Meet Alejandro @alejandrobocija! He is 22 years old and became a wheelchair user in 2012 when he broke his neck in a car accident the day of Superstorm Sandy.
Alejandro is from Spain but came to New York during 10th grade as an exchange student. He went back to Spain during my 11th and 12th grade and graduated with his all-time classmates - he never stopped studying, even in the ICU!
Alejandro came back to New York to start studying business at Fordham University in New York but dropped out of college in January to start his own business. He is also a forex trader!
Meet Ashley @ashkpzitreal89 ! She lives and works in Manhattan, and has been a wheelchair user for 14 years. Ashley has Charcot-Marie-Tooth - a genetic disorder that causes her to become weaker over time. She was raised by parents with a disability, which she feels helped shape her into the woman she is today. Her life motto is “The chair doesn't define me but it gives me a reason to push!”
Ashley believes New York City needs more accessible apartments, and she works towards this in her job: “I work in a program at a non profit that assists nursing home residents in locating housing in the community. It's a fulfilling job because it’s so hard to find housing in NYC. I remember it took me years to find my first apartment. Despite the obstacles faced, it's a start in the right direction. But there is a long way to go.”
Ashley enjoys writing poetry, traveling, and basketball - she is a huge Knicks fan! Her talents are spoken word, poetry, playing basketball, and cooking. She is most proud of her independence and how being a wheelchair user has never stopped her from accomplishing her goals. Ashley wishes people knew that wheelchair users live a regular life with some technical difficulties. She says: “Don't assume every wheelchair user has the same life, we all have different stories that shaped us into who we are.
Ashley has a business that sells T-Shirts and Hoodies with symbolic sayings for people with any physical appearance to educate outsiders to just speak instead of stare. It's a movement to unite #DontStareJustSpeak DM Ashley on Instagram to purchase, you can also find her on TikTok @ ashwheelofmind and Twitter @ wheelofthought
Photo by @sittinpretty111
Photo by @k.lorena_photography
Meet Bianca @Ladyfaith91! Bianca is a T/6 Paraplegic who lives in Flushing, Queens. She loves to eat, drive, explore, travel internationally, watch movies, spend time with friends and eat some more! Bianca’s life motto is “My journey may not be easy but it is NECESSARY!”, and she is most proud of her ability to bounce back from all of the adversity she has endured - “From losing my fiancé six months after my injury to my mother a year later, I still managed to navigate this new life and body fearlessly and with expectation!”
Bianca is an Adjunct Instructor for the City University of New York (English Discipline) as well as a Juris Doctor degree holder. She says - “I absolutely love higher education and the Law. I was an English major in undergrad which cultivated my desire to teach it one day. However, I have always had the burning desire to zealously advocate for those in the entertainment industry which was the catalyst for me attending Law School with plans of opening up my own Sports and Entertainment Law firm in the near future. My path is the perfect bridge of my law of the arts and education and I love everything about it.”
Bianca would like others to realize that we wheelchair users are worthy of every space that we occupy and while things may need to be changed to accommodate some of our needs, the return will be so much greater! If she could change anything about NYC, it would be the inaccessibility and the weather.
Meet Bryanna @bryannacopes ! She lives and works on Long island, and studies at the Mount Sinai Icahn School of Medicine. Bryanna has been a wheelchair user all her life (she also uses prosthetics as seen here), and has bilateral above the knee amputation.
Her hobbies are reading Poetry, watching Grey's Anatomy and Law and Order: SVU, and she is an avid coffee lover. Bryanna is talented at advocating for others, and says that as she has gotten older, she has really become an advocate for herself and others - this is what she is most proud of in her life.
Bryanna works for CityMD Urgent Care as a Clinical Assistant, while also studying for her Master's in Healthcare Administration. She says: “Since I was born, I have been in and out of hospitals, due to my health conditions. I realized I always wanted to give back and help others in need. When I got hired at CityMD I did not think I would be inspired as much as I did to further my education within the healthcare field. I decided to get my Master's in healthcare Administration because you have the power to help change lives and choose from all different kinds of jobs at a growing variety of institutions. Changing standards for hospital efficiency and patient outcomes means that hospital administrators have more power than ever to change lives.”
Bryanna’s life motto is “We must become the change we wish to see in the world” (Mahatma Gandhi), and she wants anyone with a disability to know you are valued and loved. Don't let society tell you how to live your life. Bryanna would love to see more changes in New York’s public transportation systems, and feels this can only happen by continuing to have conversations letting our voices be heard!
Meet Cheyenne @Cheyenne80195 ! She has been a wheelchair user her whole life, as she was born with a broken back. Her life motto is ‘Everything happens for a reason’ which she says: “sounds cheesy, but I am constantly finding that life proves this to be true”. Her hobbies are anything media related (TV, movies, music, etc.), and her talent is baking even though she doesn’t have the time and materials to do that much right now.
Cheyenne lives and goes to school in Manhattan, and is currently getting her Master's degree in Media, Culture, and Communication from New York University. She chose this degree because it seemed to perfectly combine her passions of media and disability representation, however it is very heavy in theory which she doesn’t like so much! Cheyenne is a fellow for the Loreen Arbus "Accessibility is Fundamental" fellowship at Women's eNews @womens_enews where she writes articles on disability issues. Be sure to follow her on Instagram as she is sometimes seeking disabled people to interview for the articles!
What does Cheyenne wish people knew about wheelchair users? “That we are capable of so much more than society has led people to believe. We are people with our own lives, loved ones, and dreams. Often, people who discriminate against us are what makes life hard for us and not the disability itself (although this is not the case for everyone, but discrimination does make things harder for everyone).”
What Cheyenne would like to change about NYC is the transportation! She says: “Subways are so inaccessible to wheelchair users and buses take forever. We need updated, efficient, and accessible transportation. Oh, and I would also change the prices of NYC, obviously, but that doesn't have as much to do with disability lol.”
This is what she had to say about what she is most proud of in her life: “I am proud of many things I've done in my life. I was a Jr. Paralympic track athlete for 12 years and changed laws in my school district to allow for disabled people to compete on their high school track teams. I was the first Miss Teen Wheelchair Nevada. I have modeled for brands like Pinterest and Zappos. I am an actress that has been an extra on a few major projects. I have two bachelor's degrees in Psychology and Criminal Justice.
However, I think the accomplishment I am the most proud of would have to be getting into NYU, getting the largest scholarship my department offered, and moving across the country to NYC by myself. I never thought I would get into NYU so that fact alone was amazing to me. But finding a way to afford it and moving so far from my home, family, and friends in Las Vegas to a new and inaccessible city where I knew next to no one was a completely different beast. It took a lot of confidence and courage that I didn't even know I had, but I did it and for that, I will be forever proud of myself.”
Meet Gabby @gabbydisalvo She lives in Staten Island and goes to school in Brooklyn. Gabby enjoys cooking, advocacy, and working with kids. She started Instagram and TikTok accounts for her cooking @cooking.on.wheels, and posts all of her recipes. One of the things Gabby is most proud of is being on the Rachael Ray show for the 2,500th episode special, joining in a cook-along!
Gabby is also proud of having raised $20,000+ for rare genetic diseases like her own - she was born with a rare neuromuscular disease called Myofibrillar Myopathy (MFM). This is a genetic condition affecting muscle tone, meaning she experiences extreme weakness. She used to walk but grew weaker and became a wheelchair user about 6 years ago. She continues to raise funds and awareness for those affected by rare, genetic diseases on her GoFundMe https://gf.me/u/yug9b7
Gabby says “If a doctor came to me and said, ‘We’ve found a cure for MFM and there’s no side effects at all!’, some days I would take that cure but on most, I would deny it because I have gotten so many incredible opportunities, such as advocacy, fundraising, cooking, great friends, and a true appreciation for the things that are most important in our lives.” Gabby would like to see NYC have safer accessibility, and wishes people would recognize we are the same as able bodied people, just with more visible obstacles in our lives.
Meet Julia @wigchick2020! She is new to wheelie life, becoming a wheelchair user in January 2019 due to a rare condition called cauda equina.
We all know it can be tough to adjust to this life, and Julia is doing her best, living by the quote- MAKE IT HAPPEN. SURPRISE EVERYONE!
Photo by Elmer Quintero @elmzqphotos
Meet Joaquin @JaeCeeThePoet ! Joaquin lives in Queens and has been a wheelchair user for 30 years due to Cerebral Palsy. He loves watching movies, and his favorite genres include action flicks, comedies, and romcoms. He likes listening to RnB, Alternative, Rock, and hip-hop music, and his favorite MC's are Joe Budden, Jay-Z and JCole. Joaquin says he cannot start his day without coffee, is a huge fan of whiskey, and has 17 tattoos!
Joaquin has a degree in Criminal Justice, with a professional background in youth development. He has worked as an admin assistant, career coach and class instructor. Poetry is his passion, so he is now a full time poet and author, and has hosted poetry/life workshops in Bronx Community College. Joaquin has two new books of poetry coming soon - a chapbook (a short collection of poetry) titled Coffee Clock, and a full length poetry book coming out sometime in 2022. You can find him on Instagram, YouTube and Twitter @ JaeCeeThePoet.
Joaquin is most proud of continuously beating the odds, and his life motto is “Do no harm but take no shit”. On life as a wheelchair user he says: “I've had people tell me I'm inspirational simply because I'm out enjoying life. A part of me, I suppose understands where that comes from but a larger part of me is really annoyed by it. I'm not an inspiration just because I exist.”
Meet Krystal @EverydayKrystal! She lives in the Bronx but is originally from Chicago, so her life motto is “It’s windy at the top, thank God I’m from Chicago.” Krystal has been a wheelchair user since she was a toddler, due to Spina Bifida. The thing she is most proud of is not only surviving but thriving this earthly journey.
Krystal works as a Vocational Rehabilitation Counselor, and her talents include being an adaptive clothing model, a former athlete, and writing. Krystal is a co-author in the upcoming anthology “The Higher Level Method” with Darlene Williams @thehigherlevelmethod and other amazing writers (check the link in Krystal’s bio for more about the book).
Krystal’s hobbies are reading, traveling, being outdoors, enjoying live music, and good company while eating good food - she says “the best way to get me out the house is to feed me”! What she wishes people knew about wheelchair users is that wheelchairs are mobility devices not costumes or accessories. If she could change anything about NYC, it would be: affordable and accessible housing; more resources towards independent living initiatives; and improvements to public transportation (more stops with elevators).
Meet Lauren, Ms Wheelchair New York 2020! Lauren was the first person in the US diagnosed with the exceptionally rare condition.
Myoclonus Epilepsy and Ataxia due to KCNC1 mutation (MEAK). She is one of only 20 in the world. Lauren and her mother started a Facebook page for families affected by MEAK, connecting and supporting people all around the world.
As well as being an advocate for her condition, Lauren is an accomplished ballroom dancer! She signed up for wheelchair dance program 5 years ago and has since progressed from social dancing to solo performances to dance competitions.
On top of all this, in September last year, Lauren was crowned Ms Wheelchair New York 2020! We can't wait to see what other amazing things she does this year.
Meet Michelle Miles @michellenmiles! She is a multi-media artist whose work is informed and conceptually underpinned by her experience as a disabled woman.
She currently holds a year-long position in Accessibility at The Metropolitan Museum of Art and is a resident in the Art Beyond Sight Art & Disability residency program.
Miles’ work has screened at Sundance Film Festival and the LA Film Festival, and will be on view at the Kennedy Center in July 2020 for the 30th anniversary of the ADA.
Meet Natalie @nataliedesegonzac! Natalie has a C5 Spinal Cord Injury, and is seen here embracing her powerchair (both figuratively and literally!)
Natalie is a New York City based artist. In the past few years she has primarily focused on recovery after her injury.
Even so, she has maintained an art practice that revolves around retraining her hands and discovering new working methods as a disabled woman.
Meet Nina @NinaDespina ! Nina is from Queens, and is currently getting her PhD in Brooklyn. She has been disabled since birth, and has Arthrogryposis and Scoliosis.
Nina’s day job is a clinical psychology doctoral student, where she is both a therapist and a researcher. Nina says: “The field of clinical psychology has historically excluded the voices of disabled folks, leading to a very unintegrated and one-dimensional view of disability. To address this, I work toward integrating the field of disability studies and psychology.”
Nina is also one of the co-coordinators of the Downstate NY chapter of ADAPT @DNY_ADAPT. ADAPT is a national grassroots disability organization that fights to end the institutional bias. Nina says: “ These matters go hand in hand for me — I cannot address mental health in our community without incorporating a larger systems approach. We cannot advocate for mental health without also pushing to dismantle the system that keeps us in constant fear of losing services and institutionalization. The work I can do as a future psychologist is contingent upon what we can get done at ADAPT.”
What does Nina wish people knew about wheelchair users? She says: “I wish people were genuinely able to understand that disability is one of the most natural facets of the human experience. The fragility of our own bodies is quite literally one of the only things in life that we can be sure of. When I was younger I don’t think I understood that that was likely the exact reason why non-disabled people are so dismissive and undermining of our community. — we represent the exact thing that they fear. Realizing this was more liberating than it was depressing. It is our job as disabled folks to live as authentically as we can. Do not tell them our lives are terrible. Do not tell them our lives are sunshine and rainbows. We live at the intersection, with vibrance and nuance. Hopefully, over time, the rest of the world will catch on.”
This photo was taken at NYC’s Disability Pride Parade in 2019.
Photo Credit: Ghavin Deonarain
Meet Stefan! He lives in Manhattan and has been a wheelchair user for 17 years due to a spinal cord injury. Stefan’s service levelthecurve makes products for people with disabilities that are both what they need and want at a low price. Check it out at levelthecurve.com, and on Facebook and Instagram @levelthecurve
Stefan’s favorite things to do are to play video games, Workout, meditate, wander the city and take pictures. He says he is very easily bribed by food and a good time! Stefan’s talent is engineering, he designs things regularly. He is a mechanical engineer by trade, and he chose that field so he could build things that help others.
His life motto is “You only live once so live to your best ability”, and what he wishes people knew about wheelchair users is “We aren't defined by our chairs but by our passions. We live more passion filled lives than people will ever know.”
If he could change anything about NYC, it would be to make every location accessible for wheelchair users.
Meet Vanessa @eyeseeyoutoo_ !
Vanessa is 28-years-old and lives in Staten Island. She lives with Spinal Muscular Atrophy (Type 2), and has been using a motorized wheelchair since the age of 5.
She is vegan, and aims to help others with disabilities see how a vegan lifestyle promotes wellness and allows us to align our actions with our values. She also advocates for other social justice issues on her page and in her writing.
Her article on NYC Transit accessibility was featured in the Daily News just last year. Vanessa holds a master's degree in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages and is currently freelance writing and teaching English as a New Language remotely.
Vanessa is seen here in her car, which she drives from her wheelchair!