At Rotary of Atlanta West End's weekly meeting on March 5, Rose Caplan introduced Carden Wyckoff, a disability advocate, former chair of MARTA’s Accessibility and Inclusion Task Force, UGA graduate (2015), wheelchair warrior, Senior Pardot Support Engineer at Salesforce, and host of “Freewheelin with Carden” podcast. Carden shared with us her inspirational story and how she has used her experience living with muscular dystrophy to bring about real change and make our community more inclusive and accessible for folks with disabilities.
At age 9, Carden was diagnosed with facioscapulohumeral muscular dystrophy (FSHD), a progressive form of muscular dystrophy that causes progressive muscle weakness. But Carden has never let that keep her down, and, through true grit and determination, has achieved a great deal, both for herself and for folks with disabilities. Among other things, Carden traveled – solo – across Europe to experience firsthand the accommodations (or lack thereof) implemented by our neighbors across the pond. She traveled through 9 countries over 8 weeks, and her trip was so inspiring that it was featured in USA Today! Moreover, with the love and support of her friends and family, Carden “piggybacked” over 80 miles of the Appalachian Trail to raise awareness for muscular dystrophy.
Carden attended UGA from 2011 to 2015, and while she was a student there, used her passion to make UGA more accessible for students with disabilities. Carden remarked how her passion for delivering change began when she took her college visit to UGA, during which the tour guide took her group to the Arch and remarked on the time-honored tradition of UGA graduates passing through the Arch. Carden was instantly struck with the realization that this tradition could not be realized by folks in wheelchairs, and, shortly after arriving on campus, went to work on making UGA’s facilities more accessible for all. And although she and some of her classmates fought a long hard battle against long odds, by the end of her time at UGA, the school relented and made numerous “curb cuts” around campus and created a permanent ramp from a nearby bus stop to the Arch. UGA also now places a temporary ramp around the Arch at graduation time.
After graduating from UGA, Carden moved to Atlanta, where she navigates the city without a car. Her time traversing Atlanta’s sidewalks helped her realize that while the City has come a long way in making Atlanta more accessible, there is still much to be done. Carden was the chair of MARTA’s Accessibility and Inclusion Task Force, where she devoted a great deal of her passion, time, and energy to making Atlanta’s public transit system more accessible to people with disabilities. Carden explained that she even collaborated with our very own Jared Evans on these efforts and thanked him for helping her deliver real change.
Carden shared that while the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”) has given her a framework upon which to thrive, there is still much work to be done to make our world more inclusive for people with disabilities. Among other things, Carden believes strongly that we need to intensify our efforts on transit equity, continue to build accessible environments, provide bias training, and promote equal pay and workforce development. Carden wants to leave behind a system that places value on people’s bodies and minds based on the stale social constructs of normality, intelligence, excellence, desirability, and productivity, and get people to see folks with disabilities as strong, adaptive, and innovative individuals.
Carden urged us to share in her mission by rejecting common social constructs of people with disabilities, such as both the “charity model,” which treats people with disabilities as objects of charity and pity, and the “medical model,” which simply treats folks with disabilities as being sick and needing to be cured or fixed. Instead, Carden wants us focus on the “social model,” which seeks to empower others to recognize and bulldoze attitudinal barriers in order to create a truly inclusive world. Carden also stressed the importance of using people-first and identity-first language when interacting with people with disabilities.
Carden’s passion for serving others was very evident and she shared with us some tangible things that we can -- and should -- do to help make our communities more accessible and inclusive. Carden’s presentation was also refreshing because while our world can at times seem dark, we can be confident that there is a generation of impressive and dedicated young leaders that are champing at the bit to make our world a more inclusive and caring place. Hooray!