The last 2.5 years have been a wild ride. I was in a snowboarding accident in December 2014, crushing my spinal cord and ultimately becoming a paraplegic, paralyzed from the chest down. When I woke from my surgery my whole life had changed. Immersed in a world that I naively knew nothing of previously – living with a disability, battling accessibility, stares and doctor visits, to name a few. Trivial stresses I thought mattered before now seemed like nothing. Sports and activities became fighting to sit up on my own and needing help with the simplest of tasks.
I learned very soon how lucky I was to have the use of my hands and arms. My accident could have been worse – brain injury and quadriplegia just a few inches of difference. Furthermore, how supportive my family, friends, company and community were in my recovery. This really put my disability into perspective and helped with acceptance of a new norm. Testing my patience time and time again, all I wanted was to regain my independence and get my life back on track. Eight months later – after countless hours of therapy, strengthened friendships, empowered love and a new found appreciation for all things life – I found myself ready to take the plunge in going back to work…this time in a wheelchair.
My employer, KPMG, had been super supportive over the course of my recovery, but likely had no clue what to expect of me after my accident. Candidly, I did not know what to expect from myself – would people understand my physical limitations and challenges? Could I keep up in a fast paced environment? Would I constantly battle a stigma with my disability?
That was over two years ago. My return to work has its share of embarrassment, anxiety, stress and uncertainty. However, it is heavily outweighed by pleasant surprises, milestones, and opportunities, in addition to immense personal and professional growth. I am fortunate to have had support among co-workers and mentors along the way.
Getting involved with OYW and the #valuable campaign is another one of those opportunities – a privilege and platform for raising awareness, providing support for others and sharing perspective. I know first-hand the challenges that people with disabilities face. The relentless pushing of boundaries to exceed what is expected and the desire to live unconfined by norms and limits. What is considered the norm these days anyways?
I’d love to think I have it all figured out, but I still have so much to learn from those around me, and those that have been doing it a lot longer than me. With that, I continue the journey to find strength in my challenges and hope others can do the same.
Shane Dwyer holds a BA and MS in Accounting from Michigan State University and works as a CPA for KPMG US LLP. He enjoys skiing, hiking, hand-cycling, hockey, travel and a frequent cocktail.