by Mike Anderson

HUNTERSVILLE – When Julie Lang attends her first day of college at Queens University this fall, she will have to deal with the usual challenges facing a college freshman.

But aside from term-paper deadlines, hectic schedules and making new friends, Lang has a bigger mission in mind. She hopes to fight misconceptions about spastic cerebral palsy, just as she has throughout her elementary, middle and high school years.

“I feel like me having CP is like a ‘Hey, people, look. I’m graduating. I’m doing what I need to do,’” she said recently. “Not to say I’m the only one with a disability that tries to be a positive leader and make a difference in the community, but I feel like I sort of can show people that feel like having a disability sets you backwards that you can go forwards and that you can have a future.”

Julie credits much of her success at North Mecklenburg High School to the Advancement Via Individual Determination (AVID) program, which helps middle-performing and disabled students prepare for college.

“We’ve come together as a family,” Lang said.

Aside from a slight forward bend in her torso and slightly bent arms, Lang is the quintessential, motivated teen of whom people expect a lot. She enjoys listening to “whatever’s on the radio …  unless it’s rap,” loves the Jodi Picoult’s novel “My Sister’s Keeper” and aspires to a teaching career.

Lang doesn’t embrace disability studies’ recent efforts to change the terminology for people’s conditions – from “disabled” or “handicapped” to “differently abled.” But she still fights the idea that cerebral palsy debilitates completely.

The many misunderstandings about her condition frustrate her. For instance, many people don’t realize that cerebral palsy affects each person differently and to varying degrees, she said.

She wants more people to understand cerebral palsy better.

“I can’t hide it,” Lang said. “You know, I get up, I walk around, and you’re gonna see it.  And you’re either gonna do one of two things: You’re gonna look at me like I have six heads, or you’re gonna ask questions. And I’d much rather you ask the question than give me the look. Because that way I can inform you, you can inform other people and the walls of communication are suddenly broken.”

Now and then, she encounters someone who expects less from her. Some people might assume the condition makes a person’s intellectual endeavors unrealistic, designating him or her as completely dependent, Lang said. But as her plans to study history and education suggest, cerebral palsy doesn’t incapacitate Julie Lang.

Those misconceptions actually motivate some of her academic fervor.

Lang prizes North Mecklenburg Assistant Principal Kevin Binkley because he expects she will go forward.

“He’s just so proud of everything all his students do, and he works with exceptional children, too,” she said. “He takes your disability, and he throws it out the window. He expects great things from me.”

Lang chuckles when she mentions another misconception­: Cerebral palsy is a contagious disease.

“I’m not gonna give it to you,” she patiently explains. “I can’t give it to you.”

When working on a senior project about the condition, she realized how commonly people believe that misconception.

“I passed out a survey and asked all these questions, and the first question was, ‘So, is CP a disease or is it a disability?’ And there were so many people, like 30 of them, who thought it was contagious.”

Lang pauses for a second, starts to lose control of her polite smile and begins to giggle.  “And they were like classmates, so they were like people who knew me, who thought I had this disease,” she laughs hysterically, still smiling.