Although she grew up with a disability, Kelsey Kleimola didn’t become truly immersed in the disabled community until her reign as Ms. Wheelchair Michigan in 2014. “I would cast my vote in a couple IEPs and spoke up when I wasn't able to use the restroom because of accessibility, but those were all very informal things,” she said.
The people in her life including her husband are able bodied. “I didn't know I was missing anything until I met other women in the community who struggled with the same issues, and whom I could lend a voice to,” she explained. “My reign as Ms. Wheelchair Michigan gained some attention, and I heard of SILC through that venue. I'm honored to be able to further use my story and experiences to help others.”
She was diagnosed with cerebral palsy at 10 months old. Born at 28 weeks gestation, Kelsey wasn't hitting the milestones other babies did at certain ages. She couldn't roll over or sit on her own. After her diagnosis, the doctor told her mom she would never be able to walk, talk, hear, or see, “that my best hope for a life would be watching it pass me by while looking out a window,” said Kleimola.
Today, she is very passionate about her work with MISILC. “Although it is in the ‘job description’, I believe one of the most important things the SILC is doing is in writing the State Plan,” she said. “This is fundamental in how a CIL is run, and the Council has people from various backgrounds looking at and giving a voice to the plan.”
Kleimola also believes that it is imperative that people with disabilities not only be instrumental in helping to write the plan, but that able bodied people are able to see the plan from a new perspective. She explained, “This ensures that nothing is overlooked when it comes to needs being met and services being provided, something that not many organizations have behind them.”
She is married with two children, ages 6 and 8.
Despite her disability, Kleimola is passionate about many things. “What fueled me to begin advocacy work is my children,” she said. “I felt like, when my husband and I chose to begin to start a family, we had to jump through many hoops. Between opinions of family and friends, to the opinions of doctors, everyone assumed that it would be too difficult for me.”
Always ready to prove people wrong, Kleimola also didn't want anyone else going through the same thing she has gone through. When making the decision to start a family, many people insinuated that she couldn't be a good mother and that she was selfish for wanting children. “Upon delivering each of my children, a social worker was sent to my hospital room,” she recalled. “On an assumption made by the nurses caring for me, (Having C-Sections to Deliver), the social worker came to my room intending to help me work through how I was to care for my children.”
Because this was an assumption, the social worker was unaware the new parents had been planning for months. They already ordered a special crib and playpen made so she could access from her wheelchair. “I informed the social worker her services weren't needed in either case, and during my reign, I wrote a letter to the head of nursing at the hospital I delivered at,” she said.
Employment for people with disabilities is also her passion. “The unemployment rate for this area of the community is staggeringly high, and too many well educated, intelligent people are being passed over simply due to the fact that they have ‘extra needs,’” she noted. “It's so important that people with disabilities feel as though they're a part of the larger community, and living as independently as possible.”
Right now, Kleimola is looking forward to reviewing and revising the state plan and to continuing her education in the advocacy world and forging new relationships along the way.