by Kelsey Chase ’24 (she/ her), Staff Writer
We Are Wildcats is a human-interest column that aims to share the extraordinary within the ordinary at Davidson College and to showcase the inspiring things that make each and every Wildcat unique. If you wish to be featured or feel someone’s story needs to be heard, please feel free to contact firstname.lastname@example.org! Stay tuned for future stories! This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Q: What’s your name, class year, and major?
A: My name is Sarah Todd Hammer. I’m class of 2024, and I’m working on creating a disabilities studies major.
Q: Tell me a quick background about yourself.
A: I’m from Atlanta. I’m 19. I have a condition called acute flaccid myelitis or AFM. I’ve been disabled since I was eight years old, and I have paralysis in areas of my arms and hands from my disability. Having this disability has made me really interested in disability activism and advocacy. I’m hoping to pursue disability advocacy as a career.
Q: How did your disability activism start?
A: It definitely didn’t start right away because I was eight years old when all of this happened to me. But I very quickly started to realize that I encountered challenges that non-disabled people don’t encounter. I ended up meeting a lot of friends who have disabilities and even the same diagnosis as me. For example, my best friend to this day, Jen. She’s four years older, and she lives in Chicago. She has a similar condition to me, and we decided to write our stories about our disability journey together and then put it into a book. This was just a random idea we had one day when I was 10 and she was 14, and I found the whole experience really fun with writing our book together. It became this big thing. Once we wrote one book, we decided to do a lot with it because we realized it made such an impact on other disabled people, parents of disabled people, and caregivers of disabled people. So we decided to keep writing our books, and that led me into becoming really interested in speaking at schools—I did career day at my old elementary school which was really fun. I’ve done book signings, and I’ve spoken at symposiums for my disorder and on podcasts. I’ve also branched out to writing articles for magazines and making TikToks and Instagram Reels. So yeah, it all just kind of started with that first book I wrote with Jen, and we’ve written two more since then together. I’m actually working on one on my own right now that I’m hoping to publish sometime this year.
Q: How do you think having a disability has shaped your perspective on the world around you?
A: Honestly, I’m really thankful for my disability, and a lot of people think I’m so weird to say that, but I really am enjoying my life. I do have extra challenges that non-disabled people don’t have. But I’m really thankful that my disabilities made me aware of the challenges that other people face, even people who have disabilities like mine. I feel like I’m more aware of them than I would have been if I didn’t have a disability. It’s also helped me to just connect with so many people and make so many friends that I wouldn’t have otherwise, like my best friend Jen. I just feel like I’m a better person because of my disability, and I love that I’m able to use my disability to help other people.
Q: What stereotypes about disabled people do you think need to be broken?
A: The main one, I mean of course there’s a ton, but the main one that really bothers me the most is people thinking disabled people can’t be happy or enjoy our lives. It comes from people just having this fear of disability, thinking it’s the worst thing that could happen to someone. Of course, we all want to have our health, but that doesn’t mean that we can’t still enjoy our lives, even though we have these extra challenges. I would say that’s the main one, because I love my life. Yes, it’s harder, but I enjoy my life and my disability doesn’t take away from my happiness.
Q: How has Davidson supported you and your accommodations?
A: Davidson has been so great, I have so many housing accommodations in my room. I have a bathroom in my room because I needed an adapted shower. I can’t take a shower in the normal shower because I can’t reach my hair to wash it, so they put in a little shelf on the wall so I can put my elbow on the shelf and then reach my hair. They even put in a button-controlled touchpad to turn the shower on and off and change temperature. They adapted so many things in my room; they added handles to the desk drawers and the closet so I’d be able to open them. They added room temperature control because I have impaired body temperature regulation. They’ve been so helpful. In Commons and at Union and the Den, all of the workers are always so willing to help me carry my food. Everyone’s just really helpful; they’ve been very accommodating so I feel really welcomed.
Q: What do you think Davidson could do better for people with disabilities on campus?
A: I feel like the discussion surrounding disability could be improved. Usually, if disabilities are included when we’re talking about diversity, it’s kind of an afterthought or just kind of included to include it, but then nothing’s actually done. I feel like there could be more conversation surrounding disability, and maybe when COVID is over, it’d be really cool to have some disabled speakers come to campus. I think Davidson does a great job with campus accessibility. There are buttons on doors, but sometimes the buttons break, and then I find myself not being able to get into a building, so maybe making sure that the buttons to buildings are always functioning.
Q: How has COVID affected your life as a person with a disability?
A: It’s definitely been harder. I haven’t done much at all the past year, like I haven’t even been to a grocery store in a year. It’s definitely been tough, but I’m really thankful I’ve been able to actually come to college because I know that wouldn’t be possible for me as a higher risk person at schools that aren’t doing anything to help keep the kids safe. It’s definitely been harder, but since I am getting vaccinated Monday I’m seeing the light at the end of the tunnel. I have been frustrated with how some higher-risk people have not been put as high on the list for vaccines as they should have been. But as far as Davidson goes, I’ve been pretty happy with how they’ve handled it, like having testing twice a week and having some rules to protect us. The rules definitely haven’t been perfect, and there are discrepancies, but compared to other schools, I feel like they’ve done a good job working to protect people.
Q: Do you have any advice for future freshmen?
A: If I’m talking about disabled freshmen, I would say to definitely make use of the disability office and take advantage of the resources that you have in terms of getting accommodations. Also, really try your best to advocate for yourself. It’s sad, but you do have to do that to get what you need sometimes. I would always love to talk to any freshmen or disabled freshmen as well if they need advice for disability things or if they want to have a new friend. With incoming freshmen in general, hopefully it’ll be better in terms of COVID. Try to get involved in as many things as you can, even if you might be shy or scared to meet new people. I feel like I’ve met so many people, and I’ve been so happy here my freshman year, especially compared to my high school. Definitely trying to get out there and get as involved as you can because there are so many sweet people here. Meeting people is always great.