Obama highlighted Jackson during his remarks, saying, "She was told by her doctors that the only thing she would ever move again were her shoulders. After suffering an injury like that, nobody would have faulted Janice for just focusing on herself. But as she recovered, and she regained her strength, she resolved to give some of that strength to others in need."
From her experience in the rehabilitation center, Jackson said, she found her voice. She refused to accept the assistance of male staff for bathing and other personal hygiene matters and coordinated a meeting of the other disabled women to draw strength in their common experience. Twenty-five came to the first meeting.
Jackson and her group mentors meet with women in their homes and rehabilitation centers to counsel them, organize group sessions and events, such as a crab feast and an annual "Queen for a Day" pampering session. The group also provides workshops on topics such as self-esteem, sexuality and advocacy.
"WEAN is about empowerment," Jackson said. "We focus on what you can do, not what you used to be able to do."
David Greenberg, president of the League for People with Disabilities, said he wasn't surprised that out of 6,000 nominees, Obama chose Jackson.
"Everybody in the disabilities community knows Janice and knows if you need something done and you need a passionate advocate, you talk to Janice," Greenberg said. "There is no keeping Janice Jackson down."
Tonja Ringgold, one of Jackson's former professors and a member of the WEAN board, said she is impressed by her friend's indomitable spirit. Just last year, Ringgold said, Jackson had four surgeries for various ailments, but the setbacks did not stop Jackson from serving her community.
"To know her story is to say, 'Wow,' " Ringgold said. "She has taken that tragedy back then and turned it into a blessing for others. She's like a phoenix."
The Citizens Medal — a civilian honor second only to the Presidential Medal of Freedom and the Congressional Medal of Freedom — is awarded to individuals who have "performed exemplary deeds of service for their country or their fellow citizens."
While Jackson said she was thrilled to meet the president — she has a cardboard cutout of the Obamas bought on eBay displayed in her living room — she hopes receiving the honor will help her expand her organization. Plans are under way to establish a sister group in Charlotte, N.C.
"Of the accolades we've gotten," she said, "I think this one is the highest honor, but I am more excited about the platform it is going to give us, to get our stories out there and to put a new face on women with disabilities."
For more information on Women Embracing Abilities Now, visit http://www.wean1.org. Go to http://www.javadc.org to learn more about the Japanese American Veterans Association.