By Thamyen Pham and Tam Nguyen, CNN
Abigail Koow – also known as Abi – has spent the last 10 years immersed in the fire department. As a volunteer firefighter in the East Georgia town of Tillman’s Corner, she helps put out domestic fires as well as the occasional brush fire.
It was a commitment that left her physically unable to function normally.
Abi Koow and her brother. Credit: Rob Azar
“It took a while to figure out, because I had always been a little bit of a freak,” Koow says. “I had spent my life outdoors. I lived in an RV. I loved playing hide-and-seek. I’d just love getting out in the woods.”
So it made sense that, during a weekend trip to the park, she wouldn’t mind spending time playing in the woods. But as Koow recalls, when her brother was a toddler, she sustained a lower back injury that left her unable to sit long enough for a tree to grow over her.
“I would have to hang out in my little tent in the backyard or my car and sit on the ground for the first year, year and a half.”
‘That didn’t sound right’
From that first year, the doctors didn’t give Koow much hope for a return to normal.
“But then, it turned out not to be true,” she says. “That year and a half was actually a blessing.”
After some rehabilitation, her mobility returned. And like many other disabled people, she used her new limitations to develop skills that are useful to others.
“My hands are the ones that are stronger than I am,” she says. “But I need the upper body strength to put things away and stuff.”
Her home office was one of those spaces where she found a new purpose.
But her issues with balancing her desk and chairs left her discomforting every time she opened her front door. So it was an idea for a prop. She decided to try standing up on the small support and covered it in construction paper to keep the space comfortable.
A sort of pleather skin. Credit: Rob Azar
“When I went for a trip down to Texas, I thought, ‘Well that won’t work. I’m going to put that on the front door,’” Koow says. “It didn’t sound right. I had no idea that it would look like that.”
A T-shirt for a visor
As an advocate for those who live with disabilities, Koow knows all too well how misconceptions can prevent them from realizing their potential.
“They feel limited because they aren’t treated the same. … Those perceptions are really limiting, even to doctors,” she says.
She turns to products to make sure disabled people are respected. First, she scours the Internet for products that fit her needs. Later, she goes to trade shows to find innovative people working on products to help others.
Her ultimate goal?
She wants people to see people like her as individuals.
“If people are unable to be the same that everyone else is because of disabilities, I think they need to have that self-esteem,” Koow says. “If you take a look around, you can see there are lots of people who are just like you, just all of a sudden, they are not able to do things you can do.”