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.”