made more people with CP and other conditions want to share their stories, and various advocacy organizations ensure those stories are heard nationwide.

As a woman with CP and an advocate for people with different abilities, the month of March signifies a lot for me personally since I first became aware of it. During birth, a lack of oxygen damaged the motor part of my brain. Eight months later, I was diagnosed with quadriplegia CP. I can’t control most of my body movement, but I can still learn, think and feel like any ordinary person.

People may think my condition implies a lot of life limitations, but really the only limitations that exist are the ones you create for yourself. Although CP limits my mobility, I still can exercise, type and speak my thoughts, do my coursework, transport myself and so on, using special equipment, technology and methods.

For exercising, I usually ride my special tricycle, which has straps on the pedals, a seatbelt and back rest with a harness belt. All these special features provide me enough stability and support to be able to drive the tricycle by myself. I even have done five-kilometer marathons on my tricycle. I also wear special gloves that help my hands grab weights appropriately when I weightlift.

“During this Cerebral Palsy Awareness Month, I want to raise my voice to say that cerebral palsy or any other challenge is a struggle, not an impossibility.”

Since this condition also affects my speech, I use an augmentative and alternative communication device, named Accent 1000, to talk, complete my assignments and pass my classes. An AAC is either a portable computer or digital tablet/iPad with a software app that lets me type whatever I want to say and speaks it out for me. I access my Accent 1000 with a Bluetooth joystick, which is the same one I use to drive my wheelchair. To access my iPad, I use my left elbow or a Bluetooth switch named Blue2.

For mobility, I need a power wheelchair daily. My wheelchair has a seatbelt and foot straps to give me leverage so I can have more control, coordination, better balance and posture of my body. Attached to my wheelchair seat is the mount that holds up my Accent 1000 and iPad. Programmed with different settings to drive my chair, adjust the seat and access digital devices, the joystick is on the left side since I control my left arm better than my right.

As I do things differently to accomplish the same or different results of success, other people with different abilities do so as well. One could have the courage, talent and ability to be successful in sports, while others could have the intellectual courage, talent and ability to be successful in academic and professional life. People with different abilities have the same energy, enthusiasm and ability as ordinary people to be successful in the personal, academic and professional aspects of life.

During this Cerebral Palsy Awareness Month, I want to raise my voice to say that cerebral palsy or any other challenge is a struggle, not an impossibility. A struggle that makes each one of us unique and authentic, making this world more diverse. A diversity that deserves to be treated with equality.

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