We’re celebrating Women’s History Month
By Christopher Di Virgilio
From Haiti to Iceland to Barcelona, Rachel Malone is putting her degree in travel and hospitality to very good use. The Minnesota native has never let her disability get in the way and has traveled to more than 13 countries, many of them lacking in accessible pathways, buildings and common spaces. Her most recent journey took her to Dublin, Ireland on a study-abroad scholarship.
Of course, Malone, 29, got plenty of hands-on experience traversing inaccessible areas over the years right in her Minnesota hometown.
Life in the Land of 10,000 Lakes can be a challenge for anyone. Add life from a wheelchair, and it becomes much more restrictive. Malone puts into play some creative thinking, always carrying her can of anti-rust spray and some steel wool and she’s ready to navigate the snow, ice and below-zero temperatures.
“I try to get out as much as I can in the winter,” says Malone. “If my wheelchair gets rusted I have my can of Breakaway I spray on it, and steel wool to get the rust off. I occasionally go skiing or sledding, and bring out the ATV. Winter months are also a great time to check out a movie or two when you normally wouldn’t make the time for that during the summer.”
Malone attends concerts and performances frequently, taking advantage of the great Minneapolis arts scene, the many off Broadway shows and, of course, the Mall of America.
But it’s not only shopping and concerts that spark passion in Malone. She keeps busy advocating for disability civil rights and works closely with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) related programs in her community.
Malone was on-hand in Washington, D.C., during the 25th ADA anniversary events taking in the sights and sounds of all the celebrations, parades and speeches.
“Whether it was at the Kennedy Center, Smithsonian or marching from the Grand Hyatt to the Capitol lawn to hear politicians speak, it was an amazing experience getting to meet so many influential people and thank them for what they’ve done to make our lives better,” says Malone. “Getting to see where things happened and [meet] the people who fought to create a better life for me and many of my friends was inspiring.”
Malone is by nature a very curious person, and is continually exploring, researching and discovering the world around her. Her disabilities rights work keeps her busy, but she’s also got a host of other projects, goals and ambitions at the ready.
Researching the latest technology, treatments, or procedures, especially with regards to assistive devices or paralysis, is one such interest, and the knowledge she gains helps her be a better mentor to her friends, family and newly injured people she encounters.
Living aboard has given her the unique opportunity to compare and contrast accessibility in other countries.
“It was very eye opening, frustrating and a bit disheartening,” says Malone. “To learn that people with disabilities were often treated as a charity case with limited options, rather than an active member of society, and that opportunities for them were greatly less compared to those without disabilities saddened me.”
“Accessibility in many of the countries I visited was hit or miss,” says Malone. “I’m grateful we have the ADA and the many resources in the United States.”
In between her advocacy work, continuing education and busy travel schedule Malone has her eyes set on the Paralympics. While she has no current timeline for that particular goal, her archery skills and new-found love of handcycling could help propel her to the medal podium.
“I enjoy being active … especially with things that I know I am good at,” says Malone. “I’ve been shooting archery and guns since I was in grade school, and I’ve recently found that I am not a bad hand cyclist. To be in the Paralympics at some point and have that story to tell my future children; I think that would be great.”
Women’s History Month
SPORTS `N SPOKES is celebrating the accomplishments of women and wanted to know what one woman was most inspiring to Malone. Here’s what she had to say.
My grandma is a pretty influential person in my life. She has been through so much, whether it be losing her husband and having to raise almost 10 children, to losing 3 of her children and a second husband, to living through destructive tornadoes in her community, she doesn’t complain or quit. She has dropped what she was doing to help raise her grandkids through times of struggle and through difficult situations has always made sure everyone is at ease. Even when she has got to be completely stressed and exhausted, she will still be there and be patient for you if you need her.
In Helping Other Women
Malone knows all too well the challenges people with disabilities face. Through her work within her community, pushing for improved ADA standards and being a voice for those coming along she is blazing a trail others can follow.
Of particular interest to Malone, is insuring that newly injured women maintain their identities and have the tools to becoming strong proud women post-rehab.
“I help inform them about events or activities, and encourage them to get involved with their communities,” says Malone. “Especially children whom may not have the exposure to a person with a disability. I let them know they can talk to me and ask me anything. I give them my support and tell them to call if they want me to join them somewhere.”