Determined to succeed
Kathryn Millar is not fazed by the occasional odd stare she gets from other students as she moves between classes. “I have to show people I am comfortable with who I am,” she says.
A motivated academic, Kathryn manages a heavy study load of 5 subjects with impressive poise. Due to graduate with a double degree in December this year, completing university has been no small feat for the vivacious 24 year old.
Kathryn was diagnosed with cerebral palsy when she was 12 months old, and has never been able to walk on her own. Up until 2005, Kathryn moved with the assistance of a walking frame, but during her HSC year her muscle spasticity worsened, causing her legs to become very weak. Forced to become a wheelchair user, Kathryn admits the transition into the chair was both physically and emotionally demanding. “The hardest part was accepting the full extent of my disability,” she said.
But with her ‘can-do’ attitude in tact, Kathryn was not prepared to give up on her aspirations of becoming a history and social sciences high school teacher. “Attending university was always a goal of mine,” she said. In 2008, Kathryn moved from Campbelltown to UOW residence Campus East, where she has lived whilst studying her degree. As Campus East is the only UOW residence to offer wheelchair accessible accommodation, Kathryn admits her accommodation options were limited, but insists she has enjoyed living on campus. “I live with a great group of friends who don’t see the wheelchair,” she said. “My disability is non-existent to them.”
Kathryn says her experience as a student at UOW has been great. “I’ve had a really positive experience with how well my disability has been catered for,” she said. Kathryn says the UOW Disability Services provide her with academic support, and act as a communication channel between herself, subject coordinators and Campus East. The spasticity of Kathryn’s muscles means that she tires easily, but the close proximity of the UOW campus eases the physical demands of moving between classes. “I chose to attend UOW because it is the most wheelchair accessible campus compared to the majority of Sydney universities,” she said. “I would encourage any prospective students who are wheelchair users to utilize the services available to them,” she said. “You are your greatest advocate, you have to have the confidence to articulate your needs.”
“I am a big believer in communication, making people aware of issues can translate into positive changes,” she said. Smiling, Kathryn recalls the buzz she felt when she first participated in the ‘Living Library’ program. Chatting to a young disabled girl, Kathryn was able to relate to some of the challenges she was facing. “I have a lot to be thankful for,” she said. “I am lucky to be in a wheelchair and still be independent, I want to give back in what ever I can.”
Kathryn hopes that her participation in community initiatives like the Living Library program will help to reduce the stigma surrounding cerebral palsy. “People with a disability have the capacity to achieve great things,” she said. “With hard work and determination, anything is possible.”