SHERIDAN — The woman in the wheelchair wasn’t trying to make a spectacle of herself, spinning her wheels in snow at Sheridan College one arctic noon late January.
As students hurried by, Jada Stringer jockeyed the joystick to muscle her wheels out of stuck but with no luck until a maintenance man freed her from the drift’s icy grips to continue down the path of higher learning.
“Coming to Wyoming with that cold — what is this mess?’” said Stringer, 21, a new student from Modesto, California, where snow is in short supply.
“I’m always getting stuck in the snow,” Stringer said, with a wry smile. “One time I hit a tree. A guy stopped and said ‘Are you alright?’”
With her long braids, piercings and black ink tattoos, Stringer cuts a brave figure from the confines of her cerebral palsy mobile that powers her through a full load of core classes, including English, mathematics, psychology and choir. A pocket watch “time is hidden,” rose “beauty is fleeting” and “wanderlust” tattoos signal what is important for Stringer who has had cerebral palsy from birth. She has a simple philosophy of life.
“If I get stuck, I crawl,” Stringer said, who wants to become a law clerk.
This semester is her first semester and she lives on campus.
Stringer came to Sheridan with basically no family — they don’t answer her phone calls — and few friends. Over time, she has labored to recreate her life despite fate dealing her a bad hand with marked cards.
“It’s my biggest leap of faith,” Stringer said.
Thad Rigby, academic advisor, said Stringer has a lot on her plate and has faced a lot in life.
“It’s cool how she see things not as obstacles but instead challenges,” Rigby said. “She is a poster child for can-do.”
While various resources exist for people with disabilities, Stringer has yet to access some available community resources such as Easterseals.
“Easterseals. What’s Easterseals?” Stringer inquired.
As a nonprofit, Easterseals Wyoming is focused on helping, empowering and advocating for people with disabilities. The organization states that more than 500,000 Americans have some degree of cerebral palsy. Three thousand people are born with the condition each year and approximately 500 others acquire cerebral palsy in early childhood. It is not a disease but a condition caused by damage to parts of the brain that control muscle coordination, balance and movement. It most commonly results from injury to the developing fetal or newborn brain.
“We want to take the ‘dis’ out of disability,” said Dana Paulson, senior director of Easterseals Wyoming. “We want the public to see their abilities. We want people to remember to look at them as people just like ourselves who have the exact same rights as ourselves and can make the exact same choices.”
Prior to Sheridan, Stringer lived in Sallisaw, Oklahoma, for a year in a bad relationship. On top of that, her multiple minorities did not contribute to a positive living environment.
“You don’t want to be a minority in Sallisaw,” Stringer said.
So when a friend invited her to Sheridan, she left Sallisaw via Greyhound bus in August to start her new life.
“She was being treated like crap,” said Katrina Mattice, 20, Stringer’s high school friend from Modesto.
Stringer will serve as Mattice’s maid of honor at her wedding next month.
“I said, ‘Come live here and not be treated like crap all the time,’” Mattice explained.
Since her arrival, Stringer has found Sheridan overall a good place with generally friendly, helpful people where she can grow academically and existentially. Still, a few ugly incidents have marred her stay.
“I was at Walmart where a woman called me the ‘N’ word. She said I didn’t belong here,” Stringer said. “You know how you feel when you don’t know whether to cry or cuss her out. So I didn’t say anything.”
Stringer said another time a man accused her of trespassing on his lawn during a daily commute in her chair and claimed he threatened her with a shotgun.
Despite challenges, Stringer continues to right herself out of snow drifts and muck; having weathered a Wyoming winter is no slouch. Can-do, spunk and the spring thaw helps Stringer continue forward on her sojourn as she avoids the ruts.
“The weather is a little risky here,” Stringer said. “School pushes me to get somewhere. I take my challenges the minute they’re in front of my face. And I have to struggle through them.”
Her mantra is: You can do it, you can do it, you can do it.
“I have to do it,” Stringer said.