Local author educates pupils about disabilities
Katie Rodriguez Banister constantly relives her most traumatic moment so others might learn from it.
In 1990, she was a passenger in a sport utility vehicle that crashed. The impact left her a quadriplegic.
Since then, the Crestwood woman has dedicated her life to teaching people about disabilities. She spent some time on a recent Tuesday at Gotsch Intermediate School in the Affton School District answering questions from third- and fourth-graders.
She also read her book, "Aunt Katie's Visit,'' and donated a copy to the school library. The presentation in the school gym was part of Gotsch Intermediate's Ability Awareness Week.
Part of her story was inspirational. Instead of giving up on life after her injuries, she has gotten married, started a business called Access-4-All and written a book.
The other part of her story was educational. She told pupils that there are three types of disabilities: physical, sensory and cognitive. She also reminded them that people with disabilities are human, and they have feelings, too.
Most of the questions pupils asked were about how she felt when people treated her differently than others.
"You ever hear somebody say: 'Oh, you're so retarded?''' she said as some pupils laughed. "It's not funny,'' she said quickly.
The pupils liked her wheelchair, an electric-powered machine that cost $14,000. She steered it around the room at different speeds. Banister showed how she uses arm braces to eat, write and put on makeup.
She was happy that the children were so responsive to her, noting that the children she now meets are smarter than they were in years past.
"Kids are aging faster these days,'' she said. "They're deeper than we were. When I grew up, I liked hopscotch. These kids like computers.''
She used the time to teach general life lessons.
She told pupils they shouldn't laugh at someone when he or she cries, and to make sure their parents don't use handicapped-accessible parking spaces. When they see someone with a disability, she told pupils they shouldn't point or stare.
She also showed them that in many ways, she's just like everyone else — she just does things a bit differently.
For example, she writes by attaching a pencil to a brace, and types by turning the pencil upside down and using the eraser to peck at the keyboard. She said she now can type as fast as she could before the accident.
Banister had a lot going for her before the accident. She graduated from Central Missouri State University, and had just accepted a job. She was 25 years old, single and liked to dance.
But on Feb. 11, 1990, the accident changed her life forever. She doesn't drive — she still is hesitant because of the accident, though it is possible for her to drive a vehicle.
"I'm a great back-seat driver,'' she quipped. "I drive my husband crazy.''
She met her husband, Steve Banister, after the accident. He was in Jefferson City fighting for rights for disabled people. At that time, she believed no one would see her as attractive enough to marry. They've been married since 2000.
"When you can love somebody in a wheelchair like that, you're a special person,'' she explained. "We just became really good friends. That's the key. He was my best friend. Someone I could trust.''
Steve was working as a counselor at an assisted living facility, so he was prepared for the work required to help Katie.
Katie and Steve have a successful business, selling multi-colored Access Sacks, which attach to the back of wheelchairs and strollers and hold personal belongings.
Steve was by Katie's side on Tuesday, flipping pages and helping her answer questions.
Meeting Steve changed her perspective about the accident, she said.
"I miss my legs,'' she said. "I miss dancing. I was a really good dancer. But if the accident hadn't happened, I wouldn't have this cool job, and I wouldn't have met Steve.''