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Erin Murphy’s Challenges and Victories

The campus, and Boston, seen from a wheelchair


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In the video above, Erin Murphy explores what it means to wheel through this world.

For most of us, bad weather is a nuisance, not a showstopper. But for three-time Boston University graduate Erin Murphy, who happens to be wheelchair-bound, the weather is just one of many ways her life can be put on hold.

Murphy (CGS’99, CAS’01, SSW’07) was born with spina bifida, a developmental birth defect that results in incomplete formation of the spinal cord. Its most obvious effect is that her legs don’t work.

A late-winter squall would be “a temporary life-changer for me because I can’t wheel through snow,” she says. Year-round, she plans ahead and gets to a supermarket if it’s looking bad out there; since driving is not an option and it’s impossible to wheel while carrying shopping bags, she hangs as many bags on the back of her chair as possible, rolls home, and heads back for more. If it happens to be raining, she gets soaked — you’d need three hands to wheel while holding an umbrella.

Murphy daily confronts challenges her able-bodied friends never consider, let alone notice. All it takes is one roadblock to exclude her from a social or professional event.

“Applying for jobs can be really challenging because I may not want to disclose my disability right off the bat, but usually have to,” she says. “I learned this the hard way, by arriving at interviews only to find out that I can’t get up the stairs or the doorways are too narrow or the bathroom doesn’t have any bars.”

But Erin Murphy does not see herself as a victim. She’s had this disability since birth, learned to live with it, and ends her description of life and its complications by saying, “It’s all worth it in the end.” She has earned two degrees and a certificate, holds down two jobs, and looks ahead with optimism and clear goals: “I hope to be happy first and foremost, to have a successful career. I would love to get married one day and certainly have children. There’s a lot that has prevented that from happening, but I am human and have the same hopes, dreams, and fears as you do. We all want to be respected and accepted by the people around us.”


21 Comments on Erin Murphy’s Challenges and Victories

  • 09 grad on 03.25.2010 at 2:55 am

    I won’t even pretend to say I know what it’s like to be in a wheelchair on the BU campus, but having rolled a blue cart down the (slanted, bumpy) sidewalks many times, I will say I have *so much* respect for you, getting around every day and keeping a positive attitude. I hope you’re able to achieve everything you work for. Keep it up! I know I for one will always make sure to shovel the curb cutouts from now on.

  • Anonymous on 03.25.2010 at 8:10 am

    Erin, Yours is a very


    Yours is a very inspiring story. You will be able to do anything you want to, so continue to reach for the stars and thank you for doing this piece – it certainly brings awareness to many of us.

  • K on 03.25.2010 at 8:49 am


    WONDERFUL story! The more education and awareness the better. So much of BU’s campus is inaccessible or minimally accessible and most able-bodied students/faculty/staff are unaware.

  • Anonymous on 03.25.2010 at 9:12 am

    crazy not a bigot

    It is easy for a minority to assume everything odd they experience is because they are different. As a ‘mainstream’ white male, I have been spat upon and hit by homeless people. I don’t believe these happened because of my lack of disability, I think they happened because a lot of homeless people are clinically insane and drug addicted.

    Good luck on your journey to being accepted, I wish you well.

  • Anonymous on 03.25.2010 at 9:20 am


    An inspiration to us all!

  • Anonymous on 03.25.2010 at 9:39 am

    Thanks Erin

    Thanks for this article/video. Hopefully it helps students and staff to think twice when encountering a student, teacher, colleague or friend who is less able bodied than them. To remember that physical impairments and challenges are not what make this person who they are. I knew Erin as a freshman and am very proud and please for her and her achievements. She is truely a very special person.

  • Anonymous on 03.25.2010 at 10:56 am

    Your story is truly an inspiration! This has certainly given me a new perspective on the challenges that wheel chair user face every day. I know that you are determined enough to achieve everything that you want in life.

  • Anonymous on 03.25.2010 at 10:57 am

    @”crazy not a bigot” – I can’t believe that after watching and reading that entire presentation, that this is the portion of the story you choose to comment on…and comment so inappropriately. Do some research on the conditions of minorities you speak of and of those “clinically insane and drug addicted” homeless individuals you reference. Did it ever occur to you that being homeless is a risk factor for mental illness or drug addiction and not the other way around in most cases? I’m suddenly getting a clear picture on why you, a “mainstream” white male got spat on…

  • Anonymous on 03.25.2010 at 11:42 am


    Erin brought up a good point, that I never thought about before: discrimination of the handicapped.

    When the homeless man spits on Erin, and calls her an “Effing Retard,” no one says anything: because she is wheelchair-bound. However, if Erin were not wheelchair-bound, but, let’s say, an ethnic minority, the world would go in rage and all the media would cover it.

    Having said that, I think it is great BU Today has filmed a beautiful mini-documentary, incorporating Erin’s enlightening quote.

    We all need to try to become more aware of our preconceived notions, along with what we say to whom in what context.(Agreed: That’s a lot of work. But, hopefully, over time, it will come naturally to us, and we won’t have to think so hard.)

  • Anonymous on 03.25.2010 at 11:46 am

    Erin, truly inspired by your story. Im aware that students, teachers and staff maybe treating less able-bodied students differently, and your story clearly indicates you are no different, and dont want to be treated differently. Wish u luck in all your endevours!!

  • Anonymous on 03.25.2010 at 1:56 pm

    Thanks for making this, Erin! You are a beautiful person and I am proud to say that I went to the same school as you.

  • Leija on 03.25.2010 at 10:38 pm

    thought provoking

    I found this topic both interesting and informative. Erin, you’ve highlighted a segment of society that is discriminated against and also in need of illumination. I applaud BU Today for choosing to feature this profile on you and the obstacles you face on a day-to-day basis. It shouldn’t be commonplace for anyone to have to navigate rough terrain physically, culturally, literally, or otherwise. Each of us can benefit from not taking certain things for granted, not judging someone based on their appearance or other distinguishing characteristics. Each day could be made better for everyone if we were all more thoughtful and compassionate and gave the respect we want for ourselves to others who cross our paths. I hope in life we each get out of it what we put into it. If that notion holds true, I believe Erin will reap the benefits of the awareness she’s sown and the positivity she radiates.

  • Anonymous on 03.26.2010 at 3:00 pm

    Watching this video suggests that we give ourselves permission to discriminate against the disabled and ignore their challenges because they are not as vocal as some groups and their advocates are not among the most powerful. It’s obvious that Erin is not a quitter. She is determined to strive for the same opportunities that are available to most but denied to a few. Let’s hope that Erin’s voice inspires us to reach beyond ourselves to undo the injustice of discrimination so that Erin and others like her can enjoy everything that is good about our society.

  • Anonymous on 03.26.2010 at 3:56 pm


    What a wonderful story! Please do more articles like this one! I would love to see a Part II of this story because I am sure this is just scraping the surface! Can you do a day in the life story? I am wondering if people can comment on accessibility within other regions in the U.S. and abroad in comparison to Boston? Would Erin be able to comment on her experiences related to this?

  • Anonymous on 03.26.2010 at 4:05 pm

    The RIDE

    Erin, this is really eye-opening for me as an able-bodied guy, I really hadn’t thought of all the things you need to take into consideration just to get to work and live your daily life. I was just thinking about how some of the T trains these days are accessible, but as recently as three or four years ago that wasn’t an option and you had to go up stairs just to get on the Green line trains. I was wondering about how you get around and used to get around? Do you use the mbta’s RIDE?

  • Anonymous on 03.26.2010 at 4:38 pm

    THANK YOU - from Erin

    Thank you to everyone who posted a comment. Let’s keep the conversation going! I welcome questions from anyone and everyone!

    Yes, riding on the T is difficult and my morning commute can, at times, bring me to tears. I have indeed applied for the RIDE and my application was DENIED. Their reason: The RIDE cannot accept an application based on diagnosis or use of an assisted device (in my case, a wheelchair). I just appealed this decision and this appeal was denied. The application requires information from me and my physician and I am in the process of appealing their decision again. I am a bit baffled about what else they want from me, considering that I explained my needs and my doctor attested to my claims.

    Other regions of the country and world… I LOVE Boston. It is my home and I have learned to deal with the fact that it is old and not as accessible as other regions of the country such as Washington D.C. and Seattle. I have only had the opportunity to travel to Canada and England. Canada was pretty wheelchair-friendly and England’s accessibility was varied. London was awesome but traveling outside of London was tough. Can anyone out there suggest a wheelchair friendly place that I should visit?

    Keep the questions coming!

  • Anonymous on 03.27.2010 at 10:44 am

    Great video. You handle everything with such grace!

  • Mary Ellen E. Osburn on 03.29.2010 at 10:25 am

    Erin's profile

    Having known Erin since she was an SA in orientation many years ago, she is a true inspiration for any BU student! I am so very proud of all she has accomplished so far, and wish her all the best as she continues to break her personal barriers every day!
    my best wishes to you!!
    -Mary Ellen!!

  • Chris M. on 03.29.2010 at 7:35 pm

    Wonderful. Always glad to see more awareness and education being put out there. I’m a current student at the school of social work myself. I have Cerebral Palsy and use fore-arm crutches most of the time, but am seriously considering going to a wheelchair for regular use. People with disabilities have to advocate for ourselves, because as many other comments have said, most people just don’t think about these issues usually.

  • Joanne on 03.29.2010 at 11:58 pm

    Great job Erin - awakens us all to the your courage/message

    Erin, you have always amazed me. You have such poise, class, courage, spirit, resilience, strength, intelligence and patience for the world who has no clue about a day in your life and those in wheelchairs.

    The things you have shared with me are experiences that NO ONE should ever have to be confronted with no matter what the circumstances.

    I believe that you are the guardian angel for those less fortunate than most of us… You are a great voice of inspiration and getting the message out there – keep telling your story as you are telling the story of so many….

    You are a wonderful and gifted Social Worker – you are a treasure and a valuable person. I can’t believe that you aren’t teaching at our BU School of Social Work, working for the Mayor, the Gov – what a role model, liason, communicator, messenger and all around great person. You have always touch my heart and soul and I know that you have made an impact on so many lives, not just the client’s you see but your colleagues, supervisor and friends.

    Thank you – bless you and love you my friend,

  • Carrie on 04.08.2010 at 8:52 pm

    how can I not comment?

    This story touches me in so many ways … I took courses at BU during high school, I have an undergraduate degree from BUCLA, a Master’s degree from BUSFA, I worked for Metropolitan College while working on a PhD from GRS, and . . . I’m in a wheelchair!

    The thing that rankled the most was having grab a passer-by to climb the steps at SFA to get the security guard to go open the wheelchair-accessible door! Grrrr. The names of the schools have all been changed, some of the accessibility may or may not have.

    Anyway, I am married and have two teenagers now. Keep, fighting, Erin! I appreciate it.

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