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Finding a Community During the COVID-19 Pandemic by Naomi Lee Baumol

My pandemic story is an unusual one. During a time when most people were acutely feeling the pain of isolation and loss of social interaction, I have been actively finding a community of my own. I have been disabled my entire adult life, since a car accident left me with an incomplete spinal cord injury when I was 15 years old. Since then I have used forearm crutches and AFO braces to ambulate. Although it’s been over 20 years since my accident, it was only during the pandemic that I began to make an effort to meet other people with disabilities. In the beginning of 2020, I reconnected with a close family friend, Bob, who had survived polio as a child. As the pandemic made it necessary to stay home, we spent hours talking on the phone together. Bob is probably the best storyteller I know, and he recounted anecdote after anecdote from his adventurous and exciting life. Many of his stories highlighted the value of having a disabled community, and I was inspired to seek one of my own. In the fall of 2020, when the second wave of COVID-19 was ramping up, I started attending the Mount Sinai SCI Peer Support Group on zoom. It was there that I first met Natalia who invited me to join Women on Wheels. At my first meeting I found an amazing group of confident and charismatic women. The openness with which they spoke about their disabilities was thrilling to me—It was such a shock to hear people talking openly and casually about concerns and issues which I never spoke about out loud except possibly with a medical professional. At first, I felt a little intimidated and was reluctant to speak up at our weekly meetings, but over time I have become more comfortable. All the members of W.O.W. are extremely warm and welcoming, and I’ve been so grateful to become part of this group. Late last year my friend, Bob, passed away. I miss him and his stories more than I can say, but thanks to him, I am making new friends and, for the first time, I feel like I belong to a community of my own. As New York continues to emerge from this pandemic, I’m excited for the chance to meet all the women of W.O.W. in person and looking forward to getting to know everyone better and better.

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