01/22/07 — Accessibility group chairman wants to make life easier for local disabled

View Archive

Accessibility group chairman wants to make life easier for local disabled

By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on January 22, 2007 1:45 PM

In 1993, Joann Robinson was involved in a head-on collision that claimed the life of her 13-month-old son. Doctors held out little hope that she would survive and she spent five months hospitalized in intensive care.

She defied the odds and now wants to help others do the same.

After extensive physical, speech and occupational therapy and countless surgeries, she was released to her home in Dudley, where her therapies continued for two more years.

Ms. Robinson received training through vocational rehab and also studied about developmental disabilities at Wayne Community College, thinking she would one day work with others like herself.

Her education was interrupted when she was hired by the Social Security Administration in 1999. She continues to work there as a service representative.

Also a member of the Mayor's Council for People with Disabilities, at 44 Ms. Robinson said she is ready to take on some new challenges. Her latest came in the form of being named chairman of the accessibility group.

"We look at handicapped stickers, how doctors give them out, checking into temporary disabilities and whether a temporary sticker could be given out," she explained.

Her first order of business is to ask questions about the guidelines and how they apply.

"The main focus is for people in wheelchairs such as I," she said, pointing out that she doesn't refer to herself as handicapped. "I'm disabled, limited in doing things."

She believes there are likely others who feel similarly.

"We want to be part of the community and we want to be treated as everybody else, equally," she said. "Hopefully one day we can move to where if it's people in the community that need ramps or need something that's in our reach, we can get somebody to go build a ramp or build what they need. That's one thing that I desire to do."

She credits vocational rehab with providing her with needed support at the outset. Being in the hospital for such an extended period, she said social workers had plenty of time to line up services so that upon her release, they were in place.

It is her hope to one day be in a position to lead people to the services they need, she said.

Beyond assistance through therapy services, though, sometimes where people need help most is in the area of self-esteem.

She saw the value in such a service when her church, Alpha and Omega Christian Church, formed a house ministry that catered to those experiencing long-term illness or were recovering from surgery.

"We'd call and give them an encouraging word, try to get what they need," she said.

Ms. Robinson said she knows firsthand how it feels to deal with any kind of long-term recuperation.

"When you're homebound, the enemy can get to your mind and convince you that 'nobody loves me, nobody cares,'" she said. "If you have got somebody calling, coming by, it makes you feel good."

She credits her pastor, Frank Dawson and his wife, Lynette, with supporting her throughout her own struggles. The strength she drew in her time of need is something she now feels compelled to pass along.

"In my job, I have a chance to see a lot of people that are handicapped or disabled," she said. "Sometimes it's just whispering a prayer, giving them strength."

Ms. Robinson often visits churches or is asked to talk about her experiences. Her message is simple.

"I go to tell them how God, not only did He heal me back in the day but He's still healing me today," she said. "From a crushed body until now, I can drive my own car."

That does not mean she has not grieved the loss -- of her small child, of use of her body.

Today she lives with her 25-year-old twin daughters Tawanda Williams and Lashanda Miller and three grandchildren and said she tries to keep life in perspective.

"It's not to say that you're not going to think about it or you're not going to think about where you used to be, but if you keep your eyes focused on getting better and better, you'll become more happy than just sitting there doing nothing, sobbing every day," she said. "If you take what was bad and make it for your good, it will make you more happier, more positive, more complete."

Regardless of how others see you, she said, it is important to first love yourself and know who you are.

"I think about this a lot. I had to learn, either I'm gonna live or I'm gonna die," she said. "Instead, I said, 'I'm gonna live.' Not to say I won't have a pity party day, a moment.

"But God has given me strength, that inner strength. He'll just give you that peace."

Thirteen years ago, she said she was crushed in that car accident, but she wasn't broken.

"People should not take for granted the ability that they have today, because when I woke up that morning, I never thought that I would not be coming back home until 10 months later," she said.