Rutgers graduation: How young woman’s missing fingers will be an advantage in life
When Annie Reading was a young child, she didn't have much reason to think about being different than other people.
She was missing a few fingers on one hand — due to a congenital condition known as syndactyly, in which fingers or toes are joined. But she more than got by. She was able to do most things that most people could.
"OK, that's just the way I am," she told New Jersey 101.5. "But as I got older, I noticed, hey, I'm different. I'm not like everybody else, physically. ... It took a long time for me to really accept myself.
Join New Jersey 101.5's Bill Spadea and Mike Symons of New: Jersey Decoded for a live chat as New Jersey 101.5 streams live video of President Obama at the Rutgers Commencement Sunday. The ceremony begins at 12:30 p.m.
As a high school senior, Reading read a biography of a man born without forearms and lower legs. She was drawn into his story — but took particular note of the work done to help him. His father modified his toys. He played soccer — friends and father would lower the crossbeam of a goal so he could protect it as a goalie.
With adaptations, he got to share in many of the experiences his disability might have otherwise ruled out.
Reading hopes to take that effort forward as an occupational therapist, graduating May 15 with an associate of science degree from the Rutgers School of Health Related Professions.
She said as a person with a physical limitation, she can bring an empathy and reliability to occupational therapy. Those working with new lifelong or new challenges will have an ally in Reading — one whose experience may not be all that different than their own.
"My future clients, when they see me with a slight physical disability or limitation, they'll understand, 'Hey, if she can do it, I can do it,'" she said.
It's key, Reading said, for those with disabilities to surround themselves with supportive, compassionate, patient people.
"Education is the best way to get everybody to understand that anyone with a limitation is still as human as they are, still have the right to live — as everybody is granted that right to live their life to the fullest," Reading said.