Annie Hopkins SmilingMaking a Difference: Annie Hopkins' Story and Vision for the World

By Chris Rohan, Abilities Expo Ambassador and Former Publisher of Disabled Dealer Magazine

Annie Marie Hopkins took the world by storm during her short stay on earth.

She made her presence felt when she was here, and her legacy and vision—embodied in her company 3E Love—continue to touch many lives throughout the world. What Annie may have lacked in physical ability, she more than made up with her entrepreneurial spirit and love for life!

In the eyes of the people who knew, she was:

An Entrepreneur – Sister – Friend – Enthusiast – Granddaughter – Cousin – Niece – Daughters– "Roll" Model Activist – Educator – Counselor – Lover – Fighter – Cuddler – Co-worker – Socialite – Legend – Author Fan – Boo – Workaholic – Singer – Dancer – Drama Queen – Flirt – Starbucks' Addict – Diva – Celebrity Mac Mistress – Taylor Street Folk Lore – Oprah's Next Big Thing – Chipotle Connoisseur  

In her own eyes, she was Miss Independent. Here she is showing the world what can be accomplished with a spoon and determination.

The journey of 3E Love actually began in 2004 when Annie created the "wheelchair heart symbol" for a dorm t-shirt while she and her brother, Stevie, were undergraduate students together at the University of Illinois. At that time, neither of them had any clue what they had stumbled onto nor fully grasped the potential and meaning of Annie's creation.

As a community health major with an interest and passion for disability studies, Annie used the symbol on her shoulder for a permanent tattoo. Friends, family and peers in the disability community were instantly drawn to her new tattoo, and many even got it themselves. The potential behind the symbol was clear!

3E Love Logo: Embrace, Educate. Empower. Love Life.

When Annie and Stevie incorporated 3E Love in 2007, the wheelchair heart or "International Symbol of Acceptance" became the company's trademark and the drive behind much of its goals and products. It is a symbol of society accepting people with disabilities as equals and a symbol that people with disabilities accept their challenges and even embrace them. Annie felt that by replacing the wheel with a heart, the stigma of the wheelchair is also removed, and it can be a symbol for people with any disability or impairment. It represents the person, not society's perception of him or her.

Anne Marie HopkinsThe wheelchair heart is the attitude and a lifestyle that Annie epitomized. She encouraged others to accept their abilities, rally around that diversity and turn it into strength. Her graphic creation inspired others to love and live life to the fullest no matter who you are and what you look like, no matter what you can or cannot do.

"3E Love is more than living disabled but is simply about living. Everyone has the freedom to live their life. We challenge you to do what you love, because you'll meet some amazing people along the way, and that, our friends, is how you'll enjoy this ride that 3E Love calls, life," Annie had said. "Embrace diversity. Educate your community. Empower each other. Love life."

In Annie's mind, her wheelchair heart was a positive alternative to the traditional handicapped symbol, where the focus is person's differences and a wheelchair. The traditional symbol screams, "Beware. Someone different parks here," or "Pity them and give them charity."

That is one thing the logo is not—an emblem of pity. One of Annie's greatest fears was that the meaning of her symbol would be related to charity, or the quest for a cure. She never wanted someone to see the wheelchair heart and automatically asks, "Where do I donate?" She and Stevie attached it to their business, entrepreneurship, and products to make the statement that, if 3E Love is successful from a business perspective, than others with disabilities can also achieve things without a handout. Behind the wheelchair heart is a company started by people with disabilities, with pride, joy and passion for who they are and what they could achieve. If other insist on calling Annie's life's work a "cause," she wouldn't have minded, as long as that cause has nothing to do with wishing for change to who she was. Instead, she strived to change to how she and the rest of the community are perceived.

Find Annie's legacy, 3E Love, online at www.3elove.com, on Facebook and on Twitter.

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