Advocating for people with disabilities

On The Road…

Article written about Ms. Wheelchair MD 2015.

Gaithersburg woman crowned Ms. Wheelchair Maryland by Kate S. Alexander Staff writer.

The accident that paralyzed Kimberly Jordan-Gaskins of Gaithersburg happened quickly.

One moment, she was a woman who had just turned 20 years old, riding with friends home from Norfolk, Va. The next, she was paralyzed from the waist down.

“In as fast as a blink of an eye, my life changed from what seemed to be freedom to what felt like bondage,” she said.

Jordan-Gaskins — now 41 and recently crowned Ms. Wheelchair Maryland 2015 — recalls vividly the car accident more than 20 years ago that took her ability to walk.

“I can’t even describe the pain,” she said. “It was probably the worst pain I had ever felt in my entire life.”

The vehicle she was in that day flipped five times, throwing everyone but her from it, she said.

When she came to, Jordan-Gaskins said, she was no longer in the back seat. Her head was hanging out the driver’s side door, one leg was going out the front window, the other out the back.

“When I looked at myself, I knew possibly my legs were broken,” she said. “Never thought I was paralyzed.”

Life for Jordan-Gaskins was just beginning. Yet she has refused to let her injury keep her from living.

Today, Jordan-Gaskins drives a car with hand controls, works full-time for the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, and is a busy mother of three. A mezzo soprano who was studying music when the accident happened, she still sings in the community.

Jordan-Gaskins said she can do everything — except walking — her doctors told her she’d never do again.

Now, she works to help others with disabilities find their inner strength and talents.

“When I first became paralyzed, I remembered asking, ‘Why? Why do I have to do this?’” she said. “My body began to change and look different. My legs looked different and my ankles were bending and I didn’t like that at all.

“But I remember, when I was laying in the hospital bed, I said I have to make a decision on whether or not I’m going to live or die,” she continued. “I wasn’t on my death bed. It was an emotional thing. Am I going to let this thing take over me or am I going to take charge of it? After some time, I stopped asking why and I just kind of owned it.”

In November, Jordan-Gaskins was crowned Ms. Wheelchair Maryland 2015, an honor given each year to a Maryland woman who uses a wheelchair full-time to get around and is an advocate for those with disabilities.

In July, she will compete for Ms. Wheelchair America in Iowa.

Jordan-Gaskins is a strong advocate for people with disabilities, and, as she says, is “rolling in her purpose.” Her platform and passion is reaching their emotional and personal needs.

“I think that if we don’t focus so much on the physical and we focus more on what’s going on on the inside, then it all flourishes and the physical becomes minute,” she said.

With two friends, Jordan-Gaskins co-founded Women on Wheels, or WOW, an organization to empower people with disabilities by providing personal support.

It’s not as easy to talk about the inner struggles that come with a disability as it is to talk about accessible buildings and public accommodations, she said.

By sharing stories of struggle with tasks such as using a restroom or taking a shower, and even with depression and self-worth, WOW women provide one another friendship and support.

Jordan-Gaskins said family and friends helped her overcome the personal struggles she faced following her accident.

Seeing her father, Zachary Jordan, cry after the crash helped her find inner strength.

“To see that, for me, that was my, ‘OK. I’ve got to be strong’ moment,” she said. “I don’t care if I have to be in this wheelchair. As far as my daddy is going to know, I’m going to be OK.”

Jordan-Gaskins has moments when she wishes she could do everyday tasks more easily. “But I just then shake that off and thank God I have life,” she said.

She credits her grandmother, Marguerite Jordan — who sold her home and moved to help take care of Jordan-Gaskins after the accident — as her inspiration.

“She’ll laugh and say, ‘My goodness, baby. You go more now that you in that wheelchair than when you did when you was walking. You don’t let no grass grow under those wheels, do you,’” Jordan-Gaskins said.

Finding the Ms. Wheelchair Maryland organization opened doors for Jordan-Gaskins.

“It was like heaven to me,” she said. One of her goals for the coming year is to bring others into the organization.

In her family, her neighborhood, her office and her circle of friends, Jordan-Gaskins said, she was the only one with a disability.

“I really felt alone and by myself,” she said. “Once I met these young ladies [with Ms. Wheelchair Maryland], it was just like: OK, this is it. I fit in.”

On December 14, 2014, the Ms. Wheelchair Maryland Organization held our 5th Annual Teen Holiday Party and Extravaganza at the Medstar National Rehabilitation Hospital. As it has been for the past four years, it was a great success. We enjoyed the festivities with live music by Dj Ezzy, arts and crafts that included making ginger bread houses, stuffing pillows and designing your own cup. Each child or teenager was given gifts and we also had a proud teen winner of a 40 inch flat screen TV. We had a joyous time dancing, laughing and fellowshipping amongst one another. We truly enjoyed spreading Holiday Cheer. Happy Holidays from the Ms. Wheelchair Maryland Organization!

As the current Ms. Wheelchair Maryland, I am committed to speaking out against any form of discrimination against the disabled community. On December 2nd I had the opportunity to go before the county council to speak against the Bill 54-14 not requiring transportation network application companies and their drivers to provide accessible vehicles for people with disabilities. The current law in Montgomery County states that licensed taxi companies has a duty to accept and transport persons with disabilities and provide accessible taxicabs. I get up Monday through Friday and use public transportation to get to my good government job just like the many others who are not disabled. How dare you tell me that I can’t hop in a cab just like the next person. Not as long as my name is Kimberly Dawn Jordan-Gaskins. One thing is for certain and two things for sure…I know how to write a letter and I have a pretty strong voice! We will be heard!

On Wednesday, November 26, 2014 I had the pleasure to join some of the most humble people I have ever met in my life. Hundreds of men, women and some children who are less fortunate waited in line to be served a warm, delicious meal. As they waited patiently in line many of them gave me hugs, kisses on my hand and took pictures with me as if I were the Queen of England. There was a warmth I will never forget. Santa visited and walked around greeting everyone, taking pictures as they sat and ate. I have to add that the volunteers from Goodwill were the absolute best, very friendly people. This experience reminded me of what this season is about…giving.

On November 22, 2014 Ms. Wheelchair Maryland 2015 and the Assistant State Coordinator of the Ms. Wheelchair Maryland organization, Ms. Shannon Minnick arrived bright and early in the bitter cold to line up with the rest of the participants in the parade. We shivered and sipped on hot chocolate as we waited with big smiles on our faces. As we approached many in the crowds, wishing them a Happy Holiday, the most meaningful moment was to see a little girl in a wheelchair full of happiness to see that there is actually a Ms. Wheelchair Maryland. At that moment I could feel a since of hope from her that one day she too could be crowned Ms. Wheelchair Maryland. Moments like this made us forget about the cold and remember the importance of us getting out there showing the world that we do exist.