When Aimee Wehmeier took the helm of Paraquad this past January, she was only the third CEO in the organization’s four decade history. Born with Muscular Dystrophy, she has used a wheel chair since the age of four and even served for a number of years as the MDA St. Louis Poster Child. At age eighteen, she was able to go to school in Columbia and live independently for the first time. She feels that her life epitomizes the story of Paraquad, one of the country’s largest and oldest centers for independent living and is in awe of her new position.
“Paraquad is really a leader in the disability movement,” Wehmeier said. “I can remember reading about Paraquad in high school in my history book. So it’s quite an honor to be representing the folks, people with disabilities in St. Louis as the leader of Paraquad. [Paraquad Founder] Max Starkloff was an idol for me, so to be following in his footsteps is quite an honor.”
Wehmeier explained to St. Louis on the Air host Don Marsh that Paraqud concentrates on four major efforts: advocacy, independent living training, peer counseling and information referral. Services provided include an assistive technology center, a health and wellness center, medical equipment and repair, an employment program, education, a youth and family program and a public policy program.
Wehmeier is especially enthusiastic about Paraquad’s latest project that will provide the first fully accessible health, sports and wellness community recreation center in the U.S. Although there are five centers in the country, three are only open to patients of the associated hospital and the other two are only for clients of their sponsoring organizations. Paraquad’s center will be the only one open to anyone in the community.
When asked about the biggest challenges facing people with disabilities, Wehmeier responded, “The biggest barrier is still attitudes and low expectations. I shouldn’t be an inspiration nor should any person with a disability be an inspiration simply because they go to work. That should be an expectation. It should be expected that people can live in the community, can have families, can be employed and be valuable members of society. So really, the attitude piece is big.”
Paraquad can be reached by phone at (314) 289-4200 or through the website.