If Cherith Jones were passed on the highway, no one would think anything different of her Chevy truck. Few know it has a Canadian lift system, which is necessary to boost her wheel chair from the ground into the driver’s position.
Jones, a senior psychology major, got her license when she was 18 years old. Born with a genetic birth defect called spino bifida, she is unable to feel anything from the waist down. But this has not deterred her from buying her own groceries, cheering with fellow students in Couch Cru and attending college classes.
She said the best part of driving is “just having that freedom and being able to go whenever I want to go. Being independent is such a huge deal for someone with a disability because you have to depend sometimes (on others) for a lot.”
After spending four years at Odessa Comm-unity College in her hometown, Jones transferred to UMHB knowing she wanted to pursue a degree in psychology. Others seem to be able to talk to her easily, and she enjoys taking conversations to deeper levels.
“I really like listening to people’s problems. I really do,” Jones said. So she thought, “Why not get paid for it?”
Jones hopes to continue her education at the university by getting a master’s degree in counseling after graduating in May 2009.
Junior social work major, Daniel Alejandro, said, “At first, I was kind of intimidated because she has a strong personality. She’s not shy.”
Alejandro, like others, was worried he might offend Jones by asking about her disability.
“I was afraid that I might say something wrong,” he said. “But as I soon found out, it doesn’t really matter because she’s one of us.”
For another friend’s birthday, Alejandro and Jones created what they call a “Batman movie” by play-acting in front of their digital cameras.
One of the scenes starred Jones in her wheelchair as she chased Batman, played by sophomore Gordon Eggleston.
“She’s always in (the games) and likes to have fun with us,” Alejandro said.
Jones has resolved to help make others at ease around her.
“Being able to laugh with your disability and to have fun with it and to talk about it, I think that makes people a lot more comfortable,” she said.
Alejandro said she is outgoing and talks openly about herself.
“She makes jokes out of it, too.” He said, “She’s like ‘I’ll kick you.’”
Junior piano performance major Hannah Horton is also a friend of Jones.
“(Cherith) participates in all the activities we participate in. It doesn’t hold her back at all,” Horton said. “She’s one of us.”
Being seen as just another person is one of Jones’ desires. She doesn’t want any special attention or sympathy.
“I really like when you find a friend that sees past (the disability) and is willing to be a jerk to you sometimes and is willing to tell you how it is,” she said. “I think that’s great.”
Being in a wheelchair doesn’t keep her from having fun, but is the avenue for exciting adventures for Jones and her friends.
From boys wanting to play in her chair when she adds, “You break it. You buy it,” to others dancing with and spinning her at school dances. Horton remembers a particular trip to the grocery store.
“Well, it’s pretty fun going to Wal-Mart together because sometimes I’ll push her in her chair and she’ll push the cart. So (while) making the really wide turns around the aisle, we just have to make a sharp turn to the other side … so that’s pretty fun,” Horton said.
The two, as of yet, haven’t had an accident on their adventures.
“People pretty much get out of our way,” Horton said. “We’re just like ‘Whoa. Turn.’”
Jones said that people without a physical disability may not comprehend exactly what she is going through, but that everyone can realize all people have the same basic needs.
“They can’t understand what it’s like to never walk,” Jones said, “but they can understand how you feel. Everybody goes through sadness. Everybody gets lonely. Everybody gets homesick. Everyone wants be loved and accepted.”
The soul inside every person is similar.
Jones said acknowledging this makes acceptance of others necessary, no matter what their differences are.
“I think … people just (need to) understood that the packaging is different, but there’s nothing different there,” she said.