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Allison Kessler Vear '03 Speaks to Student Body

Allison Kessler Vear '03 Speaks to Student Body

Dr. Allison Kessler Vear ’03 addressed our community at School Meeting on Tuesday, November 15. Allison shared her experience of returning to campus after suffering a spinal cord injury in a skiing accident during the winter of her fourth form year, which required her to use a wheelchair. She spoke candidly about her experiences of isolation, feeling as if people wanted her to be the same person she had been before the accident and her coping mechanism of downplaying the injury and her new reality. She also recounted the ways in which she was supported by faculty and peers and encouraged to grow as a student and an athlete.

Allison joined the crew team as a coxswain in the spring of her fifth form year which sparked a 15-year love of the sport and eventually allowed her to meet her husband, Ben Vear, on a Chicago club team. “Crew was a brand-new place where I could learn how to fit in as I was, not as I used to be,” Allison said. “Rowing is not a wheelchair-friendly sport, but the Choate crew community rallied around me. They said, ‘we’ll make it work.’”

Beyond discussing her personal journey at Choate as a person in a wheelchair, Allison spoke about ableism and educated students on the concept that a person does not need to overcome their disability, rather one must overcome the roadblocks and stereotypes that an ableist society creates for them. For instance, she told students she could never serve Sunday Detention, because it was on the lower level of the old math building, which did not have an elevator or access point for her wheelchair. Today, Allison serves as the Section Chief of the Renée Crown Center for Spinal Cord Innovation at the Shirley Ryan Ability Lab in Chicago.

At the conclusion of her talk, Allison opened the floor to questions from the students. When asked if she believed Choate was a more accessible campus than it was 20 years ago, Allison remarked that while some buildings may still pose barriers to accessibility, the climate of the School had come a long way. “Just asking me to come here and speak to you is huge. Twenty years ago, we as a school wouldn’t be having these conversations, especially not in such an open way,” she told students. Allison was invited to speak by Ryan Kim ’23 to raise awareness within the Choate community about creating a more inclusive campus, both physically and socially, for people with disabilities.

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