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Welcome to my world of hope, here you can read all about my life from the moment I was born though to the present. I share my story with all of you in the hopes that it will be of help and strength. I also share my story with you to tell you that you are not alone!

I share my strength with you because I truly believe that I have walked this path to help and shield you from the pain and suffering I have experienced. I also share this story with you in the hopes to see this kind of discrimination stopped in its tracks.

 It is a travesty to see this kind of inhumane behavior and conduct happen to anyone ever again. That is why, since then, I have progressively climbed the ladder of success, regardless of all the remarks, comments, and roadblocks put in my path. I had to have a will of iron. I have had little or no help from anyone. Let alone encouragement or respect from professionals in the disability field to guide me in the line of work of my choice. My own encouragement and tenacity guided me to become a dance teacher for individuals with and without disabilities, an advocate, and now an author. I am on an endless journey towards justice for all!

My site has been developed as a result of my own life-long experience and challenges throughout my life with Cerebral Palsy and a learning disability (dyslexia). I want to be able to share my life with everyone who comes here to show that you are not alone no matter what your disability is.

I was a Friday's baby, born March 9, 1951 to Rubin & Kate Hershkowitz. My birth name, Karen Hershkowitz The heavens above place me among the best, I could not have asked for two more loving parents. They brought me home to a beautiful house that was filled with warmth and love. However, at 5 months old, heartbreak hit our family again. Now, instead of my sisterís Rheumatoid Arthritis returning, or my father falling through the glass shower door, it was me. I was paralyzed due to a DPT shot. I fell into a deep coma, not to wake for 10 days. The doctors gave me a 30 % chance of life. Their medical diagnosis - severely delayed. But miraculously, I made almost complete recovery. My twisted face, straightened out, and I was left with left side hemiplegia, and a learning disability. But that was not found out until I was in second grade; life seemed to be a whole lot simpler than it is today.

It was a time where the air felt crisp and clear. A time where one felt safe leaving their doors unlocked and a time where people trusted one another more. I remember the times, when my neighbor's father sat outside on his front porch, pleasingly playing his banjo for not only his children but for the neighbor's children. These are precious, unforgettable memories which Iíll never forget.

Sweeter yet, I remember having a puppy for a short while. One day, mom came home from doing errands. I was with grandma in the house. I heard mom's 52 Chevy pull into the driveway. As I looked out the front, closed, screen door, I noticed my mother walked around to the passenger door. She opened it, and out jumped a small, sweet puppy. It was a mix breed. Not more than 3 to 5 pounds, and was mocha, toffee color, with floppy ears. Her voice was so melodious, that we named her melody. She was a tiny puppy, which our family loved for awhile; we took her everywhere we went. Even to my cousinís house where she accompanied us up and down my cousinís driveway, in the red racer wagon.

I also vividly remember how she loved to escape from the chain link fence. She would dig a hole, and every afternoon sheíd be waiting to greet us on the front porch. Sadly, though, within a few weeks or months, mom gave her away because of my sisterís allergy.

Over the years, I have looked back on my lifeís journey only to recall the bitter and sweet of it all. I recapture the sweet memories of my grandfather. And reflect upon his memory. One of the enduring treasures I remember of him was how he made my sister and me these wonderful automobile cars. All of my cousinís would come over, and play with us. Weíd have a blast driving up and down the sidewalk and driveway. There was nothing I didnít do or try to do. Even with a locked leg brace. My mother did not treat me any differently than my eldest sister.

I come from a very close knitted family. And when I got sick, my motherís family was right by her side and mine. At the time, my mother did not drive a car. So with one arm holding me, and the other, dangling a purse and diaper bag by her side, my mother would tirelessly carry and take me to Childrenís Hospital of Los Angeles, on the bus. Mama Katie, as I affectionately called her, took the bus week after week, well over a year until she learned to drive. Once my grandfather taught her to drive a stick shift, she took me wherever I needed to go, while singing songs in the car.

It is my sincerest hope that my story and site will motivate you to better your own inner desires and to become the individual you wish to be. Please use my site to benefit yourself and others, no matter what your disability. This site was made especially for you. Please use it as a vehicle to enhance your life by meeting and communicating with others and building bonds and friendships with one another.

Reflections of Me

Some of the other unforgettable impressions I can sum up are of all the exercises I did and the nice therapist I worked with at the time. I bring back one moment in time, when I was holding onto a bar, with my two hands. This was to straighten my left wrist. I would take a stick like broom, in both my little hands. Then the therapist would cup her hand over my left, where I would attempt to raise and lower the stick up in the air and straight down behind my back, only to lift it up across my chest and back down again. It was hard work, but I always did everything that was ever asked of me with a smile. Never once did I complain or frown. On another occasion, I can remember sitting on a table with white sheets. This was for clinic. I was their star attraction- I was only 18 months old. I was scared, nervous, and all alone without my mama by my side. I sat there, in my underwear, on display, being starred at by over a dozen men and women in white starched coats.

Never once did I murmur a word to my mother. Further yet, I can also remember the time my parents needed to take pictures of my spine. I was maybe 2 at the time. So Mom stood me in the front yard in my underwear. How humiliating that was for me. I will never ever forget that moment. Plus, I have the pictures which will never erase the image in my mind- I was gripping a toy in my hand, while my father snapped the pictures. I was very self conscious and totally aware what was happening. However, I never uttered a word to a soul about my feelings.

I not only wore my full length, leg brace to bed every night for a long while, but I have indelible images of me crying my heart out going on the school bus, alone, to a handicap school, at the age of 3 years old. It was kindergarten. I was a timid child, who was going to be held back if I didnít begin to socialize and talk to others in class. Then, one day, that same year, my mother came across a dance studio in her travels. She inquired and soon, there after, I was taking tap lesson from Al Gilbert. He opened his heart unconditionally to me. No wonder I do what I do today- this man not only taught me to hop, skip, jump and run, but, he taught me to dance!

Time went by, and I went from first grade to 4th grade. I not only was the Easter Seals poster child of 1957, but I had many different therapists. Some gentler then others! The memories are logged in my mind. It is a time stamp of my journey and path. A memoir of my account in school, with therapist, doctors, physiologist, and struggling with a learning disability no one really understood.

First Recital

Oh, how I remember my first dance recital, just like it was yesterday. It was a very important day for me. Not just because I was going to dance, but because I was going to dance with my teacher, Al Gilbert. How mind-blowing an experience it was sharing the stage with him all alone. I felt like I had wings! I felt like I no longer was trapped in this body of mine. I remember my costume, too! Al picked it out for me. It was very frilly and colorful. It made me feel beautiful and Al made me feel like a little princess. Oh, how I remember looking into his eyes how empowered I felt.

Poster Child

In the spring of 1957, I remember being asked to be the Easter Seals Poster Child. How surprised I was to be chosen amongst all the others. It was my first experience given the opportunity to shine before the world. As I look back on my life, I have many enduring memories. I can remember that day vividly in my mind- like it was yesterday! What a tremendous experience that was for me- Today, when I think back on those moments, I can clearly remember the pretty velvet dress I wore, and how my mother primped and fussed over me. How special that was- And oh, how special my mother made me feel- from the curl in my pony tail, to my shiny white polished high tops-she made me feel like a living doll! Would you believe that I even had a fascination with the bunny? I thought it was real! After the photo shoot, I can also remember being presented with a Raggy-Ann doll- Oh how beautiful she was-This experience was so awesome for me, that it has been etched in my mind forever. These memories have moved me beyond words. They were miraculous too! Something I will always cherish.

During the 60ís, many altering events shaped my life. I not only moved into a new home with my family, which I loved and adored- but I met new neighbors, and had new experiences. I also became very close with my girlfriend, Lily. And I can brilliantly remember having the biggest solo dance routine, of my young life.

I spent countless hours taking swimming lessons, dance lessons, tutoring lesson, special education classes, and even tried to learn the piano. Every spare waking, moment, I was doing some form of therapy. Including, going to Alís on the spur of the moment. If Al had a cancellation in his schedule, my mother would pick me up from school, and take me to his studio where I was by his side, learning to shuffle ball change, plea, and learning to bend my knee while hopping and skipping to music with my leg brace on. I even remember Al buying me some small cymbals, castanets, and the most beautiful ballet bar a little girl could ever have or dream of. One time, he came back from one of his many tours, with a book about a little girl who had week legs and became a ballet dancer. I canít ever remember a time when this man did not give me anything but his unconditional love.

Moreover, I can descriptively recollect the day I went to clinic. On that day, I can remember doing all the things I would routinely do. Including, parade back and forth for the Doctor in my underwear- then, without warning, he told me and my mother that I could hang up my brace forever. What a sweet, sweet moment that was for me.

But I also remember some very traumatic and shocking experiences as well. I bring to mind the time I went to the beach with my girlfriend Lily, and her brother, where I almost drowned in the ocean. I recall being ostracized and not being accepted by the children at school, and I remember being bitten by a dog before I first moved into this house. On still another occasion, I can remember falling and breaking my front tooth, and still another, falling while crossing the street, and scaring my knees up pretty badly- this was because my leg brace locked on me. Even more, intensely, I can remember the time when I was bitten by another dog, and had to have rabies shots.

The worst, though, was in the mid sixties, when we had to abruptly move out of our beautiful home. A chain link of events took place. In succession, my grandfather had a stroke, 3 years later, in 1965, my cat not only got hurt and disappeared for good, but my grandfather died, followed by my father dieing 6 months later with untreatable cancer. But that was not the final blow. The final blow was in 1969. While working, I received a phone call from my mother. She brought me the news that my cousin died in the Vietnam war. I was only 17 years old.

My civil rights case - Because of the treatment, the labeling, and the discrimination lay before me; I remember hitting the lowest of my lows. I remember phone call after phone call, letter after letter, getting no-where and doing something that no other disabled person before me did.

I had no other course or choice but to fight the good fight! I had to take the bull by its horns and conquer this challenge before me. I had to survive and make a place for myself in this world and in society when no one else would help me.

Thus, I sought out advice to bring legal suit against the State Department of California Rehabilitation. This was the first Civil Rights Case ever under section 504 of the rehabilitation act, and in 1979, I won my case.

I have many memories before and after that are bitter sweet! Mostly, I am proud, over-whelmed, and taken back by what all I have accomplished. Not just for myself, but for all those that came after me! All I did was try to help myself! I tried to stop the depredating effects of being called Mentally Retarded, and not being given the same rights as a so called ďNormal Person.Ē I am humbled by this experience, and will never ever stop advocating for the rights of disabled people and those with special needs or helping them.

This decree, allowed me to start my education in junior college and attain the goal of my dreams. OCR, (The Office of Civil Rights) found the California Department of Rehabilitation in direct violation. They unjustly violated me and my civil right to obtain an education because of my learning disability. Now in college, and upon suggestion from my mentor, I entered my short children's story into a writing contest. For months, I spent countless hours writing this composition, thinking little of what was to come. To my surprise, I won second place in the Kaleidoscope Literary Arts Magazine, International Prose fiction Art award contest. Time passed, and I continued my studies in college.

My Education

Activities Department Programming Certificate
This was one of my first certificates. I remember being very nervous but very determined to make this happen.

Health Care Coordinator Certificate
I remember how excited I was to go for this certificate. I remember what getting this certificate meant to me and my livelihood.

Adventures In Attitude Certificate
I remember how much more knowledge I was going to learn from this certificate. I remember also thinking how much more insight I would gain about other people's personalities, and how much more effective I would be in helping others and giving of myself unconditionally.

Fitness Consultant Certificate
This was a very proud moment for me. I remember how I was going to learn about the body and how it moved. This excluded all the years of prior dance training I had behind me.

Social Psychological Program Solving Coursework Certification
I remember how with each course I grew. I remember how much I learned about human behavior and how this would help me to help others.

Associate In Religious Science Certificate
Oh how I remember being so full of self-confidence that I just went and signed up for this class. I remember how deep my desire was to learn and let go of my past. I learned so much about myself during this period in my life. I remember all the insights I had, and how excited I was with each revelation! I also remember repeatedly seeing how driven and determined a person I was to succeed. I also remember conquering things in my life that others said I could not or would not ever be able to accomplish. I also became aware of my positive attitude, and my ability to keep believing in myself. Finally, I remember being able to recognize and taste the gift of my own true self. Having a tenacious attitude, I had the awareness and willingness to go to any length to achieve and conquer.

Santa Monica CollegeAssociate of Arts Degree-
I remember feeling on top of the world. I remember the feelings of not feeling dumb and stupid anymore! And, I remember embracing this particular moment completely. I proved something very important to myself at that given moment. I proved to myself that I could do it! That I could prove what others said of me wrong! I could taste my success of hard work well done. I also could taste the knowledge well learned. I could feel my freedom and independence under my wings, and I could taste the thought; that one day I'd be able to go out into society and be a productive woman just like everyone else. I also remember how excited I was to prove to myself that I could read and write like others and that I was a smart person.

Kaleidoscope Literary Award
Oh, I was completely taken by surprise! I never thought or knew that I could write so well. Nor did I know that entering this contest would bring these results. Life was very sweet at that particular moment. What a gift! That was a turning point in my life! I knew that all my hard work and determination had paid off. Most importantly, I now felt within myself that I had conquered my learning disability.

Education Experience

Then, in 1979, I won the first Civil Rights case, in the State of California. This decree, allowed me to start my education in junior college and attain the goal of my dreams. OCR (The Office of Civil Rights) found the California Department of Rehabilitation in direct violation. They unjustly violated me and my civil right to obtain an education because of my learning disability. Now in college, and upon suggestion from my mentor, I entered my short children's story into a writing contest. For months, I spent countless hours writing this composition, thinking little of what was to come. To my surprise, I won second place in the Kaleidoscope Literary Arts Magazine, International Prose fiction Art award contest. Time passed and I continued my studies in college.

When the fall of 1980 came, I began my college education, I worked very hard and then, in 1985, I proudly gradated, with honors. I earned my Associate of Arts degree. However, that did not stop the discrimination from continuing...

I went through many more years of hurt and disappointment, as I never was able to go on with my education and attain my Bachelors or Masters Degree in Dance, as I had planned. For a third time, I was wrongfully labeled. Only this time, I was unable to find anyone, including Office of Civil Rights, to back and support me and serve as my advocate. All my records were sealed and no lawyer, in the state of California would aid me in my quest.

As unfair as it was, this experience made me fight even more for my life. I never gave up hope, nor did I give into any of their negatives beliefs. I never stooped to their level by giving up on my dreams. My self-worth and self-esteem soared. My efforts paid off, and were never in vain.

Despite all Iíve gone through, I am proud to say that I have accomplished my goals. I became an aerobic teacher and throughout the years continue to teach others with and without physical challenges. I have had the pleasure of sitting on The Client Services Committee for clients with developmental disabilities. I even had the honor of sitting on the Executive Board of Protection & Advocacy Inc. Now, my story The Broken Hoof has now been published by Publish America. If you are looking for a motivational speaker to inspire your organization, I am now accepting public speaking engagements.

For your enjoyment, I have also included 5 of my favorite poems for your viewing. They are a sampling of my collection from my book of poems. My hope is that my website will leave you with a constant yearning desire to never give up on yourself. Keep reaching for your dreams and desires. They will come true if you work for them. I am living proof!

I share my story in the hopes that it will be of help and strength to others. To tell you that you are not alone! I believe that I have walked this path for all of you. So that you will not have to go through the pain and suffering I have experienced. I would like to see this kind of discrimination stopped in its tracks. It is a travesty to see this kind of inhumane behavior and conduct happen to anyone ever again.

Thatís why, since then, I have progressively climbed the latter of success regardless of all the remarks, comments, and road blocks put in her path. I have had a will of iron. I have had little or no help from anyone. Let alone encouragement or respect from professionals in the disability fields to guide me in the line of work of my choice. My own encouragement and tenacity have guided me to become a dance teacher for individuals with and without disabilities, an advocate, and now an author. I am on an endless journey towards justice for all!

I began working in December 1969 as a sales girl. I remember working at the White Front Department Store for Christmas help. Then my mother and I found out about California State Department of Rehabilitation. After my initial visits and a battery of tests, they labeled me borderline Mentally Retarded. Despite, what they said, I bravely walked forward. Then, by their strong suggestion, I began working in a workshop type atmosphere.

For well over 6 months, I folded boxes and used a ceiling wax machine. I did whatever was asked of me. Although, I knew instinctively, that this was not the place I wanted to spend the rest of my life in. So I did everything that was asked of me. One day at a time, I bravely walked through this experience. I quietly proved to them and myself that I was worth more. I also tried to prove to them that their tests were incorrect- and that I was not borderline mentally retarded.

So, after a summer of getting my thoughts and feelings together, at the age of 20, I got my third job as a sales girl. My mother's assertive manner helped me get this position and 6 months later, I was promoted to PBX switchboard operator. Even though I faced harsh judgment and ridicule from my working peers, I did the very best that I could. I went on to other PBX operator positions and learned from each experience that I had. No matter what others said of me, my hard work and self-determination paid off. Never did I stop working at the issues at hand.

It was an endless, uphill, journey to become the best person I could become. I worked in that field for many years until I found a government funded training program. I remember boldly speaking up for myself and asserting myself in a way I never did before. That was when this newfound boldness became an essential part of my being. They were so impressed by my daring and courageous behavior I was immediately accepted into their program. That was when they tested my interest and skills. Within a week, I began working with people in the mental health field as an assistant recreation director. I was very happy and felt like I had found my niche. For the first time in my life, I felt like I could incorporate my dance skills with the knowledge I was learning in this field of recreation.

Years later, when I was in my mid twenties, I decided to go back to California State Department of Rehabilitation to seek help for my college education. I wanted to pursue a degree in the field of recreation. I felt that this was a reasonable goal, especially considering my learning disability. Once again, the discrimination started. It was a tireless, incessant, never-ending battle to explain my needs, wants, and desires to a group of people and an organization who were supposed to be there for those who have impairments and disabilities. All I wanted was to be like any other person in society. I knew that some day my mother would be gone and I was going to have to fend for myself. I knew instinctively, that I would have to make my own way in this world.

With little respect or dignity given to me, the State Department of Rehabilitation once again talked down to me in a disrespectful, belittling fashion, and insisted I take another IQ test. What was so disturbing was the fact that these IQ test are not accurate in detecting or measuring any kind of a learning disability what so ever. So, once again, I willingly smiled and took the test. However, inwardly, I was fuming. I was at my ropes end. I was no longer going to be treated in a manner in which California State Department of Rehabilitation deceitfully, sneakily, and cleverly led me to believe. I had rights, and I was going to succeed! No matter how clearly and articulately I tried to explain myself, they just would not listen to my reasoning. That was when I had enough! I was not going to stand for this kind of degradation ever again.

Hence, I took matters into my own hands. That was when I began taking all kinds of steps and actions. That was when I wrote President Jimmy Carter. I was going to put a stop to this discrimination finally. That was in the middle seventies. During the next 4 years, I worked very hard to get this matter resolved. During the same period of time, I also got a job as a recreation director in a convalescent hospital. I gave to others and fulfilled their needs. I gave of myself unconditionally to all the clients and people I worked with. Sadly, though, I later found out that my immediate boss stabbed me in the back- by what he told California State Department of Rehabilitation. I was beginning to see how unfairly and unjust people could really be. Especially how one person could manipulate the system for personal gains?

A few months later I picked myself up from this experience, dusted myself off, and moved on with my life. I began working at a very well known organization for individuals with Cerebral Palsy. Prior to this date I worked for this well-known organization a few other times, of which will remain nameless. I not only taught dance, recreation and independent living skills, but also I worked on all areas that they wanted me to develop. This continued until I was verbally abused and belittled by my superiors and my disability and personhood was at stake. Having had this experience before, I sought out legal help and with much distortion and misrepresentation on my lawyerís advice, I settled out of court. I kept on keeping on, no matter what was said of, and too, me.

Then a few years later in 1978, I won the first Civil Rights case in the state of California for my education, under the 504 Rehabilitation Act of 1973. When the fall of 1980 came, I began my college education. I worked very hard. Five years later, I proudly attained my AA Degree in English and Dance, with honors.

After graduation, I had plans to continue my educational climb but for a third and final time, I was being labeled and scrutinized again by the Department Of Rehabilitation. I had had just about all that I could take- I not only took California Rehabilitation to the Office of Civil Rights for a second time but I sought out, with laborious difficulty, a lawyer to help me sue for punitive damages. Even though no one was kind enough to help me in my quest; I kept looking for the answers towards a better life. I never found legal representation, or a lawyer to take my case to find legal justice- but I vowed to myself that this experience would never tarnish my attitude and my personal beliefs. 

Thank you so much for taking the time to read Karen's story. It is CPN's pleasure to share with you the story of one of our pioneer advocates.

 

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