Health care professionals are vital to the rehabilitation of someone adjusting to a disability. That was the message given in a thought-provoking, funny and inspirational presentation by disability expert, author, speaker and trainer Gary Karp at Western University of Health Sciences Tuesday, Feb. 24, 2009.

Gary was a wheeler and dealer, telling his story of modern disability with ease and jokes to an overflowing crowd at Cooper Hall in the University Research Center building.

At the age of 18, Karp injured his spinal cord in a fall from a tree. He talked about the six weeks spent in a hospital bed followed by seven weeks in rehabilitation. He also explained the difference between the “walking mind” and the “wheeling mind.”

Someone viewing a wheelchair with a walking mind sees it as confining and limiting. But someone with the wheeling mind sees their wheelchair as a means of mobility.

“I’m liberated by my wheelchair,” Karp said. “Disability goes away quickly.”

Since then he has embraced his life on wheels through sharing his goal to never give up, deciding to keep moving and believing something is possible with people supporting you.

“Your job is to know how this works and how they adapt, ‘cause you have to work with them,” Karp said. “When working with people, give them control, as it’s therapeutic.”

While addressing mostly students studying physical and occupational therapy, Karp said, “We are all wired to adapt, and this is where all of you come in.”

Looking for a potentially new definition of disability, Dr. Dee Schilling, chair of the Department of Physical Therapy Education, was excited to have Karp as a guest speaker.

“I am hopeful that he will be a catalyst to further discussion and exploration,” she said. “He is a reminder and role model for all of us as to the potential within, and what is possible.

Karp’s talk resulted in students reflecting on their own fears and prejudices.

“To hear what they found in themselves is a matter of perspective,” said Joel Molt, a first-year PA student at WesternU. “As a practitioner, like everything, being able to relate to a person with a disability is what they want.”

Gary Karp is the author of several books on disability: “Life On Wheels: The A to Z Guide to Living Fully with Mobility Issues,” “Choosing a Wheelchair: A Guide for Optimal Independence,” From There to Here: Stories of Adjustment to Spinal Cord Injury,” and “Disability & the Art of Kissing: Qs & As on the True Nature of Intimacy.” Learn more about Gary Karp’s life at

For the last five years the Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation have sponsored Karp’s presentations at universities across the United States. The Department of Physical Therapy Education, in collaboration with the Center for Disability Issues and the Health Professions, helped sponsor his talk at WesternU.

Photos clockwise from top left: Disability expert and author Gary Karp answers questions from students and faculty at Western University of Health Sciences. Karp uses juggling as part of his presentation. WesternU student Jon Porter, DO ’11, right, talks with Karp after his presentation. Karp strikes up a conversation after his presentation.