Donna Carter had just celebrated her 18th birthday when she learned to “work with what I’ve got.”
That lesson began one rainy August evening in 1988, when the car she was riding in ran off a narrow country road and flipped. The driver was not injured, but Donna sustained a C5-6 spinal cord injury that resulted in quadriplegia.
She spent several months in the hospital and several more at the Alabama Department of Rehabilitation Services Lakeshore Rehabilitation Facility in Birmingham – almost two years total – being evaluated and then attending physical and occupational therapy. From the beginning, the State of Alabama Independent Living Service was with her, covering the cost of therapies as well as room and board. When she returned home, SAIL provided attendant care, home physical therapy, and an electric wheelchair
In 1990, when the Greenville native expressed an interest in getting back to work, she was referred to Vocational Rehabilitation Service. After completing a college prep class at ADRS’ Lakeshore Rehabilitation Facility, she began attending Lurleen B. Wallace Community College in her hometown of Greenville. Later, she enrolled at Troy State University, where she earned a degree in rehabilitation counseling in 1996. Four years after that, she received a master’s degree in rehabilitation counseling from Auburn University.
Throughout her schooling, VRS was there, providing financial assistance, attendant services, and, most importantly, perhaps, emotional support. “That was invaluable, especially in the beginning,” she said. In February 2001, she interviewed for a contact representative position with the Social Security Administration office in Birmingham and began working there the following month. She enjoys her job, which allows her to put her counseling training to use.
Her case with VRS has been closed, but as help is needed, Donna will receive it. Soon, for example, VRS will cover the cost of equipping a new van with hand controls, so that she can drive to work for the first time since her accident.
To those facing similar circumstances, she offers the following advice: “Don’t look at what you can’t do, but at what you can do and strive to do that. Then you won’t pay as much attention to the things you can’t do.”
And she should know. That’s what she does everyday.