Before You Judge Her, Meet Sarah

Before You Judge Her, Meet Sarah

You may have noticed Sarah Funes and her unusual mode of transportation on campus. Using a Segway turns many heads, raises loads of questions and brings on a lot criticism.

Survivor of a brain tumor at age 10, Funes has been called a “miracle child,” and rightly so. After a 2003 surgery to remove the cancer was successful, complications with the tumor’s placement and pressure in her brain caused her to become hemi-paraplegic, meaning she’s unable to have full use of her left limbs, and also to lose all of her peripheral vision in her left eye. The chemotherapy she received during her formative years created pelvic bone abnormalities and hip problems that have caused Funes to experience excruciating pain.

Because she was unable to get a power wheelchair covered by her insurance, Funes opted for the portable electric Segway. It dissembles and fits in most cars and can be picked up and placed into the trunk of a car. With a motorized scooter Funes would have to have the accommodating van to move it and this was not something her family could provide. She paid for the most of the device’s cost herself, with additional funding coming from a scholarship she earned from the San Mateo Community College District Foundation.

Her disabilities aren’t entirely visible and this can cause confusion for a passerby who might not understand. Funes has a disability placard placed on the front of the vehicle and wears a helmet while operating it. It’s not a toy to her; it’s her way to get to class, to the bathroom, to the cafeteria and any other place she needs to get to, with minimal pain.

“People think that I’m rich or people think that my level of disability is less than others because I don’t require a power chair,” said Funes. “Which couldn’t be further from the case because I have so many different [ailments], it doesn’t hurt me I just think it’s kind of funny. It’s like they’re not even clued in. I can’t implant knowledge into peoples’ heads. I try to make my world as funny as possible to get by.”

“Movement means the ability to be independent and to be as free as anyone else,” said Funes. “Look at the Segway like a wheelchair, I don’t do it to be obnoxious I do it to be able to move.”

Funes is currently working to create awareness about possible revisions to Californian legislation in Title V. Certain words contained in this legislation should not be used to describe people with disabilities. The title written in 1965 doesn’t express modern social disability ideals. She is also going in front of the state Senate, April 10, to try to convince legislators to restore funding of disability resources to California Community Colleges.

“My entire life I’ve always felt like I’ve wanted to change the world,” said Funes. “There is a great quote from [Joan of Arc], ‘I am not afraid. I was born to do this,’ and I feel like that is me. I’m never going to have a normal life, or a simple life. I wasn’t put here by accident. There’s something I’m meant to do and I feel like it’s no coincidence I’m here.”

This article has been replaced with the correct copy edited version. 4/11/2013 10:57 a.m.