If Iris Young had listened to the neurologist who diagnosed her with MS in 1988, after some eight years of symptoms, she would have “gone home and had a nice life” — and little more. Instead, she said, “I kept looking till I found a doctor who said what I wanted to hear, that there’s hope and things people with MS can do.”
There certainly were. Iris, who’s been married 28 years and has a 24-year-old son, has stayed in the work force, running the Jewish Family and Community Services agency in Jacksonville, Fla. When she started there in 1983, there were seven staff members and a budget of $130,000. Today the agency has close to 100 employees and a $6 million budget. Among her accomplishments are helping to redesign foster care and creating programs for seniors in Florida.
This despite the fact that Iris is a functional quadriplegic.
She takes full advantage of assistive technology, using a hands-free head control — “like a motion detector” — to drive her wheelchair and operate an on-screen keyboard. She uses an environmental control unit to turn on lights and appliances, open and close blinds and doors, and use the telephone. “Options are much better today than in the ’80s,” she noted.
While Iris manages just fine in the work world, “sometimes folks aren’t ready,” she said. “They don’t always get that many parts of me don’t work, but my mind and mouth do.
“Everyone looks at you more in a wheelchair,” Iris continued. “They’re intimidated by the metal I’m sitting in and around. If I talk or smile first, people are put more at ease. My chair can raise up, so I can get closer to eye level. For me that equalizes the balance of power.”