‘I’m not stupid. I can’t walk – there’s a big difference.’
Katrin may not be able to walk but she has a voice, and isn’t afraid to use it. Born with Cerebral Palsy, which is a condition that affects body movements, Katrin lives a full and independent life.
To Katrin’s immense frustration, she has faced prejudice and people’s ignorance all her life. Sadly, this continues to be the case in 2023, with many in the community viewing her as other and treating her differently.
She gives an example of the sort of treatment she experiences on a weekly basis.
‘I was in Coles, doing my grocery shopping with my Support Worker. I tell her what I need, and she puts it in the trolley for me.
‘And there were these two older ladies, they were walking behind me in the aisle. I was driving along in my powerchair, doing my thing.
‘And I heard them say to each other “oh, it must be so terrible!”
‘They were talking about me.’
Katrin has many stories like this, enough to fill several books. Tired and fed up with being treated differently, of being continually singled out, Katrin doesn’t suffer in silence.
‘I turned around in the aisle and I said to the ladies, “excuse me, I can hear what you’re saying!”
‘And they just ran the other way. They nearly jumped out of their pants!
‘A lot of people think because you’re in a wheelchair, there’s something wrong with you.’ Katrin says.
‘They just assume that every person in a wheelchair can’t do anything, they don’t have a life.
‘I have a life just like everyone else does.’
When Katrin was seven years old she had a muscle release operation to loosen the hamstrings and adductors on both her legs. After the surgery, Katrin had to live in broomstick plasters for six weeks. It wasn’t a pleasant experience.
When Katrin was in her twenties, she did a computer course where she met her first husband.
‘He was quadriplegic from a motorbike accident when he was only 19. We were married for four years then we were divorced, but we remained good friends!
‘Afterwards, I met a guy who had spina bifida. We moved in together and were engaged to be married, but sadly he died a year later.
‘And then when I was 42, I met an able-bodied guy and we started going out. We were together for four years, but he died in 2010 because he got throat cancer. Since then I’ve been by myself and to tell you the truth – I’m quite happy by myself!’
Katrin is a lady with a great sense of humour and is never shy to crack a joke.
‘The thing with men is that they just come to me, I don’t know what it is!’
Katrin speaks about the technologies that enable her to live with freedom, such as the rails around her home that assist her movement, and her Australian-made powerchair that she is very fond of.
‘Having a powerchair has given me so much more independence and freedom. I don’t need someone with me every time I go out – I can go to the shops by myself.
‘I also do all my own washing and get my own dinner.
‘I like to tell people this and about my partners because people just assume that you can’t do anything. That everyone who has a disability can’t do anything.
‘For example I might be by myself and people come up to me, and ask if I’m alright and if I need help, just because I’m by myself.
‘Even young people, they just stare at me.
‘It’s so frustrating because people think you’re stupid.
‘And I don’t think people mean to be rude, they just need to be educated more.’
Looking ahead and Katrin is hopeful that treatment of people with disabilities will improve, citing education as the key factor in driving change.
‘The younger you can start educating people, the better it will be.
‘In about 20 years I think there will be a big shift, and life will be much better for people with disabilities.’
We look forward to that day.