It’s been about a month since I was humbly crowned Ms. Wheelchair America 2023. I’m still reminiscing on the incredible journey that led me to spending an entire week with, at the time, 21 of my competitors, but who are now all great friends. When I was driving to the competition all I could think about was making sure I maintain my game face because, after all, this is a competition.
Unbeknownst to me at the time, 7 days later I left the competition feeling incredibly humbled and honored to have spent a week with such amazing women around the country who are all engaged in advocacy projects with the mission of making the world just a little bit more inclusive.
I know I took home the title, and I plan to advocate on behalf everyone with disabilities for years to come, but the competition really was about camaraderie. I built relationships with women in such a short period of time that I know will last a lifetime. It’s an experience that profoundly changes you from within.
On that note, I spent the first week after the competition trying to garner as much media attention as I could on what Ms. Wheelchair America stands for. I then proceeded to critically think about how to spend the next 365 days of my life in order to affect the greatest amount of change with the title. I spent hours sitting out by the little stream in my community pondering on the best use of my time. I have a year of travel, speaking engagements, and advocacy partnerships already underway.
For many of you that know me, as a C6 quadriplegic paralyzed from the chest down in a shallow water diving accident in 2010, swimming is the one activity in my life that reduces the chronic nerve pain throughout my entire body and allows me to get out of my wheelchair to swim independently.
Swimming not only helps with many of the physical secondary complications that arise from being paralyzed, but allows me the dignity, grace, independence to have one activity in my life that is the most freeing experience in my life.
After being humbly crowned Ms. Wheelchair America 2023 in August on the platform of health insurance advocacy I spend nearly 30% of my week giving back to the community to make our society more inclusive in addition to working a full-time job to cover a very expensive disability life for caregivers, health insurance costs, and much more as many of us with disabilities are unfortunately put in the challenging situation to navigate ourselves.
I love what I do and I live by two philosophies in life. Paying it forward and Human Kindness. I was extremely humbled to connect with 21 incredible wheelchair advocates around the country at the Ms. Wheelchair America competition. Each of these extraordinary women work each and every day, as many of us do, to push the limits of minimal accessibility standards within our country to create a more inclusive society for everyone.
A dear friend of mine writes for many magazines and wrote a beautiful piece over the last several months on my life, but what I think was very different as compared to many profile pieces was a night out on the town with me.
I fitted Billy up for a power wheelchair and taped his hands up as a quadriplegic with little “paws” like mine for a night as we went bouncing around town and dancing at the Dueling Pianos Bar.
In no world would I be able to simulate what it would be like to be a quadriplegic for the day, but at the very least, I wanted Billy to get a different perspective on life for eight hours.
I won’t spoil it because he is such a talented and brilliant writer — you get life from his perspective as an able-bodied person.
He also wrote a beautiful and wacky piece on my life.
It’s hard to believe that nearly 10 months have passed since being crowned Ms. Wheelchair North Carolina 2022. I have been engaging in so many advocacy activities over the last year to further my advocacy mission.
I am just a week away from heading out to Ms. Wheelchair America 2023 to compete with 22 other amazing wheelchair advocates in a competition that is going to create memories for a lifetime.
I looked up some of my amazing competitors, some of whom are actually friends of mine, and they all have fantastic platforms engaging in meaningful work to make our society more inclusive to folks with disabilities. It certainly going to be stiff competition for sure.
I know people who lose competitions probably say this all the time, but honestly, WIN or LOSE I am certain of one thing. All of the advocacy work I engage in around the country and globally involve collaborating with people. I don’t just mean anyone, but rock-star disability advocates in their own respective fields regardless of what disability they may have.
So, I KNOW THIS FOR SURE — I will be collaborating and partnering with many of these rock-star women for years to come on so many different missions in the name of making the world we live in more inclusive for future generations. I commend those that came before me and it is only fair that I do my part for those who will take over in the decades to come.
Dating – a word loaded with so many emotions and often, a word that evokes the feeling of being utterly overwhelmed. If you add in dating with a disability, heightened anxiety tends to be the “norm” in our community.
After I broke my neck in 2010, becoming a C6 quadriplegic, I spent the better part of six years believing dating was a fairytale conceived for the able-bodied population.
I went through internal struggles living in hospitals for years on end with seemingly insurmountable medical complications and learning to accept my body the way it was. I didn’t see myself as a sexually beautiful human being. Essentially, I felt as if I was asexual, and I couldn’t fathom the concept of another person finding me sexy because I couldn’t muster up the strength to even look at myself in the mirror for nearly two years.
When my medical life started to become stable, something very interesting happened to me almost overnight – I decided to take on the Herculean mission of trying to date. I didn’t know where to start. Prior to my accident I had no trouble dating. I simply went to a bar and there were men everywhere. When I went back to bars in my wheelchair, trying to meet men, I was devastated to realize men were not looking at me as they used to. I didn’t look any different other than the fact that I was in a wheelchair. This changed everything for me.
I quickly came to the realization that I was going to have to change how I date. I spent several weeks researching different online dating websites and decided to take the dive into an unfamiliar world. I asked many of my friends in wheelchairs what their experiences were like and most responses were quite negative, unfortunately.
I had a different philosophy – the worst someone can say is no. ….”
I never critically stopped to ponder why being a great communicator can also lead to a very lonely existence at times. Since I was a child, I have always been “perky” as they say and never had a problem in social settings. I love people, communicating with them, helping them, and always trying to find a middle ground between disagreeing viewpoints.
Since my accident so many people tell me that my patience levels, communication skills, and calm demeanor are extremely admirable. This is what I’m told to my face anyway. I believe it’s true though as I have this odd ability to stay unusually calm in stressful situations, and be patient for far longer than I probably should be at times.
I attribute much of this to Blue Cross and Blue Shield with the hundreds of hours I’ve spent on the phone with folks that are not particularly bright trying to get medically necessary equipment approved. I recall this one day I spent nearly 7 hours on the phone calling back Blue Cross and Blue Shield trying to find someone who could actually help me or transfer me to the right person. On that particular day I do recount losing my patience as I started to raise my voice, which is very unlike me.
On a serious note, and I’ve written about this on my social media before, living with a disability where you are physically dependent on other human beings to help physically take care of you each day is a blessing, and a challenge wrapped up in an emotional bow.
Really honored to have worked with Help, Hope, Live, a non-profit national organization dedicated to raising money for medical bills and expenses through crowdfunding.
This is a topic that is certainly not new, nor unfamiliar to many of us with disabilities. It’s so expensive to live with paralysis, especially if you have to pay everything out-of-pocket or if you’re trapped within the governmental system.
I dive into some of the challenges of navigating the financial burdens associated with life as a C6 quadriplegic.
New YouTube Video Out — Quirky Quad “Shower Talk with Ali” — UNCENSORED!
I bet you don’t know a lot of people that have spent a year in bed. Why would you? This is definitely not normal. I’ve written about it before, but I take you on my video journey with probably more information and photos then you care to look at, on what my life was like when suffering from a major pressure sore down to my tailbone in 2015.
This is a story of hardship, triumph, mental fortitude, sexy ICU Photoshoot’s, a ton of dark humor, and how I survived an extremely traumatic experience in my life.
Most people think the physical side of living in your bedroom for nearly a year looking at four walls was the most challenging part with all of the surgery, but it really was all mental!
Some of the strategies I employed in my own life have allowed me to get to where I am today and be who I am today! Leaving my professional skill sets aside, having a lived experience with disability makes so many of us profoundly capable of so much more than society and companies give us credit for.
We only need the chance to prove that we are incredibly resilient human beings, intelligent, resourceful, seriously organized, incredible at paying attention to detail, and determined to succeed more than most I would argue.
Enjoy, but I will warn you there are some graphics that might be a little bit disturbing, but are 110% real life.
Living with a spinal cord injury as a quadriplegic is no joke. Death is quite literally around every corner every day of the year. Food for thought when you think about perspective in life.
I am consulting with a beautiful organization called Open Inclusion where I am the Lead in the United States. Open is an organization run for and by people with disabilities where we work with large brands to make products and services more accessible through different paid research opportunities. We are also working on a brand-new project where we partnered with the freelance organization, Fiverr, where we are working with people with disabilities to help them become their own freelancers. So many amazing things in the advancement of inclusion!
We are also working on an incredible competition called the Simply Open Awards where people with disabilities can submit a two minute video showcasing a simple and elegant solution or ”hack” that has made their lives better. These solutions will be shared with the world, so that we can showcase how we come up with innovative solutions to make our lives just a little bit easier.
Collaborating with the Christopher Reeve Foundation we hosted a webinar on what the Simply Open Awards are all about. If you have a disability, or a loved one of someone with a disability, a carer, a friend, etc. you can also submit a two minute video.
Winners will win a few thousand dollars and have the chance to go to an all-inclusive paid trip to the Zero Project Conference in Geneva in 2023!
Thank you Christopher Reeve for such an awesome webinar: