Devyn Burdett prefers being independent, from driving for errands to advocating for people with disabilities.
In March 2020, the Coeur d’Alene resident lost use of her legs. Her paralysis was thought to be caused by transverse myelitis, a rare neurological disorder. Burdett, 36, has kept determined to stay active with full-time work and family. She carries the title of 2021 Ms. Wheelchair Idaho.
Burdett also has continued driving her 2007 Nissan Murano, using her right hand to push and pull her right leg from the gas pedal to brake and her other hand to steer. Once parked, she lowers herself to the ground and scoots to the vehicle’s rear, using a rod to keep up the broken back hatch and pull out her wheelchair. Few people notice.
But on Nov. 12 at a Walmart, something different happened.
“It was pouring down rain,” Burdett said. “Normally, people will either walk by and not pay any mind, or they’ll offer help, but that was the first time I’ve had someone stop and watch and laugh, and I noticed they were taking pictures.
“There were four to five of them. I just glanced over my shoulder and thought, ‘Not today.’ ”
Burdett said she mockingly asked if they wanted her to pose, then they walked away after using an expletive. By the time she was inside the store, the incident had brought her to tears, so she called Debby Carlson, a close friend.
After hearing what happened, Carlson contacted another friend of theirs, Brooke Miller. The two women within a couple of days started a GoFundMe goal to raise $30,000 so that Burdett can buy a wheelchair-accessible van. Burdett was unsure until the friends convinced her this was one time to accept help.
“I didn’t even know about it (the GoFundMe) until after the fact when they wanted to take video of me for the GoFundMe,” she said. The campaign had surpassed $20,000 just after Thanksgiving.
“I fought the GoFundMe actually, and at one point when it was a little over $1,000, I said, ‘Take it down. We can use the money for families who need it for Christmas or to get them clothes.’ There are a lot of other families who can use it. I battle accepting the help when my main goal in everything I do is helping others.”
But she said Carlson and Miller won the battle. “My friends were like, ‘No, Devyn, for once, you’re going to accept the help, and you do need the help,’ so here we are. I’m not saying that the van is not going to be life-changing; it’s just hard to accept the help.”
Burdett was chosen as Ms. Wheelchair Idaho in February for a role she describes as being an advocate for women in wheelchairs so they can thrive in their communities. She’ll crown a new Ms. Wheelchair Idaho in February and then continue as a volunteer state coordinator.
Ms. Wheelchair America, a national nonprofit, presented her with two awards this year – its achievement award and the Cinda Hughes Community Impact Award. Judges reviewed Burdett’s social media and community advocacy work in naming who they thought impacted their community the most.
Explaining the work of Ms. Wheelchair America and her role in holding a state title often requires a bit of a speech.
“What I find myself telling everybody is Ms. Wheelchair Idaho or Ms. Wheelchair America is not a beauty pageant,” she said. “It’s an advocacy program for women in wheelchairs. We advocate for better parks, better adaptive equipment at doctors’ offices, or every woman has a different platform.
“Mine is, adventures for all, so I advocate for better sports equipment at schools and at playgrounds and just in general for people to get out and move. Just because you’re disabled doesn’t mean you have to stop living.”
She does social media posts on Instagram and Facebook in support of people with disabilities and causes, including disability organizations and businesses such as Village Bakery, which hires only people with disabilities. In another role, Burdett volunteers at Ironman to support competitors who have different disabilities.
She also volunteers for the Diseases and Disabilities Advocates Riding Club, another advocacy and support group formed by Carlson. “We ride motorcycles, which I ride on the back of, and then bungee cord my feet to the pegs so they don’t go flying and I can ride,” she said.
She and her husband Nick Burdett both work. She does customer care for chat lines. They also manage a busy household with three children ages 15, 12 and 11.
“My husband and I just celebrated 10 years,” she said. “My 11-year-old has epilepsy, and my 12-year-old has autism, so we’re a busy family.”
“I do all the grocery shopping for the household, and I do all the cooking. My husband helps with all the cleaning. For doctor appointments, my husband will go with me as much as he can, but because we have bills, he still has to work.”
The family enjoys camping, fishing and those bike rides. Her service dog, Ali, a 185-pound Great Dane, makes life easier but takes up most of her car’s back seat, she said.
With her for nearly two years, the dog can help lift her from the floor into her wheelchair. “She pulls me pretty much everywhere I go. If I’m falling forward, she can keep me in my wheelchair. She climbs up and pushes me back.”
Burdett said a mobility van would make a big difference.
“It would make it so I don’t have to crawl, and I would have a ramp, so I could get in and out of my vehicle without getting in and out of my wheelchair,” she said. “Because of my title, it will allow me to advocate better for women in wheelchairs. I’ll be able to travel a lot easier.
“It would be a lot easier because by the time I get to the park and get out of my car, I’m worn out already.”
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