Hi guys! Today, February 7, is Disabled People of Colour Day! Though I share my journey on here of being a woman with a disability, I am beyond privileged in many ways, one of the being white and, at one point in my life, able-bodied. As an ally to POC, it’s not only important to educate myself on the discrimination they experience but it is equally important that I make room and elevate the voices of people who look different than me, or who’s bodies work differently than mine, and who experience life differently than I do. Without further ado, I want to introduce you to some of my favourite disabled POC instagrammers featuring people with all sorts of different stories. I hope you enjoy meeting some of my favourite people I’ve gotten the pleasure to follow and learn from on instagram and maybe you’ll find some new people to follow too! (The list isn’t in any particular order).
1. Gigi, @orchidsonmymind
Gigi has a rare genetic condition, Hypophosphatasia, that, because of low levels of a necessary enzyme in the body, can cause problems in the bones, brain, muscles, joints, lungs, and kidneys. Because of her bone disease, Gigi is a wheelchair user and sometimes uses a cane. She also has a GJ tube for her Behcets’s Disease, a form of vasculitis. When Gigi got sick, she had wanted to be a dressage trainer, her ultimate dream, but getting sick changed things so she set her sight on something she was unsure was possible, becoming a wet lab scientist. Now, an alum of Stephen’s college and University of Missouri, she has overcome the barriers faced by many people with disabilities interested in STEM and now works as a wet lab scientist researching artificial intelligence and genetic analysis. She has been recently nominated and got chosen to present at the world renowned Mayo Clinic’s Transform Conference. Through her experience, Gigi has learned that, as a disabled person, there are certain things that we can’t do but what’s important is how we choose to move forward in whatever way possible. Despite accomplishing her dream career, Gigi has had to adapt her goals in life and compromise; she advises “choosing to look for what you can do and ways you can make it work with what do have is such an important choice”. Outside of her day job as a research chemist, Gigi enjoys cosplay and is a self-proclaimed nerd. Gigi is also a bone disease advocate and mom to Holly the horse and Finnly the dog.
2. Lee-Lee, @sign_disney
Lee-Lee is a person full of sunshine! Seeing her on my feed always brightens my day. Lee-Lee is hard of hearing with hearing loss. When she was 12 years old, she learned American Sign Language (ASL) from her deaf mentor. Over the years, she has become a passionate advocate for the D/deaf and hard of hearing (DHH) community . After graduating college, Lee-Lee moved to Florida, the sunshine state, perfect for her sunshine-y personality! A big fan of Disney, Lee-Lee spends a lot of time adventuring around the parks and sharing her experiences as a Deaf person with the world. Hence why she started her instagram account, @sign_disney, to raise awareness for DHH community. Her goals in her words, is to “show people this beautiful language that is surprisingly widely used by so many in hopes to inspire others to learn and bring the hearing world and the deaf world just a little closer together.”
3. Marcela Turnage, @journeyofabravewomen
Marcela Turnage is a spinal cord injury (SCI) and limb loss survivor. Marcela is a prominent activist for inclusion and accessibility. Since 2014, she has been an ambassador for the ReWalk, a wearable robotic exoskeleton providing powered hip and knee motion that allows people with SCIs to stand up, walk, turn, and even go up and down stairs. Marcela has also worked with the United Spinal Association Tennessee Chapter as a board member and now serves as a board member for they Texas chapter. Marcela is a lover of travel, sharing her adventures all around the world with her followers on instagram. Marcela shares that she “believe[s] that people with disabilities deserves to live their best life and for that we need a more inclusive world. I have been in many countries promoting accessible travel and with the purpose to bring awareness and consciousness of the need of accessibility around the world.” Marcela is also a disability lifestyle influencer and fashion blogger, sharing her life and adventures through her instagram account.
4. Suzanna Chatterjee, MD, @healthyobgyn
Suzanna Chatterjee is a medical doctor, specializing in Obstetrics and Gynaecology. Suzanna is also the medical director of Vitality Medical Spa. Not only is she a doctor but, in 2014, she also became a chronic illness patient when she was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis when a brain MRI found lesions on her brain and spinal cord. Suzanna calls MS the snowflake disease as it affects no two people alike. Multiple Sclerosis is an autoimmune disease of the central nervous system (brain and spinal cord), where the immune system attack the myelin that insulates our nerves causing a wide array of neurological symptoms like extreme fatigue, lack of coordination, weakness, etc. Outside of her very successful career in OBGYN, Suzanna enjoys fitness and working towards her best self as well as traveling. On her instagram account, she shares lots of wisdom about the journey towards becoming a physician and balancing her career with her hobbies and family and chronic illness. Despite not knowing what her future holds, Suzanna works hard to accomplish all her dreams, living life to her fullest between her regular infusions to treat her MS. Suzanna shows that, no matter your obstacles in life, you can have it all.
5. Kam Redlawsk, @kamredlawsk
Kam Redlawsk is a Los Angeles based artist, designer, and rare disease advocate. Kam uses her art and blogging as an outlet to share her thoughts on living with GNE Myopathy, a rare degenerative disorder causing muscle wasting. Despite having symptoms earlier in her life, at 20 year’s old, GNEM really started affecting her body. Born an orphan in South Korea, she can identify with her illness being so rare it is considered an “orphan disease”. Throughout her life, she has used many mobility aids like canes and leg braces but became a full-time wheelchair user in 2012. Though Kam completed her education in Automotive Industrial Design at Detroit’s College for creative studies, her repertoire of design is huge, extending to product design, graphic design, and (self-taught) illustration. She has collected many accolades for her endeavours, from contributing to the world’s cheapest prosthetic knee for third world countries to being a published KoreAm columnist. Through her artwork and advocacy, she hopes to encourage other people with disabilities to live life and live it big, no matter what difficulties they are facing. Kam also throughly enjoys traveling and finding new places to explore.
6. Gretchen, @gretchensquad
Gretchen is a medical student who also happens to be a C5-6 incomplete quadriplegic and deals with keratoconus, a progressive eye disease. In 2014, the day after Christmas, Gretchen was getting a ride back to the airport after visiting with friends during a layover in Dallas, TX, when her car was struck by a drunk driver. The car struck exactly where Gretchen was siting in the front passenger seat, causing the vehicle to flip and land in a ditch. She spent 12 days inpatient in Dallas before being flown back to her home state of California for intensive rehabilitation for her spinal cord injury. After a year of outpatient physical and occupational therapy, Gretchen was able to return to medical school, a tribute to her undeniable courage and determination and the support of her family. Though Gretchen will always deal with the effects of her spinal cord injury, she has made it to her final year of medical school and can’t wait to start the next step in her career: residency! Gretchen now does work as a disability advocate and is hoping to become a peer mentor at the centre where she did her outpatient rehab. It’s clear that this woman is breaking barriers and is going to change the world with her passion and determination.
7. Brianna Cardenas, @bri_medical
Brianna Cardenas is a certified Physician’s Assistant (PA) and athletic trainer. Due to her experience having Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome as well as cerebrospinal fluid leaks and dysautonmia caused by her Ehlers-Danlos, she has specialized with pain management to help other people like her who deal with chronic pain. Recently, Brianna needed spinal surgery and she used that time off to create the website mypainIQ.com, an online resources for chronic pain patients. MyPainIQ provides peer-reviewed information about chronic pain and pain management as well as discussing many related topics like nutrition, mindfulness, therapeutic exercise, medical cannabis, etc. It also boasts an online store where you can find products recommended by Brianna and her experience for pain relief. When she’s not working, she likes to help other people with her medical conditions or chronic pain by raising awareness and helping other patients live their best lives. When first diagnosed, Brianna felt devastated, like she’d lost her identity and her strength to keep fighting. Through connection with others dealing with similar medical conditions, she has found strength in her vulnerability and realized that life is a gift she wants to experience to the fullest.
8. Claudia Martinez, @claudiaimartinez
Claudia Martinez is a third year medical student at McGovern Medical School in Texas. Claudia is studying to become a doctor while living as a patient. At 19 years old, she started having many symptoms that led to a diagnosis of Chiari Malformation and Syringomyelia that was severe, leading her to having her first brain surgery shortly after. 2 weeks later, she had to have her second brain surgery when her graft developed a CSF leak causing high intracranial pressure and meningitis. Despite these challenges, she graduated from her bachelors degree at University of Houston with a 4.0 GPA. Her dream of becoming a doctor was finally coming true. However, it wasn’t smooth sailing from there. She experienced complications from her prior surgeries and conditions, and ended up having many more surgeries. After finding out she had a tethered spinal cord, she went through her 8th surgery, an experimental one, but it was a success! Despite this, she needed to have a feeding tube placed as the effects from the tethered cord persisted. She returned to her second year of medical school but so did her tethered cord, it tethered itself. This time, Claudia had a stroke during surgery, leaving her paralyzed from the neck down. She fought hard in intensive neurological rehab where she learned to walk, feed, dress, and bathe herself again. Though she knows that this isn’t the end, she still is working hard at regaining functions and learning to live with her illnesses, she is very determined and headed back to her third year of medical school in May. Outside of her medical career, Claudia is an advocate for her disease, organizing many successful Conquer Chiari 5K walks. Though her medical experiences have been tough, they have helped Claudia become a better doctor, truly understanding what it’s like to be on both sides of the bed.
9. Luzila Castillo, @missluziintheskye
Luzila (Luzi) Castillo may only be small but she is accomplishing big things! Luzi, an 11 year old with Spina Bifida, has a resume of someone three times her age. Born in Kansas City, she spent the first 6 years of her life calling Children’s Mercy hospital her second home where she would go through many surgeries to get her to her healthiest. Then, at 7 years old, Luzi, once a fragile little girl, had her life changed drastically when her family moved to Southern California. In SoCal, they found many support groups that helped her flourish into the fearless girl she is now. Some of her numerous accomplishments include: winning second place in the intermediate division WCMX championships in 2018, performing in the Hollywood Christmas Parade, modelling for a several big companies like Target, Gap Kids, Toyota, and doing a catalog shoot for the clothing store Justice. When Luzi isn’t competing in sports or enjoying being on set, she’s a normal kid who goes to school and likes hanging out with her friends. Not only is she a successful WCMX athlete, she loves to be active, enjoying surfing with the Life Rolls On organization, basketball, adaptive track & field, and is sponsored by the Challenged Athletes Foundation for skating/WCMX. Other hobbies of hers include music, art, and dancing. Luzi is not afraid to reach for the stars and has many goals for the future including competing in the Paralympics, advocating for wheelchair users and kids with Spina Bifida, and booking a big modeling or acting gig. Luzi is definitely a shining star!
10. Kristin Fauntleroy, @kdebreaux
Kristin Fauntleroy is a new medical doctor, having graduated from St. George’s University of London in 2018 and is now pursuing training programs in paediatric neurology/ neurodevelopmental disabilities. Though she doesn’t have a disability herself, I wanted to include her in this list because of her role as a disability advocate. Her interest in neurodevelopment disabilities emerged when she was volunteering with Extra Special People, an organization aiming to “create opportunities for people with disabilities (PWD) to engage, connect, and thrive”. When she was coaching swimming, one of her students had a seizure in the pool, leaving Kristin feeling unprepared, driving her to study her swimmers’ diagnoses to gain more insight on how they lived and dealt with their disabilities. Kristin’s time spent with ESP, organizing pageants for PWD, fundraising, and teaching activities like swimming, dance, yoga, and art, and her interest in the medical side of these disabilities really cemented her choice in shifting gears from her childhood dream of becoming a vet towards a career in medicine. After graduating, she began a program called LEND, Leadership Education in Neurodevelopmental and other Disabilities, where Kristin was trained to be an advocate to improve the lives of PWD. Kristin now serves as a board member for Innovative Solutions for Disadvantage and Disability, striving to create better outcomes for kids and families. She hopes to soon join a residency program to continue to grow both as a doctor and advocate. On top of this busy schedule, Kristin is a wife, a mom to a toddler, and enjoys traveling, having visited 23 countries around the world.
11. Woody Belfort, @woody_belfort
Woody Belfort is an athlete and aspiring bodybuilder from Montreal, Canada. If you want to see some incredible feats of strength, his Instagram is a must! Woody’s favourite activities include basketball and calisthenics, a type of weight training using relying only on your own body weight. He is an ambassador for the Canadian wheelchair company Motion Composites that makes ultralight weight carbon fiber chairs. Woody doesn’t let anything hold him back, from winning MVP at the Toronto Pro bodybuilding show in the Calisthenics competition in 2018 to crowd surfing at magic festivals in his wheelchair, he always finds away to overcome obstacles and have fun doing it. In 2019, he will be representing Quebec as part of their wheelchair basketball team for the Canada Games. Though, on Instagram, you usually catch him doing wheelchair handstand push-ups or finding new wacky ways to do his tricks, his goals a greater than sharing pictures and videos. Woody wants to change the way people see wheelchair users, emphasizing the importance of seeing the person in the chair, not just the wheelchair and not being treated like and object rather than a human. He also advocates for greater accessibility in his city. With his determination, who knows what the future will hold? maybe we’ll see Woody winning American Ninja Warrior someday!