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A little voice carried across the table. “Why did you end MYSTIC that way?” Students gathered around waiting for me to sign their books. I heard her question and desperately wanted to answer. However, I had made a promise not to give away the ending to some of her fellow students who were halfway through MYSTIC.

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My mother-in-law was sitting outside a store in her power wheelchair drinking a cup of coffee waiting for her ride when a stranger walked by and dropped some coins into her coffee cup. Imagine her surprise! She had no idea she needed help.

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The letter that made me cry

When I have author visits with schools I tell the students my inspiration behind writing MYSTIC. Arielle. Before I knew I was going to write a fantasy, I knew I would have a protagonist who used a wheelchair. Arielle was reading many books as a fourth grader in the Accelerated Reader program and not one of them had characters using a wheelchair. Meanwhile, I watched as Arielle’s life changed and she had to persevere through many obstacles while surrounded by able bodied people who she continually had to educate about these obstacles. Kids as well as adults could behave in ways that were insensitive. Playgrounds were not accessible and often her friends would run off and leave her. Sometimes things were said that were not appropriate like: “So if I shoot you in the leg, you wouldn’t feel it?” And then there was the substitute teacher in 5th grade that yelled at her for not standing for the Pledge of Allegiance. Arielle had transferred to her desk and he didn’t notice the wheelchair in the back of the room.

I wanted to write a book that showed the inner and outer struggles of a child using a wheelchair. After six years, many edits and seven full rewrites, MYSTIC was published January 5, 2013. Since then, I’ve received many letters and emails from children telling me how much they enjoyed MYSTIC and asking when the next book will be out. I love hearing from kids and I’ve kept all of the letters and emails they sent. Yesterday, a letter came addressed to Krista Rausin from Illinois. I was very curious because I write under the name K.D. Rausin and it was an adult’s handwriting on the envelope. I opened the letter and read it out loud to Eric. Tears streamed down both our faces. The words told of three young girls who read MYSTIC.  All three used wheelchairs and lived in small towns where they were the only ones using wheelchairs. They were, “SO excited to read a story about a girl who uses a wheelchair ‘just like them.'”

Suddenly, a sense of closure came over me. After a year of worrying about how many books I sold, whether I was doing enough marketing, and whether or not I was taken seriously as a writer since I published MYSTIC myself, I let it go. MYSTIC made a difference.  Three girls that may be feeling the same things Arielle felt at their age had the chance to read about a young girl “just like them.”

Disability Resources and Educational Services

“When you’re done screaming, pull the mask down over your nose and mouth and breathe normally.” What did he say? The entire plane was laughing and now listening to his every word on emergency airline procedures.

When I booked our tickets with AirTran I was uneasy. Traveling can be stressful; traveling with a daughter in a wheelchair can be extremely stressful. Too many times I have had to watch her cringe with embarrassment because even though I informed the airline online, called and asked several agents for help-the straight-back chair was not at the gate in time for boarding. Arielle would have to be rolled to her seat in front of a plane full of staring eyes. In fact after countless flights, there is one airline I will avoid. It is painfully obvious they have not trained their employees on the procedures of accessible travel.

Delta had always been my airline of choice, up until our last trip with them, they had a decent track record of making sure Arielle’s seat was accessible and the straight-back chair was available at the time of boarding.

Wheeling her racing wheelchair up to AirTran’s ticket counter, I put on my smile and felt my stomach churn. My mantra since I was two years old has been “I’ll do it myself.” I hate asking people for help even more than I hate asking for directions. This mantra has been challenged continuously since I’ve started traveling with the wheelchair. If the airline employees are stressed-I have learned to simply breathe and stay calm. The slightest remark can set them off as Arielle quickly learned when she tried to challenge the Delta ticket agent telling her it shouldn’t cost $200.00 to check her racing wheelchair. The woman insisted it was a bike-I nodded. Don’t mess with a stressed out ticket agent. I waited a few days, went back, and Delta gave us a refund.

The man at the AirTran counter looked at the racing wheelchair. This time I was ready. He called it, sports equipment, and was going to charge me an extra $70.00. “It’s like this… if she could run she would have packed a pair of sneakers for her race but since she can’t stand-she has this.” That was my reply, stolen from a conversation with my husband after the Delta incident. “I get it.” That’s all the man said and he called someone to come and pick up the wheelchair. I think he even smiled. First impression with AirTran-excellent.

Much to my delight, the entire trip with AirTran was exceptional. They made sure Arielle had an accessible seat, they had the straight-back chair available, they even made us laugh a second time when the comedian/flight attendant announced after landing “Be careful when opening the overhead bins… shift happens.”

Thank you, AirTran!