My name is Alex Elegudin. I run Wheeling Forward, an organization that empowers people with disabilities to achieve their goals, whatever they may be. Our organization is unique in that we take on some of the most challenging and underserved areas of need in the disability community. We work with young people in nursing homes: we provide power wheelchairs to those in need, just to give you an idea of some of the work we do.

I was studying biomedical engineering at Carnegie Mellon when I became paralyzed due to a deer-related car accident. I’ve been in a wheelchair for nine years now, a long time. But in that time, I graduated from Brooklyn College and Hofstra Law School, and have tried to stay as active as possible. Early on, somebody told me, “You are going to be the same person you were before you were disabled.” At first I thought that was impossible; I thought I’ve never be even close to who I was. Yet, the idea kind of stuck with me. and over time I started realizing that my habits, the things I enjoy, the way I function, my good qualities — and my bad ones! — were actually pretty similar to before my injury. You may have to get creative and adapt how you do things now, but the person you are at your core doesn’t really change.

I really think that disability has given me a sense of power that I never had before I was injured. Prior to my disability, not many people outside my mom or my girlfriends cared about what I had to say. Now, I regularly get invited for speaking engagements, and to consult on policy decisions. I’ve also been able to use my experience to help those just beginning to deal with their disability and that led to the creation of Wheeling Forward. I enjoy this new empowerment and know it will only become stronger as I progress through life.