Asheville woman bounced back from accident to become advocate for people with disabilities

Our Person of the Week is Bernadette Thompson of Asheville, who's become an important voice for people with disabilities in Western North Carolina.

On any given Sunday, a spiritual soundtrack soars at St. James AME. That's when you learn what faith sounds like.

Reverend Brent La Prince Edwards leads the congregation with an uplifting message.

"May we be stronger, encouraged, empowered that we may face the challenges of this life," he told folks during a service earlier this month.

Meanwhile, it also takes folks like Thompson to lead by humble example.

"Let's be nice to everybody and let's love everybody," she said to fellow church members. "That way Jesus will be most proud."

To many people, she's a lifeline in the community.

"Hey Frieda, it's Bernadette," she said on the phone in her office. "How are you doing today?"

She's a rehabilitation counselor for the state division of vocational rehabilitation services.

"And you realize what an impact it makes," she told News 13. "I work in the independent living program, and we work with people who have more severe disabilities who are not able to go to work."

Bernadette takes her professional role personally because of her own experience.

"So, it's been a lifelong quest to make sure that there's physical access," she said. "But to also make sure attitudes are addressed so people with disabilities aren't looked at differently."

If she could go back in time and counsel Bernadette Thompson, the teenager, the message would be short and sweet.

"Keep your faith," she would say.

Bernadette graduated from TC Roberson in 1976.

"I was in the marching band. I was a flag girl," she reminisced.

But while driving back to Asheville from Ohio, where she went to college, everything changed in a blink.

"I fell a sleep, just a blink," she recalled. "Somehow it got past the guard rail and rolled over down an embankment. So, I sustained a spinal chord injury."

She hasn't walked since, but that didn't stop her from writing a new chapter.

Bernadette went back to college and graduated. Later she became an advocate for people with disabilities, taking on everything from parking access to housing issues.

"I don't want to go where no man has gone before. I just wanna go where everyone else is," she said.

Despite all she's endured, Bernadette found her calling fueled by unwavering faith.

She's blazed a trail for those who might think they're doomed by disabilities.

"I would hope people keep on pushing and keep living life to the fullest," Bernadette said.

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