How My Disability Influences My Education, Career Path

When we think of the physical attributes we get from our parents, most refer to someone who may have brown hair from their mother and the same nose as their father. Rarely do we think about disability. I am the third generation in my family to have a neuromuscular disability called Charcot-Marie-Tooth. I take great pride in this, as it signifies how hard my relatives worked to live an independent life in times of increasing ableism. My life experiences as a disabled individual shaped my future education and career path. I feel incredibly privileged to have these family members and I consider them to be a wealth of information, especially when it comes to health and wellness.

My relatives all have experience with orthotic medical devices. Orthotic devices are artificial supports for joints, limbs and the spine. I have used two styles of orthotic braces, both of which my relatives have used as well. It was a reassuring sign and I was confident the bracing would benefit my health.

Orthotic and prosthetic design is one of my interests that I have been able to pursue through my education and life experiences. Most orthotics are made of thermoplastic, meaning when it is heated up it can be molded. This material serves its purpose well, but it is quite uncomfortable for the user due to its hard shell. I can attest to this discomfort: I used a back brace for a year to treat scoliosis. Unfortunately, I later required surgery. As my surgeon put it, back braces aren’t specifically made to cure scoliosis. Instead, they are used to prolong the time until surgery is necessary. It is better to wait until a child has fully developed to perform surgery. This information was frustrating. I had spent a whole year wearing an uncomfortable brace only to find out it wasn’t supposed to fix my spine.

My personal experience with this topic has sparked a spirit of innovation. What if we found a better solution? Orthotics is a subject I could talk about for hours. I am inspired by the opportunity for innovation and providing better solutions to patients.

About Riley Hurt: Riley lives in Salem, Oregon, and uses a Stretto Power Wheelchair for mobility. Riley is enrolled in college, pursuing electrical and computer engineering. She hopes to make her future field more inclusive for people with disabilities. Click here to learn more about Riley.