Rising Above Limits and Labels

Shanna McCoy

From 1993 to 1995, Shanna McCoy served on the Governor's Developmental Disability Planning Council for Arkansas, and is still a member of the Arkansas Disability Coalition. Image courtesy Neurology Now Nov/Dec Vol. 6 Iss. 6.

This short article in the November/December 2010 issue of Neurology Now magazine is equal parts infuriating, saddening, and hopefull and uplifting. Quite a cocktail in one woman’s story, but it is an exemplary story of perserverance, advocacy, and why it is so important to fight the boudaries and limitations that some doctors and educators put on disability, and worse, on the individuals with disability.

At 18 months old, Shanna McCoy was diagnosed with cerebral palsy. The cause was severe brain trauma from a forceps injury during birth. Still, no one volunteered this information to McCoy’s mother; a receptionist had accidentally left McCoys medical records on the desk and her mother had decided to look through them.

The pediatrician had told McCoy’s mother that her daughter would never read, walk, or talk, to which her mother responded, “My daughter will be walking by the time I’m through.”

She was true to her word. It took McCoy a long time to even be able to sit and stand on her own, but two and a half years later she was walking, just like her mother had promised. Her mother didn’t stop there, and developed a grueling regimine of exercise, practiced reading, homework, and learning to walk–with the help of a 20-poind metal day brace and a 40-pound metal night brace. Of course there were battles between mother and daughter, and McCoy recalls her childhood revolt not to wear the uncomfortable night braces and sneeking them off when she thought her mother was asleep only to wake up in the morning and find that her mother had put them back on her while she slept.

McCpy also recalls the hurtful things that teachers and officials told her and her mother such as “She belongs in the retarded class,” the first day of first grade, or her fifth grade math teacher telling her “Instead of your mother puttin pretty bows in your head, she should have given you a brain,” and insisting that she wasn’t going to treat McCoy special just because her mother insisted on “window dressinf a retarded kid.” And while her own classmates treated her cruelly and teased her, McCoy’s mother gracefully stood arms against school board officials and principals demanding that McCoy be labeled “retarded” so as not to be judged unfairly on the basis of her physical disability.

But McCoy’s mother’s ever vigilant and grueling regimine of study and exercise soon saw McCoy on the honor roll. She joined the marching band and became heavily involved in speech and drama classes in junior high and high school. And just as her mother had said, McCoy was accepted into college.

But in the winter of 1990, McCoy’s mother, her rock and supporter, passed away. Devastated, McCoy told herself she couldn’t finish college, not on her own. McCoy recalls reflecting on all the confidence her mother had instilled in her over the years and she did go on to earn her degree.

McCoy continued to push the boundaries that doctors had put before her. Having been told as a child that she would never be able to have children, McCoy is now the proud mother of an 11-year old boy, Justin Tyler Abraham.

From 1993-1995 Shanna McCoy served on the Governor’s Developmental Disability Planning Council for Arkansas, and is still a member of the Arkansas Disability Coalition.

Read the full article in Shanna McCoy’s own words in the November/December Vol. 6 Iss. 6 of Neurology Now magazine or here on their website. You can also download the PDF version of the article here.

McCoy, Shanna. “Speak Up: Rising Above Limits and Labels—I Fulfilled My Dreams in Spite of a Cerebral Palsy.” Neurology Now 6.6 (2010): 40. Print.

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