Teen in Wheelchair and Service Dog Star as Dorothy and Toto in School’s 'Wizard of Oz' Production
"Disability should be embraced," 17-year-old Erin Bischoff said.
In one New Jersey high school production of the Wizard of Oz, Toto is a service dog and Dorothy follows the yellow brick road in her wheelchair.
Erin Bischoff is a 17-year-old student at Hasbrouck Heights High School. She took center stage in the show, performing and singing in her wheelchair with her service dog, Gauge, by her side.
“I really want them to just see me as anyone else who’s on stage,” Erin said in an interview with CBS News. “And that overall, disability should be embraced.”
Erin was born with osteogenesis imperfecta, also known as brittle bone disease. Because of the genetic disorder, she has had more than 100 bone fractures and 10 surgeries in her lifetime.
"After her first operation she had significant scarring on that beautiful little body of this beautiful little girl,” mom Michelle Bischoff said. “So we decided, instead of calling them scars, they’re lines of courage.”
The condition is the reason why Erin uses her wheelchair.
"There are a lot of people who will see the chair first and their first question is like, 'Oh what's wrong with you,'" Erin said. "You're not asking me because you want to get to know me.”
Erin got a service dog to help her out about four years ago, when she was in the eighth grade.
"I was afraid to leave her at home alone because I was afraid she couldn’t get out of the house if there was a fire or she couldn’t reach the phone to call me," Michelle told InsideEdition.com.
Over the years, Gauge has helped Erin open doors, get up and down stairs, turn on lights and navigate through crowded spaces.
Ahead of the production, Erin said she had no idea she would be cast as the lead and assumed she might be given the role of Glinda, a secondary character.
When it was announced that she would play Dorothy, "she was totally shocked," her mom said.
Because the original play emphasized walking and running, the school was happy to swap out the language to better fit the lead.
"They changed some of the script and threw in some wheelchair humor," Michelle said. "'Roll on over here' instead of 'walk on over here.' It made the show better. She has such a good sense of humor about it."
And when it came time for her daughter's big debut performance, Michelle said she felt just as proud as any other mom in the crowd watching her daughter shine.
"It's amazing,” Michelle said. “Of course I was holding my breath when the lights go off and [worrying] she's going to bump into something. I'm always thinking what can happen back there. I want to be her when I grow up.”
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