Meet Heléna Karnström, from Stockholm (Sweden)

Helena Karnstrom (Sweden)

Helena Karnstrom (Sweden)

What is your personal experience of disability?

I was born with my disability and because of that I have personal assistance 24 hours a day and I’m using a power wheelchair.

How did you discover the Independent Living movement?

My first contact with the Independent Living moment was on a seminar held by Ed Roberts and Judy Heauman but then of course through Adolf Ratzka who was the initiator of the movement in Sweden.

Is there an area of Independent Living that you are especially interested in?

Some years ago I decided to qualify as a psychotherapist since I had been working with other people using personal assistance and supporting them in their lives.  I realised I could have a much greater understanding because of my own experience.  When it comes to personal assistance and being dependent of other people to live your life there are many things you have to face and deal with, both within yourself but also in relations to other people.  So I would say that is my capacity.

What personal achievement are you most proud of?

I suppose I am proud of my education and becoming a psychotherapist but I am also very happy to have a wonderful family, including my husband and two children – actually two young adults, 18 and 19 years old.

But I am also proud to have achieved good relations and attitudes to my assistants.

Because without that I wouldn’t have what I have today and I wouldn’t be me taking command of my life.

Do you have a favorite saying or proverb?

Childhood is the time you spend the rest of your adult life to get over.

What motivates you to get up in the morning?

Well, if I go to work I need to get up at six in the morning which can be quite hard but I have the good fortune to have a rewarding job and of course I need to support myself since I like to spend money on clothes and things that make life enjoyable.

What do you like to do when you’re not working?

I love to have my friends to dinner with nice food and wine and also to be invited my friends.

If weather permits I like to do things in my garden like planting flowers and being busy with my pots.

I also enjoy travelling to different places in the world but unfortunately because of the inaccessibility everywhere it requires a lot of energy.

I used to fly a lot but the older I get I realise that it is too much of a hassle to fulfil and because of the stress on aeroplanes, I believe I become more liable to catch colds.

Therefore my husband and I decided about two years ago to buy a caravan that we have adapted to fit my needs.

Who would be your ideal dinner guests?

I can’t really say who my ideal dinner guest would be; I’m not so easily impressed by famous people so I suppose it would be my family or friends that I enjoy.

What advice would you give to young adults with a disability?

That is hard to say.It could easily become empty phrases.

First of all when you have a disability it depends on which country you happened to be born in and secondly what political system is ruling?

Does it support for example personal assistance? I’m not the one who can come up with something philosophical here, sorry.  But I do know how to be supportive and how to empower young people in their lives when I meet them.  And I also know the importance of having role models when you are young.

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