​Creating My “Normal”: My Journey as a Disabled Teacher-in-Training

Posted by Savannah in Life After Paralysis on October 19, 2022 # EmpowHer Stories

Savannah Merriam-Webster defines normal as “conforming to a type, standard, or regular pattern; characterized by that which is considered usual, typical, or routine”. Well, from the age of five, my life has been anything but “normal”. In my early childhood, I was diagnosed with a rare neuromuscular, autoimmune disease after experiencing symptoms of sudden and extreme weakness paired with an unusual rash. Not having a normal childhood was a very odd experience- what child is on four medications and knows the names and dosages of all of them? I was not able to run and play with my friends. Often, I sat at a picnic table with a book during recess instead of playing on the playground. I simply did not have the strength or the energy to do so.

Out of everything in the chaos of my life, two things were constant: education and the disability community. I attended a summer camp for other kids with neuromuscular diseases for nine summers. I was paired 1:1 with a counselor and lived in a bunk with other girls my age for a week. Getting to go camping from the ages of nine to seventeen was the best experience of my life. I looked forward to seeing my friends every year and enjoying a week of pure fun. I could participate in any activity I wanted, as accommodations were made to make them all accessible. I even rode a zipline, which I would not have been able to do in any other instance if it weren’t for camp.

In high school, disability advocacy became a more prevalent part of my life. I participated in my school’s Best Buddies program for three years and was an aide in the special education classroom during my senior year. That year was very formative; I was finishing my high school career and getting ready to begin my college journey. My senior year truly solidified that I wanted to major in education in college.

The transition from high school to college was challenging at first. For the first time in my life, I would have to be fully independent. So many questions raced through my mind: what would I do if I dropped something? I can’t bend down to pick it up. What if I fell? Would I just have to lay there until someone stumbled across me? In the months before college, I made sure to get in touch with the disability services on my campus and get accommodations. For me, life has always been adapting and making things my definition of normal. If I encounter an obstacle, I can find a way to make things work. Almost four years later, I have made an incredible group of friends and have had a world of experiences that I would not have had if I had not left my comfort zone and experimented with the unknown. The unknown is a very scary place, but every once in a while, it’s okay to see what’s out there. Who knows, you might just like what you find!

From playing pretend school with my stuffed animals to now teaching living, breathing children, being an educator has always been in my blood. In this field, I can combine the things I have always been passionate about. I’ve had people say to me, “Savannah, how will you do it?” assuming that being a disabled teacher will limit me. To this, I always respond with, “I will figure it out.” My disability cannot and WILL NOT impact my ability to be an excellent educator. My goal is not only to teach my students- but I also want to be someone they can trust and look up to. While the idea of leaving my college comforts is scary, I am excited to see where this new chapter of life takes me. I am ready to face the unknown and craft my version of “normal.”

Savannah is a young adult from Maryland. When she isn’t being a disability advocate or in “teacher mode”, you can find her listening to Harry Styles and Taylor Swift, taking pictures of the sunset, and petting any animal she can get her hands on. She is studying early childhood and elementary education and plans to move back to her hometown to teach.

Savannah wrote this blog as a part of the Disability EmpowHer Network and the Christopher & Dana Reeve Foundation collaborative blogging program, which uplifts the voices of women and girls with spinal cord disabilities.

The National Paralysis Resource Center website is supported by the Administration for Community Living (ACL), U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) as part of a financial assistance award totaling $8,700,000 with 100 percent funding by ACL/HHS. The contents are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily represent the official views of, nor an endorsement, by ACL/HHS, or the U.S. Government.