Chapin Faulconer's story helps us understand who to include in "design that's usable by all people."

And not just in Charlottesville, Virginia, but anywhere.

Back in 1991, Chapin Faulconer was in a car accident the night of her high school graduation and sustained a spinal cord injury. Her injury is considered C4 complete which means she has no feeling or sensation from the chest down, but she does have some arm and shoulder movement.

She had already been accepted into college at The University of Virginia but deferred a year to work on her recovery. She ultimately completed her college degree and her Masters, also at UVA, and has become a successful, licensed counselor. It didn’t all come with ease though. Chapin shares honestly in her full-length interview about her experiences learning to deal with the emotional effects of her injury and how that impacted other areas of her life including her mental health and friendships. She did, however, have to find new hobbies which included painting with watercolors. She now considers herself an artist, which wasn’t something she thought she’d ever have a desire to do.

Chapin describes how her housing needs were met just after her injury and currently resides in a universally designed home that was such an unexpected find! She loves how it works for her needs and that she and her sister can share the home together. Even though she now works for herself, the first year out of college she experienced a big struggle in finding someone to hire her. She also had to turn down a job once because the location didn’t have an elevator.

Chapin has lived 25+ years with a spinal cord injury and encourages others to find something they enjoy and gives their life meaning. Whether it’s working part-time, or volunteering, it’s important to find things in life that are fulfilling.

Location: Charlottesville, Virginia, United States

Watch the interview:

Notable quotes from the interview:

A lot of my interests really had to change, and so I’ve always liked to read. I probably read more, and then, when I was in one of the hospitals I had an aunt who painted with watercolors, and so she brought me a watercolor set and so I continued that and so I now am also a watercolor artist!

I think probably the biggest thing would just be that there is life after disability. When I was in my second hospital this girl came and she was like dressed nicely and she was going to law school… and I was like “oh my gosh she looks nice and she’s not in these stupid clothes and she doesn’t have her TED hose up to her earlobes”… and I think for me that was an important glimpse for me that life kind of goes on.

When I’ve worked as a volunteer in a hospital or worked with clients that’s kind of generally been my message. You might not necessarily be able to work full time, but is there something that you can do or that’s important to you, volunteering… doing something that finds meaning or purpose so you don’t feel like life is over because you’re now in a wheelchair.

I am a licensed professional counselor, and I am basically a mental health therapist in a private practice.