201702-sady-036By Jody Kerzman | Photography: Photos by Jacy

There are some people that cross our paths that make us want to smile and be a better person.

Sady Paulson is one of them.

“Five minutes after we met, we were Facebook friends!” says Inspired Woman Photographer, Jacy Voglewede. “She’s just such a neat person. She’s really just like the rest of us, even though she’s had more battles to overcome. I left my photo session with Sady feeling thankful, not for my life, but thankful that I had the chance to meet Sady.”

And when it comes to overcoming battles, Sady is sort of an expert. She’s been overcoming battles her whole life. Sady has Cerebral Palsy, a neurological disorder that affects muscle coordination.

“Cerebral Palsy has two parts, cerebral involves the brain and that palsy involves a weakness in the way a person positions their body,” she explains. “I can not do physical things, like walking, getting dressed, and eating by myself.  I have support helpers who will assist me with all these things. My body doesn’t respond the way everyone else’s does. This world is set up for people who don’t have limitations.”

It would be easy for Sady to feel sorry for herself. Afterall, her life has not been easy. But Sady has no time for self pity.

“Indeed I have faced challenges. Everybody has problems, but I have my own theme of challenges. I will always have some challenges to work through, but that makes me stronger. I don’t let the challenges control my life.”

Instead, Sady is busy shattering stereotypes, and accepting challenges.

“It takes me longer to speak, work, and play than it takes others. But I can do all of those things. I just do them differently and it may take longer,” Sady says matter-of-factly. “I challenge people to not think that I am different, I challenge them to look at me differently. Look beyond my disability and see me for who I am.”

Sady’s career

Who she is is a 29-year-old  editor, presenter, and a recent graduate with a Bachelor’s Degree in Digital Cinematography. Sady has spent her entire life in North Dakota. Sady grew up in Killdeer, attended 8th grade at Bismarck’s Wachter Middle School, spent a few years at the Anne Carlsen Center in Jamestown, and now lives in Fargo.

“As a kid, I was always wondering if I could ever have a job that I love. When I met Mark Coppin about 10 years ago, my little world changed in a huge way,” says Sady.

Mark Coppin is the Director of Assistive Technology at Anne Carlsen Center. He and Sady met during an occupational therapy assessment. Mark introduced Sady to technology, and showed her how technology could change her life.

“He has taught me so much and pushed me to live out my dreams. I could write a book on him,” says Sady. “When I was a senior in high school, Mark introduced me to some technology he thought I might be interested in. Then I started attending tech camp at Camp Grassick and became interested in film editing.”

“Sady, as well as the rest of the campers, took photos at camp and I would edit them into a video at the end of the week,” says Mark. “Sady said she wanted to edit, so I thought ‘why not?’ She ended up editing a three minute video with transitions, movements, and titles. At that moment I realized I was witnessing something quite special. I knew there was potential and she was only limited by what the technology could do for her.”

Mark got Sady hooked up with a MacBook Pro and a scanning system. The scanning system is controlled by switches that are mounted on the side of Sady’s head. She has to move her head to control the switches, which then send a command to the computer to move a video or audio clip. It is tedious and time consuming, but Sady loves every second of it.

“What everyone else can do with a keyboard and a mouse, I can do with my two switches. Now, I’m a big nerd that loves technology! I am like a technology junkie,” Sady laughs. “My love for technology is more than just a passion; it gives me access to my world. I need help in some areas, but assistive technology enables me to communicate with my loved ones, and pursue my career.”

Sady graduated from Full Sail University with a Bachelor of Science degree in Digital Cinematography.

“When she was getting her cinematography degree, she did it all online. Because it was online, no one on the other end knew she had a disability. All they saw was her ability. Even many of her teachers didn’t know she has a disability and she didn’t have any special accommodations. She graduated with the advanced achievement award and was one of the top students in her class. Amazing,” says Mark.

Technology Changed Her Life

Technology helped her complete her education, and she uses some type of technology in her daily life.

“I love to make films about real life and the world. I have been a director, cinematographer, actress, editor, and a lot more. I enjoy being able to do something with my skills. I often do presentations about myself and the technology that has changed my life. I hope by sharing my story, other people will realize that it is possible to live how you wish. There are people out there who make it their sole mission in life, to help you find and access everything you need. These people mean more to me than they will ever know.”

Her latest and biggest project was an accessibility video for Apple (watch it here). Sady was the lead editor.

“I was excited when Apple reached out to me, to use my video editing skills for the video which was also timed to go live the same day as their redesigned accessibility website, where I’m also featured along with other great users of Apple’s accessible tech,” she explains.  “When I went to Anne Carlsen Center, I discovered I had a passion for video editing when I had an opportunity to be introduced to a project. I find that editing is both work and fun for me.”

It’s a Gift

Sady’s Cerebral Palsy means her muscles don’t work like they should. Her CP is both spastic (characterized by increased muscle tone, which causes stiffness and creates difficulties with movement and balance) and athetoid (characterized by involuntary, uncontrolled movements, especially in the arms, legs, and hands.) Technology has given her control and opportunities. Her electric wheelchair, which she controls with her head, and her computer, iPad, and iPhone all have connected her with a world she never thought she’d know.

“Cerebral Palsy doesn’t limit my abilities to be successful,” says Sady. “I’ve been hit with a lot of obstacles but they have all helped me grow as a person.”

In fact, Sady considers her Cerebral Palsy and the challenges it brings a gift. It’s her gift to encourage others and to inspire  change.

“I hope I can be of encouragement to those doubting themselves. People think having a disability is a barrier, but I see things differently. My hope is to knock down those misinterpretations about this thought process. You have the ability to do anything that you want, but you have to be willing to take a leap of faith.

“I have great support as well.”

Her support includes Mark Coppin, professional learning engineer Mark Dohn, and her mom, Diane Paulson.

“My mom is my biggest inspiration. She always told me that I can do anything I want.”

Advice Sady took to heart. Next on her list: to go back to school for a second degree, this time in social work. She hopes to one day start her own day program to help others with disabilities achieve their dreams.   

To see more photos of Sady, click here to see a gallery put together by Photos by Jacy.