Pitt-Bradford student Tyler Morris on Tuesday took his metallic red mobility scooter to Harrisburg to advocate for others with disabilities.
The 25-year-old spoke as part of a press conference held by the Pennsylvania Assistive Technology Foundation, which offers low-interest loans to Pennsylvanians who need assistive technology to live a more full life.
Morris, for instance, needed a mobility scooter to help him attend college while dealing with a chronic illness, myasthenia gravis, which weakens all of his muscles, including those that let him walk, talk, breathe and chew. Small, everyday tasks such as taking a shower or bathing his dog leave him exhausted. It makes walking around even a small campus impossible for Morris.
The foundation held its annual press conference Tuesday in the capitol rotunda and asked Morris to speak about how a loan from the foundation helped him purchase the scooter that gives him freedom to do things like continue working toward his degree.
It was not always this way for Morris, who graduated from Bradford Area High School in 2011 and began as a computer information systems and technology major at Pitt-Bradford. He was active, becoming an orientation counselor and the president of the LGBTQ Pride Alliance.
In June 2014, he began having symptoms. His legs were weak, and he quickly began having issues with breathing and overall fatigue. A quick diagnosis by his primary care physician may have saved his life, but Morris often finds himself the expert on his disease, which is rare, because so few rural physicians have had experience with it before.
“I often find doctors, especially in the ER setting, that while they've heard of (MG), they have never encountered it in person,” Morris said. “I often find myself educating my doctors on MG in an effort to potentially save my life. There are hundreds of medications that I cannot take because they can aggravate the myasthenia gravis and cause muscle weakness. This becomes a major issue when it begins to affect your diaphragm, which is used to breathe.”
Morris is also advocating for those with MG as the first Ambassador of Hope of the Myasthenia Gravis Hope Foundation, which was founded by a friend he made online who has the same condition.
As an ambassador, Morris shares his journey with myasthenia gravis on a Facebook page, My Journey with MG, in which he shares information and research and chronicles the daily ups and downs of his life as well as his journey to Harrisburg to speak on behalf of PATF.
This month has been especially busy for him since June is Myasthenia Gravis Awareness Month.
Online advocacy is a good fit for Morris, since he can do it from his home or residence hall while resting. He hopes that he can help other chronically ill students navigate college life, which has been challenging, particularly as his first friends graduated and left or drifted away as his illness progressed.
“What kept me at Pitt-Bradford was the welcoming atmosphere and acceptance of the campus community he said,” but making friends now is harder than when he started college because he is older and less active.
“It also doesn't help that my kind of fun now is watching movies, going to see a comedian or simply just talking with friends. It can also be difficult because I can't just hop in a car and go somewhere. I need to make sure that I'm up for it and that it's a handicapped-accessible building.”
Despite the difficulties, Morris credits his illness with having improved his overall outlook.
“I had started counseling at Pitt-Bradford when I started in 2011. I was a very negative person. In the beginning of 2014, I had this sudden shift in my attitude. I went from being very negative to rather positive and hopeful. Part of this is that I'm not given a choice. I don't get to choose whether or not I have MG. I have to live with it for the rest of my life, so why should I let it ruin my life by being negative about it?”
Morris is on schedule to graduate in December. He is not sure what he will be able to do, but he plans to continue his advocacy online for those with MG, other disabilities and the LGBTQ community.