When It's Not a Big Deal

By Wendy Crawford
One of our editors recently brought to my attention an article about a quadriplegic rugby player, Jessica Kruge,r who landed a modeling contract with a large Canadian cosmetic company, Lise Watier. Jessica beat over 400 competitors and was chosen unanimously by a panel of judges to represent their new perfume, Something Sweet.  
“Finally!” I thought. Twenty-nine years ago I was an up-and-coming model, working in Toronto and Montreal , Canada.  After six months, I secured a two-month modeling assignment in Tokyo, Japan. I was ecstatic! My dream to travel the world was becoming a reality. 

Wendy Crawford, before her accident
Unfortunately, I never made it. On the way to the airport, my vehicle was rear-ended by a driver that had been drinking, shattering my vertebrae and my dream in a split second.
After surgery and almost a year of rehabilitation, I only wanted to return to my life as I knew it. I wanted to model again, only this time, I would be returning as a C-5/C-6 quadriplegic . Since I had mostly done print work in magazines before the accident and I looked basically the same, I didn’t think that it would be a problem. The only difference to me was that I would be sitting when I was photographed.
Well, I couldn’t have been more wrong! This was the 80’s and models with disabilities were unheard of.  My agent urged the clients to hire me, but there was no work for me. Everyone in the industry was compassionate, but I got the feeling that they just didn’t know what to do with me. Many fashion magazines were interested in covering my story, but to me, it wasn’t the same. I just wanted to work as any other model and pay my bills.
Fortunately, I was blessed to find a fulfilling job, public speaking to high school students and community groups about the perils of drinking and driving. I loved this work and even though I knew this job was important, I was still confused and frustrated as to why I couldn’t continue to model. Years later, I did a few modeling jobs for companies like Carnival Cruise Lines and Nordstrom, but there was not enough demand to make it a career.
As the years have passed, I realized that some of that frustration was me coming to terms with my injury, but also the longer that I am disabled, the more I understand the importance of fair representation in the media. 
In 2006, I participated in a photography exhibit of women with disabilities called Uncensored Life: Raw Beauty, which was an innovative project designed to inspire the public to create new perceptions, transform stereotypes and break through personal obstacles by expanding awareness of women with physical challenges.
From Uncensored Life: Raw Beauty Exhibit

Each woman composed their own photo shoot with their assigned photographer. The results were stunning!  All of the photos were creative, beautiful, empowering and some even sensual.  The comments of the viewers were fascinating to me:
“What an empowering experience, what an intense eye opener for the walk-ins who were unaware of what they were about to experience.  Their expectations of what they thought DISABILTIY meant-SHATTERED!  I loved watching them reconstruct their thoughts about the meaning of that word, that label,” one wrote.  
Another comment that stood out to me was: “I never thought of a woman with disabilities as sexual.” I was astonished!  Even reptiles have sex – so why wouldn’t we? I actually knew the person that made that comment and he is very kind and compassionate, so it occurred to me that he wasn’t being rude; he just didn’t know anything about people with disabilities. We hadn’t been seen in that light before because we weren’t being fairly represented in the media. What little exposure we did get, was not accurate. We have often been portrayed in stereotypical roles such as, “The tragic, disabled woman,” “The angry victim” or “The inspirational heroine.”
The truth is that we are every type of woman – mothers, wives, athletes, lovers, professionals, students, artists, or even at times, “couch potatoes” and bitches for that matter.  
Thankfully, I see a change in the last few years. Television shows such as “Glee” and “Friday Night Lights” have featured people with disabilities. Our biggest triumph thus far has been “Push Girls” – a reality series on Sundance channel that it is specifically focused on four women who use wheelchairs. Yes, they may lead very different lives than most of us, but that’s okay because the series is breaking barriers, opening doors for others and showing the world that we are out there living just like everyone else.
One of the women on the show is Angela Rockwood, a quadriplegic and model.Throughout the episodes, I was saddened and disappointed that after all these years that she too was having difficulty finding work. But she persisted and last year landed a huge contract with Nordstrom!
We must continue to persevere and create new opportunities for ourselves. One woman who is doing just that and making a difference is Deborah Davis, co-founder of  PhotoAbility, a company that is dedicated to increasing the usage of imagery of people with disabilities in the tourism, leisure and lifestyle mediums by providing high quality stock photos.
To read more about Deborah, PhotoAbility and how you can be involved, please read the article below which is reprinted with permission by the Association for Disabled Americans.
I remember hearing Halle Barry comment on her historic win to be the first woman of African-American descent to receive an Oscar in a leading role. She said that she was ecstatic but will be even happier when there comes a time that it is no longer a big deal.  I feel that we are on our way to the presence of women with disabilities in the media being “not a big deal” as long as we go into our communities and be heard ,whether it be through dance, photography, writing, acting, modeling, or by just being proud and active. I invite you all to become mobileWOMEN and create a future where women with disabilities are integrated into every aspect of society, are proud, empowered and unstoppable. Together, as a community, we can create a future of endless possibilities!  

Meet Deborah Davis and the Story Behind PhotoAbility

Deborah Davis is the co-founder of PUSHliving.com, a travel, leisure and lifestyle enterprise that is also the parent company for the travel resource site TravAbility.travel.
Deborah is now very excited to announce PUSHliving’s newest, and possibly her most significant, venture to date PhotoAbility.net
With the inspiration that comes from PhotoAbility, Deborah feels she has entered into a “revival” phase of her life.This period of rebirth came about after her previous life, as she had known it, drastically and suddenly changed. Her two beautiful girls left the nest, bound for college. She had married a man that was rarely in the country due to work-related travel, so she was most often alone. Deborah had to retire from a full-time 20-plus-year professional career due to what she described as a full-blown rebellion by her body. This came as a result of number of years in chair (result of car accident at 18), extreme fatigue and what her doctor referred to as “overuse syndrome” affecting her ability to use her hands and arms.
Rusk Institute
Deborah and her mother shortly after her accident
The thought of one day possibly losing her ability to maintain her independence was terrifying. Her life went from a fast-paced, frantic juggling of work and family responsibilities to an empty home and a lot of time for self-reflection. Having two girls to support, she had continued to take on part-time Medical sales and contractor work when she could, but the pain, fatigue and repetitive use injuries required Deborah to use a power assist chair. While this technology was of great benefit, the resulting lack of exercise resulted in a 25-pound weight gain, intense stomach pain and spasms, and more difficulty transferring. Her husband told her to stop working during this time, and his support allowed her the time off needed to heal and find a new direction for her life.

However, a few years later, with no children at home and no job, loneliness and a lack of a sense of purpose caused her to become isolated and frozen in self-doubt and inactivity. She developed social anxiety, an inability to focus, and no desire to leave the house except when husband or family was home. Other than the wonderful family travel opportunities afforded to her by her husband’s job, and her partner in Travability keeping her involved in this effort, she was left wondering what she really wanted to do with the rest of her life.

Who did she really want to be "when she grew up,” thought Deborah.“Therapist?” she contemplated. However, when she approached Vocational Rehab for possible funding for a degree, they declined. They felt the salary is too low with too many of these degrees flooding the market. “But I will be different, I want to help others like me on my own schedule that will accommodate my needs and write a book once I get my PhD,” Deborah explained. “Nope. You have a degree in Business, we won’t help pay for another.”
“Actress/Model?” Yeah, she could go on casting calls when she felt up to it, and do commercials and increase the use of people with disabilities in these ads! “No,” said the casting agents. “We never see a request for a ‘disabled role,’ and she was already in her 40’s. Besides, she really hated sitting for hours getting her makeup done and picture taken. It was exhausting work and it did not fulfill her mentally and spiritually.
Modelling shot
Deborah Davis
“What about ADA training and consulting?” suggested her TravAbility partner and best friend Bill. No, she did that much of her life, as she was an ADA trainer and worked with cities and county governments throughout Florida. She was once contracted to develop and train every department in Miami-Dade Government, including all Police Departments. She also did private work for Miami Beach hotels and venues. She really needed to take a different, broader, and less physically demanding approach.

“Documentary film producer!?” She had a great idea to feature women with spinal cord injuries that would help other woman to overcome the misconceptions and fear that made her life so much more challenging. She wanted people to see that women with spinal cord injuries are great partners, sexual beings and mothers. But with no film experience and no money to fund it, she would have to let that be a dream for later. Anyway, now there are amazing actresses like Teal Sherer and her web series “My Gimpy Life,” as well as “Push Girls” featuring 4 spinal cord injured women, which made her just as happy as if she’d executed the idea.

Finally, one day Deborah and Bill realized through their work advocating barrier-free design in the travel and hospitality industry through TravAbility, that even if the company did comply with the accessibility “laws” of the land (in the countries they even existed in), they often did not really see the true economic value of marketing to people with disabilities. “That’s it!” they thought. We will continue to educate them, but add a new division that will go one step further. They would help travel, leisure and lifestyle venues and companies to communicate their inclusive design and benefits in their advertising and marketing campaigns. For companies that did not have the time or money to set up a custom photo shoot, PhotoAbility would provide the images that could be incorporated via a Stock Photo Library specializing in positive imagery of people with disabilities! PhotoAbility was born!

Deborah is now re-inspired and feels a sense of passion and bigger purpose. This new company uses all her skills and experiences developed working with and for others over 20 years. After graduating from University of Miami with a business degree, she had started her career working in nonprofit fundraising and special events management for organizations such as the Miami Project to Cure Paralysis, Junior Achievement, and Abilities of Florida, where she became Executive Director.
Florida KeysShe also worked as a public Relations executive and for a two-year stint for a large corporation as an ADA Human Resources Specialist. She then moved on to “for profit” companies, becoming National Sales Director for a Pool Lift company and then a manufacturers’ rep for a line of medical products from ROHO to oxygen concentrators to sleep apnea masks. She had given so much to her work, working full-time from college on, except for the 8 weeks’ maternity leave after giving birth to each of her two children.

Her work did enable her to support her two girls, whom she raised mostly alone from the ages of 1 and 3. Personally, she had fought hard after divorce to find the love and stability she wanted and this did not come easily either. As a woman with a disability with two children, there were a lot of challenges to overcome. 

While she was afforded the opportunity to stop working and do what she needed to take care of herself, after almost four years of trying to find out what she could do and who she wanted to be, she is now finally ready and able to take on this new venture.
This time, she is making sure to take better care of her health and her body. She now has stopped all gluten and dairy, lost all the weight, and is even back to a manual chair. She is swimming and even working to develop a fitness series for PUSHliving.com that focuses on higher-level injuries who do not have trunk support.

Through PhotoAbility, Deborah wants to share the cooperative spirit of a venture that supports and gives back to all those involved. This is a project where everyone wins. A portion of PUSHliving Enterprise and PhotoAbility division revenues will be donated to charities that work to support and build a more inclusive society. Photo models and non-model subjects whose photos are submitted and accepted into the library will be promoted and revenues shared on all sales. Their library pays more commission per sale than any other library, with 30% going to the contributor of photo to site, be it the photographer or the subject. Custom shoots that are done just to add images exclusively to the library will pay even more. Having been through some tough financial times, and still trying to work her way back to financial independence, she understand how much a little extra income can mean to so many.

Mothers Day
Deborah and her two beautiful daughters
Individuals with a mobility disability or photographers who wish to participate spend a few minutes uploading photos that they feel best represent them or their work and PhotoAbility will do the rest. PhotoAbility pays for all the expenses needed to host, develop, and maintain the Stock Photo Image Library site, hire support staff and expert consultants, manage all the advertising, marketing and publicity; participate in expo booths and cover all costs to run this enterprise. They will even be casting models with disabilities who participate on-site for clients who see the imagery that can be created and want to commission a product, service or location-specific photo shoot!
If you want to donate your photos but do not care to receive the royalties yourself, you can allocate your sales to a charity or individual of your choice. The site will support other organizations by linking to them in photos featuring their members, founders or supporters. Businesses can showcase their products in photos with a link going back to their site so people can learn more about useful equipment and products to make their lives better.
The BIG picture goal of all this work of PhotoAbility in increasing the use of person with disabilities in advertising, marketing and media sectors is to change how the world perceives and values its citizens with disabilities. The social stigma that still exists in the mind and cultures of many in the world is what allows for lack of motivation to eliminate or reduce barriers. A wave of change reflected in popular media can make an impact on laws and attitudes, and even more importantly on how many of those who have not had a voice or have been hidden away see themselves.

Deborah is extremely grateful to those photographers and fellow “wheelers” who have contributed images and given their time and support to review the site, give feedback and “like” the PhotoAbility Facebook page. The photo library now has some stunning, and powerful images that will surely change perceptions and inspire those who make the decisions on what is being included in media and advertising to want to include people with disabilities and all that they represent: beautiful, perfectly imperfect, and economically powerful individuals who want and deserve to see themselves reflected back at them in the world full of physical and social barriers. This will begin to show the world the real face of inclusion.


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