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By Daniel J. Vance

Clara Cartrette is the lifestyles editor of the Whiteville News Reporter in North Carolina. She runs this column when her section has space. And she said reading it along with you has opened her eyes.

“I've learned about so many disabilities I wasn't aware of,” she said in a telephone interview. “The real joy in reading it is seeing how some of the people interviewed cope with their disabilities. Certainly, your column offers a challenge to people with disabilities and it is educational for people not having to deal with a disability.”

Cartrette said she always has been sensitive toward people with disabilities. In particular, she remembered two people, the first being Timmy.

“At age six, he was accidentally backed over by a car driven by his aunt,” she said. “As a newspaper reporter, I had to interview this boy who was likely never to walk again. I asked him, 'What do you want to be when you grow up?' He didn't say 'I'd like to be a building contractor.' Instead, he said, 'I am going to be a building contractor.' I attribute his confidence (in part) to being in Shriners Hospital in Greenville, South Carolina.”

He was paralyzed from the waist down. Years later, Timmy was in high school marching band and would play his instrument in parades while a friend pushed him in his wheelchair. He also learned how to swim. Timmy died at age 20, probably from a kidney infection, before he could fulfill his dream of being a contractor.

“Also, the sister-in-law of a lady in our office had a premature baby,” Cartrette said of the second person. “The baby was given oxygen, which resulted in blindness. He weighed only a pound and a half at birth. Eventually, this lady brought the baby into work and the first time I touched him there was a bond between us, something special.”

Cartrette said this boy struggled being mainstreamed in a “very rural” school district. The school board tried hiring a special teacher for the blind but didn't have any qualified applicants. In time, the boy's mother sent him to a school for the blind.

“He was gifted with guitar and I remember him performing once in front of an arts group. There wasn't a dry eye in the place.” In fact, he performed well enough to qualify for the state competition.

For more, see www.danieljvance.com