By Jaimie M. Engle
Ashley McGrath was born and raised in Brevard County, Florida. The 29- year-old holds a master’s degree in applied sociology from the University of Central Florida, volunteers at Our Lady of Grace church in Palm Bay, and holds a board position with the Space Coast Writer’s Guild. Yet Ashley isn’t your typical 20-something. In fact, she wasn’t expected to live to see her first birthday.
On April 6, 1986, Ashley was born with a genetic disorder called Campomelic syndrome, which is a rare form of skeletal dysplasia or Campomelic Dysplasia. Symptoms include deformed bones and weak muscles, among other health issues. Ashley uses a wheelchair and is hearing-impaired. Still, she enjoys visiting the Kennedy Space Center and the Brevard Zoo, watching baseball games at the Space Coast Stadium and spending time by the Atlantic Ocean.
“Growing up, I was sometimes discouraged by my physical limitations, but my parents encouraged me to focus on what I could do,” Ashley explained. “The flexibility and understanding of educators helped me during my school years.”
As a child, Ashley underwent fifteen surgeries, each taking months of recovery time, and today at nearly thirty, she still needs assistance with daily activities.
“My challenges in life make me grateful for what I’m able to do. I don’t think I would remove my disability if I could, because it has made me appreciate life more.”
Over the years, people have told Ashley she should write a book about her life. At 25 she started working on her memoir on and off over several years. Then, a memoir writing class inspired her to finish, and with the assistance of local author Joyce Good Henderson, she published her autobiography “UnabASHed by Disability” in October of 2014. The timing was perfect, since October is National Disability Employment Awareness Month.
On July 26, 1990, President George Bush signed into law the Americans with Disabilities Act and this year commemorates the 25th anniversary. This enables Ashley to work part time at home as a quality analyst for a call monitoring company called J. Lodge that employs mostly people with disabilities. Her encouragement to others with disabilities is to focus on what you’re able to do, not what you can’t, and set reasonable goals and do your best to achieve them. Ashley’s blog serves as an extension of her autobiography where she shares her experiences and information on disability issues at UnabashedByDisability.blogspot.com.
Some of those experiences include attending her high school prom, where she was crowned prom queen, graduating from former Brevard Community College as the student speaker and an award recipient, and getting a kiss on the cheek from exercise guru Richard Simmons at the Melbourne Square Mall in 1993.
Ashley’s book is available for purchase through Amazon and for Kindle at TinyUrl.com/oolmj39.