“Earning my Wheels” Snapshots of Self Determination

Jul 22, 2011
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Self-determination “encompasses concepts such as free will, civil and human rights, freedom of choice, independence, personal agency, self-direction, and individual responsibility”.[i]

The idea of free will and freedom of choice rings true across the decades, whenever I was told as a child that I would not be able to do something due to my disability, I turned the supposed “cannot do” situation into a mission to prove the general assumptions wrong.  One example that I often think about took place during the summer of 1973.

I was 11 years old. I was tired of riding a tricycle,- a child’s bicycle.  All of the kids, my age, in my neighborhood were riding two-wheeled bicycles.  I wanted a two-wheeled bicycle to ride with them.  My mother never said “no” outright to situations I wanted to try.

When I asked my mother to buy a two-wheeled bicycle, the “no” reply was invisibly there.  Concerns were expressed about riding a two-wheeled bicycle because of balance struggles.  Could I balance myself?

My mission to see if I could balance and ride a “typical” bicycle began.  While my parents were at work, I convinced a neighborhood friend to let me borrow her two-wheeled bicycle.  From June to August, I had skinned knees, scrapes, and bruises, but I learned to ride.   I earned my “wheels”.  My mother bought me the two-wheeled bicycle.

In February of 1978, I had to earn my “wheels” again.  I wanted to learn how to drive a car.  Despite the looks of panic on the Driver Education Teacher and worries of my family,  I learned how to drive.

“The freedom to travel where and when we want to permits freedom to seek employment, attend social activities,  and in general become involved in the main stream of life.”[ii] Earning ones wheels often begins with self-determination by overcoming the silent “no.”


An innovative program which encourages people with disabilities to learn to ride a bicycle is:

“Lose the Training Wheels.” (http://www.losethetrainingwheels.org//):

(www.mossresourcenet.org/drive.htm),  provides information and a factsheet on adaptive driving.

[i] University of Illinois at Chicago National Research & Training Center (2002). Self-determination framework for people with psychiatric disabilities. Chicago, IL: Author. http://www.psych.uic.edu/UICNRTC/sdframework.pdf

[ii] http://www.mossresourcenet.org/drive.htm

Author: Aldea LaParr