Dixie Mitchell laughed when she said she can't scrub the walls up by the ceiling.
She can do most other things, though: cooking, cleaning, driving, swimming, working and the myriad of activities that go with being married and raising two little girls.Mitchell had polio when she was 1 year old and has always gotten around in a wheelchair. It has never slowed her down, she said, as she pursued a master's degree in speech pathology, went to work as a medical transcriptionist, married and adopted two children.
This year, she added two new challenges to her life: Dixie Mitchell is Ms. Wheelchair Utah, a spokeswoman for the physically disabled. And she's serving as coordinator of the Women and Disabilities Issues Conference, April 5 at the Salt Lake Hilton, 150 W. Fifth South.
The conference, in its third year, gives women with all types of handicaps a chance to listen to presentations by professionals and share information with their peers, Mitchell said. "In the past, I have found (the conference) valuable for individuals to find new slants on issues of importance to them. For instance, talking to others in a similar situation, I can ask `How do you get around? Where do you go for recreation facilities?' That type of thing. We share a lot of ideas."
The conference offers a choice of 12 workshops, as well as a keynote address by Marian Schooling-Vessels, executive director of the Maryland Governor's Committee on Employment of the Handicapped and former Ms. Wheelchair America.
"The type and quality of the workshops add a lot," Mitchell said. "With changes in architecture to get rid of barriers, people are getting out more. But still others are sitting at home, afraid to go out or unsure how. Everyone should get involved, and this type of conference is a great place to begin."
She said that, particularly for those who are injured or disabled as adults, isolation is a problem. Getting out and learning to cope is the only solution. This conference is designed to show people how.
Deaf interpreters and Braille programs are among the special accommodations being made for participants. The fee is $20 for those who preregister, $25 at the door, and fee waivers are available. For information, call 538-4210.
"Growing up with a disability," Mitchell said, "I never realized how much public education needs to be done. I was always treated well, and took it for granted. My biggest wish is that society at large would accept the handicapped just as people. You might find someone with cerebral palsy who is absolutely brilliant, but because it's encased where it's not easily expressed, people think he's not very bright. If we could take all the kids when they are young and teach them . . . "
To that end, Mitchell and her husband, Tom, who is totally blind, are both actively involved in the community, including appearance at schools and before organizations.
"We all need role models," she said, "regardless of our situations. There should be someone just ahead of us, no matter where we are, so we can say, `They did that, and so can I.'
"Physically, I used to place limitations on myself. I thought, for instance, I could never be a bank teller. I don't know why I thought that. But I keep trying and growing. A few years ago, I couldn't have competed for Ms. Wheelchair Utah. Now I'm going to compete for the national title."