Karen Roy has lived most of her life in a wheelchair. When she was 19, she was shot in the back during an armed robbery, resulting in a complete T-10 spinal cord injury.
After being told she would never walk again, Roy remembers her first question, “Can I still have children?” The answer she received was yes. “At that point of my life, all I really knew was that I wanted to be a mom. As long as I could do that, I would be fine,” she says.
Roy is the mother of three young adults, Caroline, Austin and Joseph. She and her husband, Phillip, who passed away in 2016, were married for 20 years.
When her children were young, Roy managed like any other mom. She had a co-parent in Phillip, and her mom also provided babysitting help, but she remembers, “If I needed to go to Walmart, I loaded the chair and the kids, hauled the groceries, and went home. I didn’t really think much of it and neither did the kids because that was normal.”
Roy believes that benefits her children now. “They don’t see people with a disability as any different,” she says. “My kids don’t see the disability. They see the person. That’s an advantage in life.”
Now that her children are out of the house, Roy has turned her attention to advocacy as Ms. Wheelchair America. Her platform is Stand for Life.
“Stand for Life has a double meaning–obviously, physically for me, it means to stand up as much as possible to improve your health. It’s also meant to stand up for your rights to have the technology that makes you healthier or more independent,” she says.
Through her recovery, Roy learned about electrical stimulation bicycles and different standing devices. “I realized early on they were the key to me being healthy again,” Roy says.
Although doctors discouraged her, she told them, “But my legs are still attached to my body, and I’m pretty sure my skin, bones, and muscles still affect the health of my body.” Roy was absolutely right, and in the years since, she has never had a pressure wound which are often common among people who use wheelchairs.
“Sitting too much has become an issue for all able-bodied people,” Roy says. “We’re learning how unhealthy it is to sit all the time.” People who need devices to help them stand must pay for those completely out of pocket, but Roy is working to get standing equipment covered by insurance.
“I’ve said the same thing for 31 years, but then I put a crown on my head and people listen,” Roy says. “I don’t know why it works, but it does.”
Roy works for Numotion, a custom wheelchair and medical supplies provider, which has been her main Ms. Wheelchair America sponsor and has allowed her the flexibility to travel. As Ms. Wheelchair America, Roy has been to 20 cities in 17 states so far.
She is also writing a book about her life story, which she hopes to finish after she passes on her crown in July. She even regularly blogs on her website. Roy is persistent in her advocacy, and she works hard to “stand up” for the the rights of the 56 million people in the United States who are living with a disability. ■