Real Life Stories of a Disabled Mom: Ableism & Pride

Posted by Kieran O'Brien Kern in Life After Paralysis on August 18, 2022 # Lifestyle

Earlier this month, I sent my kids to a vacation bible school that was not our flavor of faith but within scooting and walking distance and a lot of fun. Picking them up was a game - when the doors would open versus when I would become a human baked potato from waiting in the sun. As an aside, for most of my life, in and out of religious settings, random people have asked me if they can pray for me or my healing. Sometimes this was followed by them trying to convert me to their faith of choice (at times, this happened so often it felt like there would be bonus points for bringing in the wheelchair user).

So, after three days of trying not to become crispy in the sun, out of the blue, this lady approached me on the fourth day of vacation bible school. I’m friendly, so when she introduced herself and started chatting, we exchanged pleasantries. When she asked if she could pray for my healing, I felt suddenly nauseous and pulled out my standard reply, “You can if it makes you feel better but, I’m absolutely fine.” I willed her to fade back into the sea of waiting for parents to no avail. She just kept pressing the issue. I am a person of faith and don’t begrudge anyone’s belief system. However, when they use it to overtly cast ableist tropes onto me, I sever communications as quickly as humanly possible. In this instance, I was locked into a spot to pick up my kids with little to no room to exit with ease. I focused on the front doors, willing them to open as the women went on and on in minute detail about how sacrifices were made so I could be saved and healed to be the way I was supposed to be. Until then, I had remained silent, just staring at the door, letting her go through her spiel. But the phrase “how I’m supposed to be,” stuck on me, because if she meant innovative, creative, funny, and full of love …well, I was already that and more. But if her definition was something else… it was time to speak up.

“I am exactly who God wants me to be,” I replied in my pleasant yet firm mom voice. Because I am, and with all her ableism behind she said, “No.” At this point, the doors opened. I told her our conversation was over and wheeled off to pick up my kids… had the doors not opened, I would have considered making a scooter-shaped hole in them.

On the fifth and last day of school, she approached me clutching a fistful of pamphlets and tried desperately to give them to me. Clearly, I refused and wished her a good day somewhere else. I told my girls about the exchange the day before, and they were shocked that the person came back to try to “heal” me again. And the lesson I shared with them from experience was this. There may be people who shout in your face to make you feel small and try to get you to change parts of you that are beyond your control, but there also may be people who whisper poison into your ear.

I held my ground and was proud and confident to be a disabled woman. It is one of my many identities. Disability doesn’t equal broken, and by the same token, when a “friend” whispers to my girls who don’t fit in their view of what’s acceptable, I hope they remember to hold their ground and know that they are exactly who they are supposed to be.

I’m Kieran Bridget O’Brien Kern. Power is literally my middle name. When my husband and I became engaged, we agreed that parenthood was a two-person job. I am the primary caregiver to our children, but we all work as a team. From infancy onward, we have adapted and grown together. Every day there is a new challenge. Every new challenge is an opportunity to learn more about them and myself.

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.