Milita Dolan: Life as a Participant, Not a Bystander!

Milita working out at NeuroFit360
by Milita Dolan

When I was 16 years old, I walked into the hospital for spinal surgery. Little did I know, I would wheel out. My physicality had changed, but not my dreams. I had been accepted to Fashion Institute of Technology (F.I.T.) before my surgery.  When they found out I was now disabled, they told me they "had a bad experience with a girl in a wheelchair once and didn’t want to repeat it.” This ignited a fire in me. I fought my way in and entered F.I.T. only two days after my eight-month stay at Rusk Rehabilitation in NYC.

It was 1967 and there was no handicap parking, no accessible restrooms, no curb cuts and definitely no inclusion. I graduated and worked as a textile designer for a while, but it was not fulfilling enough for me.

For my next chapter in life, I married and had my first son.  Again, at that time, very few disabled women had children and there were no accessible changing tables or cribs.  My husband and I had to design and modify our own equipment. I literally became the "mother of invention"!

Three years later, a friend asked me to join her at a protest in front of a Kmart in NJ.  The store had installed bollards to keep shopping carts from going all over the parking lot.  Did you know people in wheelchairs are the same width as shopping carts? That meant no one in a wheelchair could enter the store.  Our protest was successful! The TV cameras were rolling, as they took down the bollards.  That day I decided that I would become an Advocate and improve the lives of people with disabilities.  After all, we had become disabled - why did that mean we had to lose our civil rights?

That was a momentous day!  I met the man who would change the course of my life forever.  He offered me a job with the U.S. Department of Education, Office for Civil Rights in NYC.  After working there for three years, I became the Executive Director for Disabled, Independence, Awareness & Living, Inc., which was one of the 10 original Independent Living Centers in the nation.  I became a member of the NJ Barrier Free Design sub-code and wrote accessibility standards for 20 years.  

My second husband and I started our own business, Dolan Consulting Group, Inc., a rehabilitation-engineering firm in 1984.  We assisted public entities, governments and corporations come into compliance with Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, which was the precursor to the Americans with Disabilities Act.

In 1999, after the death of my second husband, I moved to Florida with my second son and started a new life for my family. I became a consultant for the The Miami Project to Cure Paralysis (www.miamiproject.miami.edu) due to the SCI Model System Grant that they had just received. I worked as their Community Outreach Coordinator for three years.
Milita and her sons
In 2008, I had additional back surgery, which required me to go for physical therapy.  I met a very dedicated physical therapist, Guy Romain.  During my therapy sessions, I shared the fact that there was a lack of accessible gyms for people with disabilities.  He shared how much he would love to open “his own shop.” As I had extensive rehabilitation administration experience, and he had extensive neuro experience, the collaboration was born.  In 2011 I offered to help him open NeuroFit360.

NeuroFit360 provides a safe, high intensity program designed to promote recovery and well-being for individuals suffering from post-neurological trauma. From walking improvement exercises to strength training, our fitness club offers the neurological therapy you need for trauma or stroke recovery. In my role as community outreach coordinator, I help people navigate whatever services they may need, or be entitled to receive, such as DVR, urologists, neurologists etc. including durable medical equipment provider and peer counseling, support and education to the families.  
NeuroFit360's Guy Romain with Milita
I found my passion in life.  It is riding the point and making a difference.   Through my advocacy, I helped improve the quality of life for people with all types of disabilities so they could be included in the mainstream of life.  Today, I continue to be a part of improving the quality of life disabilities through my work at NeuroFit360. I encourage everyone to find their passion and pursue it. Make a difference in the world, no matter how great or how small. After all, life is to be lived fully as a participant, not as a bystander.

For more information about NeuroFit360, visit www.neurofit360fl.com.

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