Nicole Dobson never saw the truck that changed her life. She was asleep in the backseat when the 18-wheeler slammed into her parents’ minivan, sending it toppling head over tail and tossing Dobson 30 feet from the car. When she woke up three weeks later, the vibrant eighth-grade field hockey player was gone.
“I went to sleep perfectly normal that one day,” said Dobson, who broke 13 bones, punctured a lung, and suffered a traumatic brain injury in the crash. “I just remember coming to terms with my ruined physical and mental states.”
As she pushed through therapy, learning to walk, talk – and think – all over again, she made a decision. She would weave into her future the accident that had nearly stolen it away. Now a Mary Washington junior, Dobson hopes to use her experience to help others deal with their own disabilities – through a career in speech-language pathology and as president of UMW’s Students With Disabilities and Their Allies (SDATA).
“Having almost lost life once, I have an incredible ambition to make the most of what life I have left,” said Dobson, who credits her amazing recovery to the support of family, friends and therapists. “I always knew I wanted to give back in the same way I had been helped. I just wasn’t sure how.”
She formed SDATA as a freshman to boost awareness of the hundreds across campus who face visible challenges, like being blind or using a wheelchair, and less obvious ones, including dyslexia and autism.
About 10 percent of Mary Washington undergrads currently seek help from the Office of Disability Resources, said director Sally Scott. But many students with disabilities are reluctant to disclose them, she said, denying themselves access to resources that can foster success.
“Her leadership is helping the campus see that disabilities are just a part of diversity,” Scott said of Dobson, who worked to affiliate SDATA with the James Farmer Multicultural Center. “That makes a big impression on new students.”
Born in Santa Fe, N.M., Dobson was inspired by classmates who spoke English and Spanish, and hopes to incorporate both languages into her career. She earned a UMW faculty-led scholarship to study in Spain last summer and the prestigious Grellet C. Simpson International Scholarship to return in the spring.
“One of my goals [as a bilingual speech-language pathologist] would be to bridge the gap between the Latino and white communities,” Dobson said.
For now, she’s bridging communities on campus.
She launched last winter’s Disability Awareness Celebration, lining up a keynote speaker in collaboration with PRISM, a poetry competition and a panel on labeling. And she speaks at Step Ahead orientations, making sure first-year students with disabilities know about SDATA, and preaching understanding and acceptance.
“A lot of students don’t like to admit they have a disability,” said Dobson, who still struggles with certain tasks. “Through a disability, you realize your abilities and what each person can contribute.”
Join the conversation at (dis)Ability @ UMW. Visit discomm.umwblogs.org.