"This is How I..." Campaign Wants to You to Join In!

 By Brittany Dejean

“Disability doesn’t mean inability, it just takes a little creativity.” That’s the spirit of AbleThrive’s latest #ThisIsHowI campaign, looking to celebrate abilities and change mindsets.

AbleThrive was started by Brittany Déjean in 2014 with a mission to connect families impacted by disabilities to the resources they need to thrive and change the perception of disability in society. After a successful year of piloting the concept and reaching over 60,000 people on their site, they’re building a one-stop platform of curated resources for living well with a disability so people with disabilities and their families to access videos, products, and services from around the world.

Brittany’s recognized challenges families facing disability after her father was paralyzed in a car accident in 1998. They had great resources and support through Magee Rehabilitation hospital, but in 2006, Brittany had a realization that inspired her current mission. Having met a man with paralysis who said he’d spend the rest of his life in bed, she recognized that not everyone was exposed to their potential or provided the tools to reach it. In the years since, she’s worked extensively with disability communities in five countries, giving her a voice, and sense of the common issues across diverse geographic areas. AbleThrive is committed to fostering collaboration across the world and challenging antiquated stereotypes of disability.

One way they’re doing that is with this campaign. Launched on the International Day of Persons with Disabilities on December 3rd, it started with meetups around the world, one in Sydney, one in Singapore, one in New York City and one in Washington, DC where people came together to celebrate abilities. Now the #ThisIsHowI campaign’s goal is to showcase what’s possible.

"Relatable" - Using Media to Promote Body Positivity

By Molly Fitzpatrick
Molly - Photo by Dylan Silver
I am a stylist, a writer, and graduate student. My name is Molly Fitzpatrick, and I am on a mission to start thoughtful and important conversations about body image issues, in order to redefine labels and prove beauty is limitless, brave and about being body-shameless.

As a woman who has an appreciation for fashion and the value of inner beauty, body image issues are close to my heart.

My story is not inspirational. Instead, I am the one who has been inspired.

I have been given the amazing and rewarding opportunity to showcase stories about incredible and beautiful women who are on a collective mission to promote body positivity, advocate for media inclusion, and who are speaking out against body-shaming.

These women are bravely sharing their experience with eating disorders, breaking the boundaries of their disabilities, and voicing their frustration with the different forms of body-shaming in media.

Their powerful stories and unique perspectives are featured in my professional project to complete my Master of Arts degree in Journalism from University of Nevada.

The project that I have created is RelatableMagazine. In conjunction with my podcast, titled The Body-Shameless Series, my project is a campaign for body acceptance and positivity.

Reasons Why We are Thankful for Our Disability

By Wendy Crawford & The mobileWOMEN.org Team

Over 32 years ago, I lay in a hospital bed with a metal halo screwed into my skull, immobilizing my neck. I had a C5/C6 injury due to a motor vehicle accident caused by a drunk driver. I was paralyzed from the collarbones down, parts of my arms and my hands and needed a tracheotomy to breathe. I was scared, depressed and angry. How could this happen to me? I was independent, adventurous and athletic. This does not happen to people like myself. I didn't know where I was going to live nor how I was going to manage physically and financially. If someone told me then that someday I would actually be grateful in some ways for my disability, I would've screamed at them that they were out of their mind!

But the years passed and I began to realize that this massive hurdle that was thrown at me as a young adult, came with unexpected gifts that slowly rose to the surface, often difficult to identify through my tunneled negative vision.

The older that I get, the more in touch I am with myself and the more that I have learned to embrace the positives. We all have obstacles, relatively speaking, that are overwhelming at times but if we force ourselves to look introspectively, we will see that those challenges are actually the tools that have sculpted us into the person that we have become.

Nicole Diaz: From Powerless to Powerful

My name is Nicole Diaz, song creator and "love-bringer!" I’m 47, disabled, and passionate! 

My story is about going from powerless to powerful. As a girl, I wanted to live my life with profound purpose. I was born with Spinal Muscular Atrophy, a degenerative condition affecting muscle strength and movement. I’ve been in a wheelchair my entire life.

I'm second generation in my family to be born in America with grandparents that come from Mexico. Both my parents were working class and promoted higher education. Coming from a disadvantaged home, I gained a survivor’s strength. I learned how to be proactive while vulnerable. My parents constantly reminded me that my disability was not an excuse. At 19, my family roots scattered and I was left to discover just how strong I really was. I learned that I despised defeat and solutions were all around me. Whether that meant finding help out of bed or traveling in my chair for miles to get to a gig, I began to believe I was bigger than just surviving!

How the Violin Became a Cello: One Woman's Creative Expression through Celtic Music

by Kara Aiello

Gaelynn Lea Tressler of Duluth, Minnesota discovered her love of music back in 4th grade when the orchestra came to her school. She fell in love with her first musical instrument, the cello. 
Finding the cello too large to play, Gaelynn used creativity to figure out how to have a relationship with this instrument, and that began her journey of playing the cello as a violin.
When she plays, she says it’s a spiritual experience and feels connected to something bigger than herself.

Born with Osteogenesis Imperfecta, or brittle bones, Gaelynn experienced many fractures while in utero.  Her legs and arms are small, and because most of her fractures occurred in her arms, this has made playing the violin in its traditional form more challenging and so playing as a cello just  made more sense. 

"Where Fairy Tales Go" - An Excerpt

By Annette Ross 

“A playbook for all of us about the power of love...”

Lee Woodruff, New York Times #1 bestselling author, In an Instant

Annette Ross’ inspirational memoir details her personal challenges, financial struggles, and the life-altering medical error that left her unable to walk. Join Annette and her family on this journey to reclaim a lost fairy tale.

The Delivery Room, January 2000

The anesthesiologist arrived in a lousy mood.

It was after midnight. She looked disheveled and distracted. Her dirty-blond hair fell over her eyes. To diffuse the obvious tension, I begin an anxious litany of questions to try and build rapport. I also needed to bolster my own courage. I asked how she was feeling. “Exhausted,” she said, and mumbled something about having gone out with her new fiancé. The tone in her voice was unsettling. And she made it clear that she was not there for conversation. I knew it was important to let her do her job, so I tried to talk myself down by nervously chatting with Bill. We were, after all, excitedly anticipating the birth of our second child. The anesthesiologist brought in a metal cart, instructed me to move to the end of the bed, and told me to “lean over the table.” As she injected a needle into my lower back, my body jolted violently.

My Raw Beauty Project Experience as a Model

By Tamara Mena 

With the way this world is nowadays, being a powerful, successful and confident woman isn’t easy, for any woman. There are so many standards, so much the media tells us regarding how we should be or look like, to be “beautiful” and accepted. However, beauty is NOT defined by any race, size or ABILITIES.

The Raw Beauty Project is an innovative arts project that celebrates women with disabilities, educating viewers to redefine perceptions and beauty, unleashing potential for all.  Being part of The Raw Beauty Project Los Angeles that was held on September 17, 2016 at Paul Mitchell The School Pasadena, was so moving and empowering.  And let me just say that BEFORE the event, I had considered my photoshoot, empowering for several reasons; I stepped outside of my comfort zone and did some really neat stuff that made me feel beautiful and confident during it, but even more so, when I saw some of the photos. The other reason my photoshoot was empowering, is because as a model, I did some stuff I hadn’t done in years, since before my car accident, such as laying and posing on a rock ;).  And no, it wasn’t easy getting up there; I had to have help, but everyone was so willing which made the whole experience so awesome. 

The Trials and Tribulations of Transport and Travel with a Disability

By Emily Yates

As an accessibility consultant and travel writer based in the United Kingdom, I’ve done my fair share of navigating transport during trips.  I’m a wheelchair user with cerebral palsy, but sometimes, however good my wheelies are or regardless of how many ‘arm days’ I’ve had at the gym, getting around certain transport situations can seem near impossible. My experiences, both positive and negative, have taught me many things regarding travel and transport all over the world.  Not all of them are specifically to do with access and inclusion, but each and every tip will help you, regardless.

At Home and Abroad

When traveling around your home town, city or even country, you usually have the ‘upper hand’ when it comes to transport. More often than not, there isn’t a language barrier, and it’s much easier to find familiarity in your location.  If you’re away for pleasure or business, however, those things you take for granted, can often disappear.  Make sure you know how to use your manners and ask for help in the language of the place that you’re visiting. People are often more willing to help, if you show that you have been willing to embrace their way of life AND shouting ‘Help, please!’ when trying to wheel off a tube (subway) when the doors are closing, has got me out of trouble numerous times…

Alicia Searcy – Fashion Icon for Every Body

By Amy Saffell
Alicia Searcy on the runway!

Alicia Searcy has become Nashville’s go-to girl when it comes to fashion for people with disabilities, a mission first ingrained in her long ago without her even realizing it. Her mother had a love for style and made sure that her daughter, regardless of having cerebral palsy and using a wheelchair and crutches, was well dressed. Fashion was fun and a way of life in her family as a kid, long before she ever dreamed of the opportunities for spreading advocacy and empowerment that would come much later. “As a little girl growing up in New York City,” she explains, “I was always well-dressed. My mother had a talent for sewing, and she would sometimes make us matching outfits. As a teenager with almost no money, I relished every high-waisted pair of bell bottoms and platform shoes (Yes, I wore them. On crutches, no less.) that I could get my hands on.” Clearly, the apple didn’t fall far from the tree. Alicia loved finding a sense of style that would be her own.
Her love of fashion continued into early adulthood, but she then began to have a change of heart about the very thing that she loved the most, causing her to dig a little deeper and learn more about herself way beyond the stylish fabrics of her clothes. “I have to admit that for a while in my 30s and 40s, I decided that fashion was “shallow” and that fashionistas were overly-judgmental about anyone who wasn't sporting the latest trend,” she says. After some soul searching, she realized that it really wasn’t the fashion industry that was bothering her but rather a lack of her own self-confidence. Although she hadn’t consciously thought about it before, she had developed a negative body image related to her disability and a lack of self-esteem that skewed her own viewpoint more than anyone else’s opinions ever could. Once she realized that she had the power to change her thinking, to be proud of who she was, and to show others her zest for life, her love of fashioned returned, and she’s been, to use her words, “obsessed with fashion and personal style ever since.”

Fit for Parenthood? The Struggle for Equality Among Disabled Parents

By Gemma Fletcher 

Christina Ormerod did what most other parents in the world do - she took her daughter to school every morning, nothing remarkable there. It was part of the every day trappings of being a parent, that is until a marriage break up and custody battle led child services to question whether she was fit enough to be a mother to her daughter.  Why? Christina Ormerod is a wheelchair using mother because she was born with spina bifida.
She made the half mile journey to school every day using her motorized wheelchair and let her little girl sit on her knee. Child services asserted that letting the child ride on the chair was unsafe and supported the contention that the girl's 'abled' father should take full custody of her. When Christina suggested that the girl could walk alongside her instead, something many of the other children did with their parents, they insisted that this too was 'unsafe'. Unfortunately it is common for agencies who are entrusted to help families with disabilities to instead set the standard of parenting higher than what they would require for non-disabled families. They then place huge pressure on them to 'prove' they are fit for parenthood.

The treatment from social workers also largely depends upon their own personal viewpoint of disability and in many cases, low expectations about parental capability and even 'pity' can color a case - putting parents with disabilities at an unfair disadvantage when it comes to retaining the right to live with and raise their own children. A person who uses a wheelchair could be quite happily raising their family without assistance for years and then suddenly find that questions are posed as to how they 'manage'.

A Paralympic Odyssey

By Cindy Barnes Kolbe

Elizabeth Kolbe on screen at the 2008 Beijing Paralympics
"When I began water therapy," said Beth, "no one expected me to ever move in the water without someone holding me up."   

My youngest child was paralyzed in a car accident near our hometown in Ohio. We became a team. In the rehab pool for physical therapy, Beth, fourteen years old and a new quadriplegic, tried and failed to stay afloat. Weeks later, I watched her float on her own with her arms gently waving under the surface.

“I immediately loved the water and the freedom I had in it.”

Two weeks before our first wheelchair games, Beth figured out how to accomplish a sloppy backstroke without sinking. A coach at the games encouraged us to attend a national swim meet to “see the possibilities.” We learned that competitors in my daughter’s S3 classification were few and far between. She asked to work with a coach, determined to swim the forward strokes.

“I started doing the backstroke. Then, learning to swim on my stomach and still breathe was a big challenge initially.”

Not a swimmer before her injury, it took weeks of failing, again and again, before Beth managed to move forward on her stomach just a meter or two—not even attempting a specific stroke. Over months, she gradually extended the distance. Then, over years, she learned all of the strokes, each modified to her abilities by an exceptional hometown coach, Peggy Ewald.

Great Apps for Women Using Wheelchairs

By Gemma Fletcher

Why not use modern technology to add a touch of convenience to your daily routine? Here are some of the best apps for disabled women:

Stepping Stones

This app is ideal for women who have recovered from traumatic brain injuries, have epilepsy or other conditions that affect memory. Women (and men!) with short term memory loss or learning disabilities that make it more challenging to remember the sequence of events or follow instructions will find the Stepping Stones App an invaluable tool to assist them in their household or business tasks.

You can create your own visual guide using your own photographs as prompts. Disabled parents could also find this useful for parenting activities - for instance - by creating prompts for changing diapers or making lunch.
The app costs 99 cents.


Every wheelchair user understands the frustration of finding wheelchair-friendly restrooms and parking spaces on a day out. If you don't want a lack of facilities to spoil your social life, you could try the Wheelmate app. Wheelmate has more than 30,000 locations for toilets and parking spots across 45 different countries. Locate your nearest toilet or find out if a venue you want to visit is accessible before you set off.
The app is completely free to download.

Alternatively, if you'd also like to know which bars, restaurants, clubs and hotels are accessible, you could download the 'It's Accessible' app - a must before going on a date!

Commercial Breaks – Prime Time For People With Disabilities in 2016

By Amy Saffell

There’s no denying that there’s still a long way to go for fair representation of people with disabilities in American media, but the television commercials of the summer of 2016 mark a positive shift in the right direction. There are ample chances to catch people with disabilities on the small screen, as this summer’s ads show people with disabilities who are strong and capable individuals. In many cases, people with disabilities are shown alongside and in the same light as people without disabilities. It’s a far cry from negatively patronizing or sensationalizing people with disabilities as the media often portrays. Clearly, the Rio Paralympics have played a big part in people with disabilities getting more air time in commercials, but it wasn’t long ago that there wasn’t any mention in commercials of even world class Paralympic athletes at all. The Paralympic logo may have been displayed, potentially out of obligation, but there was no representation of who Paralympians truly were. And it’s not just Paralympians appearing in commercials this summer. There are examples of people with disabilities in commercials beyond Paralympic athletes, too. We just might be seeing true progress rather than a fleeting moment in time.

Important Link between Wheelchair Use and Diabetes

By Gemma Fletcher

There is an inexorable link between wheelchair use and diabetes. Paralysis (one the most common causes necessitating wheelchair use) increases one’s risk for developing diabetes, owing to many factors, including decreased physical activity and decreased control over food choices, though even those with only limited mobility can also be affected. Research shows that individuals whose mobility is severely limited have a threefold greater chance of developing diabetes, indicating that specific measures need to be taken to prevent and treat the problems associated with this disease. The relationship extends even further, since patients with diabetes also have a greater chance of developing disabilities that lead to wheelchair use.

Alter UR Ego, a Fashion Line with You in Mind

Heidi McKenzie, AUE Designer
Q & A with Heidi McKenzie

What led to the start of ALTER UR EGO? 

In 2007 I was in a car accident that left me a T4 paraplegic. Not long after, in 2012, I was crowned Ms. Wheelchair Kentucky, which opened so many doors...that were handicap accessible of course! I was an advocate for those in wheelchairs and I traveled the country sharing my story. I went on to compete in Ms. Wheelchair America and, though I didn't win, this was my first experience spending time with other girls in wheelchairs from other states. I found that we all struggled when it came to finding stylish functional clothing, so I decided to create my own line!

What makes this line of clothing unique for persons with disabilities? 

I have firsthand experience of our daily activities and the role that clothes that fit correctly play. I enjoy hearing thoughts and ideas from others with disabilities in order to incorporate them into the line. If I can make one thing easier for someone, when getting dressed, I will have done my job. My clothing line is designed for a seated body and has both a comfortable fit and stylish look. One feature that is quite helpful is the pockets located on the thighs for easy access of your phone, keys or anything else you don't want falling off your lap. The high-back waistline is also important so that nothing shows when you are bending over. We got you covered!

How can people purchase from your line? 

Visit alterurego.co and click on the shop page, http://alterurego.co/shop/. You can also sign up for the newsletter to receive updates and discounts.
Have you always been involved in fashion? 

Yes, I have. I started picking out my clothes at a young age. I was studying Fashion Merchandising before my accident. After my accident I wasn't sure about being a part of the fashion industry as a girl in a wheelchair. But then I met others in chairs who also struggled to find stylish, functional clothing and so I gained the confidence I needed to design clothing that has someone like us in mind.

What are some things you wish mainstream fashion would consider regarding people with physical disabilities? 

I wish mainstream fashion was inclusive. I wish a model in a wheelchair could roll down the runway and it not be this life-changing, inspirational moment, but it be normal, just like someone walking down the runway.  Hopefully some famous designers will join the club and create more clothing options for those with physical disabilities.

What are your future plans for ALTER UR EGO?

I want to design a complete adaptable clothing line with shirts, shorts, jackets, dresses, skirts, vests, slacks, shoes, and even athletic clothing! This year we are working on expanding our jeans to kids, teens and plus sizes.

What's been one of your favorite moments since starting the line? 

When someone that has been in a wheelchair for years and not worn jeans had the opportunity and made them practical again.

What message do you have for others wanting to put something out there, as you have, but are intimidated to begin? 

If you believe in what you create, don't let anything discourage you from doing what you have to and be able to share it with others.
Can you tell us more about your background?

I was born and raised in Ohio. After my accident I moved to Eastern Kentucky and have been here for the past 9 years. I am a T4 paraplegic and enjoy adaptable sports such as sled hockey and kayaking. I am a board member of Build Inclusion formed by parents of children with varying abilities, who know that true inclusion must move beyond “awareness." We travel to elementary schools to educate kids about people with disabilities. I also am on the board of the Kentucky Congress on Spinal Cord Injury, a group of individuals with SCI who are dedicated to educate and legislate change for the disabled community.

If there's anything else you'd like to add, please do so:

AUE adaptable jeans are in the (dis)ABLED Beauty Show, an exhibition celebrating all-inclusive beauty and a deconstruction of the stigmatization of those living with various physical disabilities. July 29, 2016 – March 17, 2017 at Kent State University.

Fashion is for Every Body the 1st Inclusive Fashion Show in Nashville.  AUE adaptable jeans will make their debut! Promoting inclusion + body positivity. Fashion is for all of us! September 10, 2016.

Visit alterurego.co. 

Stay Safe While Staying Seated

By Amy Saffell

According to studies conducted by the Bureau of Justice, people with disabilities are as much as three times more likely to be a victim of a crime than those without disabilities. While the statistic is alarming, it shouldn’t be a reason for people with disabilities to shelter themselves from living a full, productive, and active life. It should, however, be a catalyst for people with disabilities to learn and practice safety. Traveling in packs in well-lit areas with your phone close by are practical safety tips for anyone, but there are other precautions that wheelchair users can take specifically.  Alena Chesser, a wheelchair user who is a self-defense instructor in Kentucky and a former deputy sheriff, and Rick Mirandette, martial arts instructor with experience in instructing people with disabilities, offer this advice:

  • Every wheelchair user has been in a situation where they need to seek the help of someone else in public, but don’t be too trusting of people who haven’t earned that trust.  Some criminals target and groom potential victims by waiting for the right opportunity to take advantage
  • Wheelchair users have a knack for setting up their environment and routines to make life easier, but don’t invite crimes of opportunity by leaving doors unlocked or purses on car seats, visiting ATM’s late at night alone or liquor stores late in the evening, or traveling deserted streets and alleyways where seedy people lurk.
  • If you drive, keep your keys in your hands when on your way to your car so that you don't have to take the time to look for them and become distracted from your surroundings. Your keys can also be used as a weapon, if needed.
  • Have a whistle or emergency noise alert with you. Even your keys to sound the car alarm work. Also, use your voice! If someone starts to follow you or catches you in a place where you don't feel safe, it is a true disruption of actions, if you can make enough noise to alert other people. Crime typically happens because of opportunity, so the key is to break the opportunity with noise or action. Practice what you would do or yell in an emergency so that you’ll be ready if the time ever comes to use your skills, in a real emergency.
  • Use your wheelchair to protect yourself. If it has a quick release arm rest or other detachable pieces large enough to use for self-defense, practice getting those pieces off of your chair quickly so that you’ll be familiar with the process in an emergency. Power chair users, in particular, can use their chairs to pin the attacker.
  • Because wheelchair users are lower to the ground in a crowd and often have a harder time turning around quickly compared to non-wheelchair users, it’s even more important to stay alert and be aware of who is around you. Lose the ear buds, and don’t be afraid to ask for security to escort you somewhere.
  • Avoid conflict when possible. We live in a world where people are easily enraged; don’t fuel their fire. If a person is trying to argue with you about something and the tone is turning unsafe, even though you may completely disagree with them, the trick is to make them think that they are right or that you are on their side. Speak softly so they will really have to listen to hear what you are saying, as this brings down the tension of an argument.
  • In terms of self-defense, there is a lot that a wheelchair user can do for protection. Inherently, sitting causes a lower center of gravity, which actually helps in a self-defense situation. Being lower allows you to strike a person in sensitive areas like the throat, chest, groin, or knees. Many people will be unaware that being lower assists in protection, meaning that you will be able to catch them off guard. The element of surprise is a great way to protect yourself.
  • The most powerful muscle in your body pound for pound is your jaw muscle.  Look for opportunities to BITE ANYTHING! This causes extreme pain, trauma, and often shock. 
  • Pepper spray is another great option to defend away attackers. The canisters can shoot 20 feet!
  • If someone gets too aggressive, ploys can be effective depending on the level of threat perceived.  Some sexual assaults have been avoided by the woman suggesting they meet the next day when she would be more willing to participate. Believe it or not (remembering that you are dealing with the male ego here!) the perp comes back the next day when, of course, police are waiting.
  • Lastly, most wheelchair users keep their belongings in a bag on the back of their chair. This is an easy target and could be taken without you even knowing. Look into finding a small bag that attaches to the inside of your arm rest, goes under your chair or is part of your cushion cover where you can keep important and valuable items like ID's, cash and credit cards.


    International Self Defense Association http://www.defenseability.com/

   About the Author: 

  Columnist Amy Saffell lives in Nashville, TN and works in the music industry. She enjoys spending time with friends, concerts, and volunteering for a local youth wheelchair sports and independence group. 

Beat the Heat with Naturally Flavored Water!

By Wendy Crawford

The Problem

“Record-breaking heat!” “First alert weather.” “Heat advisory.” “Scorching temperatures!” It seems that, for much of the nation, these have been common phrases used to describe recent weather.

For many of us who are sitting, this means overheating (due to an inability to sweat), dehydration (which can lead to constipation) and edema. Edema is swelling caused by excess fluid trapped in your body's tissues. Although it can affect any part of your body, edema is most commonly noticed in the hands, ankles, legs and feet.
We all know that the number one, most important action during these hot times is to drink plenty of water. This can get old after a while, though, and not everyone loves drinking water. Often they turn to soda, iced tea and other sugary, caloric drinks which are neither hydrating nor healthy. Some choose diet soda, but it has actually been linked to weight gain and high blood pressure. Fruit juice is a healthier option, but is still high in sugar, carbs and calorie content.