Rachel Kroener, who is graduating from the California State University, Dominguez Hills (CSUDH) Orthotics and Prosthetics program on May 21 with her master’s degree in health sciences, knows that prosthetics is about much more than new artificial limbs.
As someone with a physical disability, Kroener understands the importance of fostering community with patients and showing them life’s full range of possibilities.
Kroener, who was raised in Scottsdale, Ariz., has always used a wheelchair due to cerebral palsy. A self-described “big advocate” for adaptive sports, she began playing wheelchair basketball at age 10—an experience which she says “opened up the whole world.”
Kroener added track and field to her athletic endeavors, earning multiple awards for discus, javelin, and shot put, and attended the University of Texas at Arlington to play on the women’s wheelchair basketball team. Being part of a tight-knit disabled community was hugely impactful for Kroener, who was inspired by her fellow teammates.
“They were independent, married, had kids, worked full-time jobs—that was really cool to see,” she said. “It showed me what was possible.”
Kroener has also shared her enthusiasm for adaptive sports with her fellow graduate students. She recalls none of her personal practitioners or doctors ever spoke with her about adaptive sports or other inclusive activities.
“If you’re just giving your patient a device and not helping them find opportunities within the disability community, you’re doing a disservice to them,” Kroener says. “It’s really powerful to meet other people with disabilities.”
Kroener looks forward to continuing bringing her expertise and empathy to the field post-graduation. She has a vision in which people with disabilities are afforded with respect and understanding, and difference is normalized.
“Don’t count someone out because they have a disability,” she said.