Kelsie and a pot of pumpkin spice coffee are waiting for Dani when she walks in the door. Dani and Kelsie are friends. They both enjoy roller coasters, coffee, pumpkin spice anything, Jack Johnson and the Disney Channel back when Miley Cyrus was Hannah Montana.
Many mornings start with pop-guitar and the Jonas brothers’ vocals playing in the background. Dani Ramirez holds Kelsie Cain from underneath the arms and lifts her up as the two dance in a circle, helping Kelsie sit into her wheelchair.
The “dance” was invented by Dani Ramirez, freshman pre-nursing major, on her first morning working as a care provider for Kelsie Cain, senior public relations major. Dani presses play and the two smile and laugh as they perform the dance that paves the way for Kelsie to be largely independent the rest of the day.
“People are focused on the ‘dis’ part and not the ‘ability,’” Cain said. She has cerebral palsy, which damages the part of the brain that gives balance and allows muscles to work.
Ramirez talks as she brings Cain’s hair into a ponytail, smoothing and Cain lends a listening ear.
The two pour into their friendship in different ways. Neither are concerned with what they can get from the other person; they focus on what they can give.
A deep relationship between Ramirez and Cain was inspired from the beginning because of the nature of dealing with very personal things. Cain said it’s the little things like turning on music and making the chair transfer a dance that inspire friendship.
“She’s her all the time,” Cain said, “and she sees me as a person, not someone in a wheelchair, but somebody worth being a friend to, and that I want to be a friend (with as well).”
But not everyone is Ramirez. The buzz of a wheelchair’s electric motor can inspire awkward or uncomfortable feelings in a person who is not used to interacting with someone with a disability and may stop a friendship before it can begin.
The uncomfortable feelings are obvious to Cain while sitting in class and the seat next to her remains unoccupied — again. Cain said many people see the wheelchair first, any physical abnormality second and the person last.
“Even if they’re in a vegetative state, if they’re alive God has them here for a reason,” Cain said. “They want friends, they deserve to be loved be- cause they’re made in God’s image. It doesn’t matter what I’m capable of. I think in the end maybe the issue is that we see friendships as what can I get out of a friendship versus what can I put into one.”