When you look at 61-year-old Paula Jackson, you see a beautiful woman with a big smile. But once you get to talking to the Chino resident, you realize this is someone truly special.
For the past six years, Paula has been a regular Omnitrans rider. She admits she’s a bit of a daredevil.
“The drivers love to see me coming,” she laughs. “I have the fastest wheelchair in California. They never have to worry about me holding up the bus. I can back up that ramp and into my seat quick without having to get passengers to move over. I’m going to have to replace this chair soon, and I hate to give it up. I feel like I’m swapping my Jaguar for a Volkswagon!”
Paula wasn’t always in a wheelchair. She was 28-years-old and living in Indiana when her home was broken into in the middle of the night. During an encounter with one of the men, she was shot and left unconscious. The incident left her unable to walk again.
“My life started at that moment,” Paula says. “That’s when everything turned around. Before I was shot I felt like I was in darkness. Afterwards I was grateful for the second chance. I went back to school and got my high school diploma and later took some computer college classes.”
It also had a big impact on her family.
“At the time I was hurt, my son was 7 ½ years old, and it was a whole lot on him as a child. It made him grow up too fast. He was always very protective of me and felt like nobody could help me like he could. It was him and me against the world. Now he’s is 40 and he still helps out. We’re very close.”
Despite the challenges, Paula was not one to sit around feeling sorry for herself. She was determined to not let her injury keep her from things she really wanted to do. “People in wheelchairs are still people,” she points out. “We can do the same things everyone else does, just in a different way. Some of us even go mountain climbing or kayaking!”
“Can you believe that I didn’t get my driver’s license until after I was in the wheelchair? I’d had my driver’s permit plenty of times, but whenever it came time to take the test I froze and wouldn’t do it. During my rehab, my therapist gave me lessons on a car equipped with hand controls. After three weeks she sent me to the DMV for my driver’s test. I was so nervous and told her I wasn’t ready, but she said she had faith in me. I passed the test with flying colors.”
Today, Paula still enjoys breaking boundaries and trying new things. Although she loves public transit, she wishes it were available 24/7 so she could do even more. Her time at home is spent gardening, sewing or laughing at the antics of her 3–year-old Yorkshire terrier Korkee. She’s also an avid reader. New Mobility Magazine is a favorite because of the great personal stories people share. She feels that if everyone read it, it would cut through a lot of common misconceptions about people with disabilities.
“People are people,” she says again. “It’s what we do with our lives that matters.”
- Juno Kughler Carlson
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