Cristina McMahan

I'm so proud to have been the person who inspired the National Cristina Foundation. Helping so many people has made me feel wonderful.

When I was twelve years old, my writing was not legible for people to read. It was slanted as well as upside down and backwards. I became tired very quickly because of the fact that my hands would get very sore from doing all the writing and I became frustrated and angry because I couldn't express myself in a way that that would help me say what I wanted to.

In 1983, I was a student in the Yonkers Public School System and that was where I met Dr. Yvette Marrin. In our class at school 29 I was not the only student who had trouble writing because there were lots of other students who were having the same trouble I had. It was hard writing things down and keeping my thoughts on the paper.

I have cerebral palsy. So did some of my classmates. One of the boys couldn't write at all and so he had to dictate everything that he had wanted to say to an aide and she did all the writing for him. Some of my friends in the class when they would be writing on paper would make many mistakes and then they would start erasing very hard and then there would be holes in every paper they were working on.

We had a meeting and Yvette and all of my classmates were talking about finding a solution so we would feel less frustrated. All of us were getting tired of people always having to do things for us.

Yvette had done some research on computers and saw that they would be very helpful to our class, but she also found out that they were very expensive. We decided to have a picnic to raise money for our class to buy a computer. The big day came and went and then Yvette told us that the grand total for the day was forty dollars and that wasn't enough to buy a computer for our class. We were all very disappointed because all that we had raised was forty dollars. We talked about how we felt about all of this. Then Yvette said to the class, "We have to think about a way we can get a computer. Does anybody have any idea how to do that?" And that was when I raised my hand and I said to her "Why don't you ask my father?"

Yvette wrote my dad a letter and explained to him the problem that we had about getting a computer. A few days later an announcement came over the loudspeaker in the classroom saying that Mr. McMahan was on the phone and he wanted to talk to Yvette. She ran out of the classroom to answer the telephone. When she came back Yvette told our class that my father was going to give us a computer. We were all very excited.

In a few days the Apple IIe Computer arrived.

I can't speak for the rest of the class but that first computer helped me change from being a person who was shy and introverted to a person who was much happier and proud of the new abilities that I had acquired while using it.

Daddy had thrown some of the computers that he did not need in the office away because he thought that no one wanted to use them. But then he began to think of why he had thrown them away when so many people with disabilities like me could use them. He and Yvette met and began to brainstorm on the idea of how to get computers to people who needed them and the result was the start of the National Cristina Foundation.

Today the National Cristina Foundation has helped millions of people who have differing abilities. I prefer that way of describing myself and other people who have disabilities. The National Cristina Foundation once sponsored a word contest to find a way to talk about the abilities of people with disabilities. The judge from the American Heritage Dictionary helped write the definition of the winning entry, People with Differing Abilities -- which means "people who use their unique range of abilities to develop fully in their own way." We really think now that it is a good definition about everybody.


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