How Studying Abroad In My Wheelchair Changed My LifeMy name is Maday, I’m 24 years old and live in Mexico. When I was 4, I was in a bad car accident that left me with a SCI (Spinal Cord Injury), at T8 complete level. After my accident, my life’s options seemed to be cut in half.

Many things would be more difficult for me than they were for others. My country offers nowhere near close to the accessibility and adaptability of other world nations. The options of mobility are limited, and the path to independence for wheelchair users is quite hard. Growing up, I knew it would take more work to accomplish.

I got into college at one of the most accessible/adapted schools in Mexico City, Ibero-American University. While in college, I gained more independence and started to dream about studying abroad. This dream took me 3 years to realize. I needed to find the guts to make it happen. Let me share that story with you.

My paperwork and training took me about 6 months. I was used to having help everyday, so learning to do everything by myself was overwhelming. The work was hard, but the reward was so tempting – I didn’t choose defeat! I decided to study abroad in the United States. I chose Chicago, Illinois because I read it was a pretty good accessible city (I mean, every city in USA is way more adaptive than any city in Mexico, LOL). My university’s partner school in Chicago is DePaul University. When my acceptance letter got to my house, that’s where my true adventure started.

I was the first person with a disability to study abroad from my university in Mexico City. In fact, I was the first disabled person to ever apply to study abroad! In Chicago, I was relieved when I saw that DePaul has a specific department for people with disabilities. They helped to see that all of my needs would be met there.

I arrived in Chicago in December 2013. I had decided not to live in university housing, because I was afraid and shy – I wanted privacy.  I started looking for a place to live on Craigslist. It was very difficult to find an accessible place to live. Most apartments weren’t accessible at all. I needed to find a place that had a decent space in the bathroom. After a lot of searching, I found the perfect one bedroom apartment. I didn’t think twice and took it immediately!

My apartment in Chicago was close to the university campus where I took classes. It took me 10 or 15 minutes by “rolling” to get there. Wheeling myself there was the easiest way, although it was hard when the wind was against me! The wind hurt me sometimes, but seeing the rolling in a positive way, I did a get lot of exercise! I never thought I would be able to go to university by myself, since in Mexico I must use a car.

On the introduction day for foreign students studying abroad at DePaul University, they gave us a lot of information about living in the city. Public transportation is big in Chicago – that it how most people get around. They gave us a Ventra Card that allowed us to use the city buses and metro trains. At the beginning, I was very afraid to use public transportation. At some stations, the entrance to the metro train was a little too high to get in by myself. I finally discovered that, if you ask for help, there was a little ramp they put in to make it easier to get in. When you realize that all people sometimes need help, you won’t get shy about asking for it.

Maday Lopez on the Chicago Metro Train and a River Boat Cruise

I started riding the bus, though it took me like 4 rides and some “pay attention” calls by the driver to figure things out. I learned that, in the wheelchair space on the bus, there was a yellow button/strip that I could push to signal a stop. I didn’t need to die trying to pull the signal cable over the window. I was such an alien LOL!

I have to say that the wheelchair accessibility of Chicago’s public transportation made me love the USA even more.

I had found out about the existence of (government-subsidized) PACE taxis. They are a great option for cheap transportation. I wasn’t able to apply because it was a long process and I am not a USA citizen.

For more information on riding the city bus and metro with a wheelchair,
or using the PACE Taxi paratransit service, see’s
Chicago Public Transportation guide

Snow on Chicago's State StreetWinter! I think many of you already know the problems of using a wheelchair in a city where the 4-month winters are full of snow and wind. This was new to me – in Mexico city, it never snows. I thought the snow was so beautiful, until I saw how hard it was to roll through! Dealing with the snow was one of the most difficult things I had to figure out, but I adjusted. Normally, I didn’t have a big problem with snow, because my apartment and school were downtown. The city workers were fast at cleaning the sidewalks and clearing the snow. One snow day was unusual. It took more time clean the snow and I needed to get home. I tried to make it through myself, but my hands and gloves were wet and cold, and I got stuck. I was about to freak out and cry, but I asked a stranger to help, and they did!

Another nightmare for me was DOORS, OMG! If a door is hard to pull or push for a regular person, imagine for a wheelchair person! Some doors in the city were adapted, but many were not, and they were so hard to open. I could always ask for help, but sometimes people weren’t around. The Panera Bread door was the easiest, so  I was a loyal costumer there. 😉

Living alone was such a new experience for me. Imagine a girl that has been overprotected all her life who suddenly thinks it is a great idea to live alone! In a foreign country! I don’t regret a thing. Going to Target to buy groceries was such a good way of exercise, because I had to take 4 or more trips to bring everything back, little by little. Thankfully, I found a company where you can buy everything online and get it delivered to your place. I was so happy to have the laundry room on my floor. I had to make like 2 or 3 trips each time, but I saw it in a positive way. Sometimes you won’t receive any help, but that gives you the opportunity get better with practice.

After I had gotten used to living by myself, I decided to find a place to work out. I found an adapted gym near home, just for people with disabilities. The gym was at the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago, and had many adapted activities and a physical therapist. I was so happy this kind of place existed. They had yoga, dancing classes, personal training and many other activities.

Maday Lopez at the United Center for a Chicago Bulls NBA game

There are A LOT of things to do in Chicago. When I was there, I visited museums, attended concerts and the symphony, toured art galleries, went to the movie theater, watched sporting events, and so much more! I got discounts for being a student and also a disabled person. Visitors to the city have so many options to choose from, but the important thing is to get out and experience life. I learned equally from both my good and bad experiences in the city.

Read about wheelchair accessible things to do in’s
complete Chicago Wheelchair Accessible Travel Guide.

My time in Chicago was AWESOME to say the least. Studying abroad was one of the best decisions I ever made. It changed me completely. My parents freaked out when I first told them of my plan to study abroad, but their support really helped me through the process. Going in a wheelchair to somewhere you’ve never been may sound terrifying, but I think it is one of the things you have to do in life. My semester in Chicago gave me the strength to recognize my self-worth. I learned that I am capable of doing so much more. The trip opened many options that I closed myself to a long time ago.

It is never too late to give that first step. Accept your disability and embrace it in a good way, a way that lets you live a fuller life.


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