My Life As a Disabled Person — Marlene Benedicto

Hand writing on paper, wearing warm sweater.

This week we’re excited to have Marlene Benedicto from share her story with us. She lives a normal life as a disabled person and has kept a positive outlook which we admire. Here’s her story. Plucky Magazine

Where It All Started — Birth

I was born with Spina Bifida, which is a birth defect that occurs when the spine and spinal cord do not form properly during pregnancy. The damage to my spine caused paralysis from the waist down, which means that I have to use a wheelchair. 

In addition to Spina Bifida, I also have hydrocephalus, an accumulation of fluid in the brain. When I was born, I had surgery to repair the opening in my spine and a few days later I had a shunt implanted in my head to drain the excess fluid from my brain.

What Childhood Looked Like

As a child, I had multiple operations to replace my shunt and a scoliosis surgery that left me fighting for my life after it got infected. My health problems as a child were challenging, but luckily I have not had any of these issues as an adult. 

I was born in the early 1980s, so I grew up at a time when disabled kids were beginning to be integrated into society. When I started kindergarten, my parents decided to enroll me in a regular public school, which greatly benefitted me throughout my life. At an early age, I had friends and peers who were able-bodied and I learned how to adapt to the rest of the world. I remember having birthday parties and going to my friends’ houses just like any kid my age would do. I always felt like I was no different than my friends. My parents made sure I had a normal childhood, despite being disabled.

Gaining Independence and Starting My Career

Despite being in a wheelchair, my family, teachers, physiotherapists and occupational therapists encouraged me to be independent. Prior to my scoliosis surgery which hindered some of my mobility, I was able to get in and out of my wheelchair by myself. I could even climb up and down the stairs of my parents’ house. Basically, if I could do it on my own, I would.

Once I graduated from high school, I applied to college. My dream career was to become a journalist. I didn’t get accepted right away, so I took a general arts and science program for a year to earn some credits. I ended up getting accepted to a journalism program the following school year. 

Towards my final year of college, I decided to start the process of moving out of my parents’ house, which was located in a suburb of Toronto. 

I knew my best bet at finding a job after graduation would be if I lived in the city, so I applied to the Gage Transition to Independent Living in Toronto. This program teaches disabled people how to live on their own and direct their own care with the assistance of personal support workers. Once I got accepted into the program, I lived there for about 2 ½ years before finding a permanent apartment that had 24-hour attendant care services. During this time, I graduated from college and got my first job.

I have learned a lot in the years since I moved out of my parents’ home, finished school and gained employment. I’ve learned that with the proper resources (like attendant care), I’m capable of living a ‘normal,’ independent life as an adult living with a physical disability.

You can read more from Marlene on her blog, like her post about speaking assertively and asking for assistance as someone who’s shy.

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