Five years after graduating from Gettysburg, I was diagnosed with a debilitating illness. It has changed me in countless ways, the most obvious is my mobility. I have learned to overcome barriers, and I now put that knowledge to good work increasing access for people with disabilities.
As a wheelchair user, I face challenges on a daily basis. I could write a book on the negotiating skills I need to navigate the walking world.
Emotional barriers are trickier to handle. Chronic illness can cause isolation, and I am sad to say that I let my connections to Gettysburg lapse. I wanted to preserve my college experience as an “able-bodied” one. For me, it was a carefree time of exploration, learning, and social growth—of sunny days on campus, engaging classes I excelled in, hard-fought athletic matches, parties with good friends, and a seemingly endless supply of beverages.
Cutting off communication allowed me to hide waves of pain that sometimes threaten to overwhelm me. I feared that former friends and associates would no longer want to connect. But a FIJI brother helped me realize that cutting myself off was not a measure of preservation. It meant the death of G-burg Randy—the loss of the person I was in College. Instead, I needed to piece together my past.
He showed me how Gettysburg could help my cause; he urged me to reach out to the College, the alumni, and the students; he argued the point of interconnection—all good pieces of advice from a guy who has a solid career in persuasion. I had my doubts, but over time, with practice, and thanks to social media, I experienced a renewal.
At reunions, I am not one of those people who has “not changed a bit.” Sometimes recognition is painfully slow to dawn. Once fellow alums get beyond the wheelchair, they see the things that have not changed: my wicked sense of humor, my sincere gratitude for like-minded friends, my love of celebrating a
Friday. My life has not mirrored my classmates. It has been a difficult and wild and wonderful journey.
And so I invite you to learn about me and my experiences, to share your own, and to see if there are ways we can connect, ways that we can further the cause that has come to define who I am as much as the years spent in Gettysburg that I could never give up.
Randy Earle ’91 (left) founded We Will Find a Way to help businesses serve the needs of their customers with disabilities and increase access so that all people can be active members of society. He lives in Seattle with his wife Leslie and his Pembroke Corgi, Gus (photo lower right). Reach Randy and read his blog at wewillfindaway.org
Provided by Randy EarlePosted: Thu, 6 Mar 2014