Today, March 25th is National Cerebral Palsy Awareness Day. To celebrate, our Digital Strategist Matthew Walzer, shares his story:
I was born two months premature and diagnosed with cerebral palsy spastic diplegia (CP) at around a year old. My CP affects my walking, balance, vision, and fine motor skills. I have overcome many challenges in my life. Still, there is one that I was never able to overcome, tying my shoes. CP stiffens and tightens the muscles in the body. For me, this has resulted in a lack of dexterity in my right hand, making shoe tying impossible. As I got older, this became more and more frustrating. There was such a need for accessible footwear, but no one had spoken up. I knew I had to speak up for not only myself but for so many others with physical challenges.
My Collaboration with Nike
In the summer of 2012, with college just around the corner and the goal of going away to school, I wrote an open letter to Nike asking for shoes that everyone could put on, regardless of physical ability. The letter went viral (#NikeLetter) and what resulted was a three-year collaboration with Nike from 2012-2015. I would test and give feedback and insights on rear entry prototypes that Nike would send me and give my input on materials, fit, support, cushioning, and more. This three-year journey led to what became a completely new line of shoes called FlyEase.
The independence that these shoes gave me allowed me to achieve my dream of going away to college. I graduated from Florida Gulf Coast University in 2018 with a Business Management degree with a concentration in sports. I have been fortunate enough to share my journey and continued desire to make the world more inclusive via various national multimedia platforms such as “The Drew Barrymore Show,” NPR, Spotify, and Yahoo. I have also been recognized for my advocacy and spoken at events for United Cerebral Palsy of Los Angeles, Arc, and Runway of Dreams. In 2016, I had the honor to speak on universal design and disability advocacy at the Obama White House for their Design For All Showcase.
Writing my letter to Nike as a 16-year-old and now looking back on it 10 years later, on National Cerebral Palsy Awareness Day, I am so proud that people’s lives have been forever changed, and now so many have freedom and independence that previously did not exist. I want people to view my advocacy as an example that any one person can make an impact and be an impactful voice. While there have many great strides for inclusion and equity since the ADA was passed in 1990, there is still a lot of work to be done.
Tying it back to Cause Inspired
This is where fantastic advocacy organizations such as Arc Jacksonville, which is a client of Cause Inspired, come into play. One of the marquee programs of Arc Jacksonville is their On Campus Transition program, which in conjunction with UNF, provides young adults with disabilities the opportunity to enroll in college courses, participate in student organizations and clubs and have the option to live in on campus housing with assistance.
A program like this opens a world of possibility for many local students with disabilities and here’s to hoping that more programs like this arise across the country.
I am so proud to work for Cause Inspired and to, through the work that we do, further strengthen nonprofits and the communities that they serve.
To learn more about Cerebral Palsy, visit The Birth Injury Center. Their mission is to assist anyone who has been affected by a birth injury and offer resources to assist the injured and their families. Cerebral Palsy is the most common motor disability for children and it affects 1 in every 345 kids.