When Wheel:Life learned that two Coloplast SpeediCath users would be featured on an upcoming episode of Access Health, we wanted to take the opportunity to share their amazing stories with the Wheel:Life community. Get to know Tatiana Lee and Kirk Ingram here first, and then tune in to Lifetime TV on August 15 and 22 to hear about how SpeediCath products help them both lead an active lifestyle.
Editor’s Note: As a child, Pennsylvania native Tatiana Lee loved having her photo taken and playing with her mom’s makeup. Fascinated with beauty and fashion, she wanted to model just like the women she saw on TV and in magazines. However, as a wheelchair-using girl of color with spina bifida, she would soon realize she didn’t fit the industry’s standard definition of beauty.
I'm an actor, model, lifestyle blogger, and influencer. However, when I first tried to get into modeling as a teenager, people laughed at me and told me no one would ever want to see a girl with a disability model or act. That was really hard for me. I just wanted to be represented, and I knew I wasn't the only one even though I felt like it because I grew up in a small town and didn't know anybody else like me. I had a mainstream education, so most of the time, I was the only person with a disability. I had this constant feeling that no one understood what it was like to be me. Despite that, I wanted to show people that I can be just as pretty as those girls in the magazines and as amazing of an actor as anybody else you see onscreen.
People kept telling me that acting and modeling was not a viable career option for me, so I decided to study marketing after high school.
If no one was going to market me, I was going to learn how to market myself.
My goal at the time was to open an agency that supported people with disabilities to have opportunities in modeling. I wear the same clothes and buy the same products as anybody else, so why can't someone like me be included in the advertising?
After college, I had completely shut off the idea of modeling or acting for myself, so I ended up doing marketing for music artists. Through that, I learned to use those early online marketing tools, but I still felt there was something missing in my life. In 2010, I had a nervous breakdown. I cut off all my hair, hopped on a plane, and moved to Los Angeles.
When I got there, I had to find the courage to tell myself I was capable of doing this, and I deserved to be there just as much as everyone else. Honestly, I didn't feel that way. What I was really thinking was, "What am I doing?” Here I am, this girl in a wheelchair trying to tap into an industry that doesn't want me.
I was often dealing with situations where I would go to open castings or events, and they weren’t wheelchair accessible, or girls would look at me and say, "Oh my gosh, you're so brave!" One day, I went to a networking event at a really nice beauty salon. The event was on the second floor, and they had no elevator. The organizers told me they didn’t know what to do, and I let them know how unacceptable that was. I told them that there are people in wheelchairs who want to be involved in things like this, and not being accessible is very discriminatory. People with disabilities deserve the chance to be in the room with other people.
From there, a light bulb went on. If people were so surprised and baffled at the fact that I'm in these spaces, maybe they really don’t realize what an issue lack of accessibility is. I took that as an opportunity to start sharing my stories and started a blog called AccessibleHollywood.com. I wanted mass media and the decision-makers to know that people with disabilities deserve to be represented.
How can we fight for that if we literally cannot even get into the room?
As I went to events, parties, and venues, I blogged about it. I shared anecdotes of things people said to me. A lot of times, people with disabilities just won't go somewhere if they're not certain it’s accessible, so I wanted to use the blog to give other wheelchair users tips to maneuver around. I wanted to show people that I'm willing to fight.
A few years after starting the blog, a friend of mine sent me a casting call that was looking for a wheelchair user. To see a casting call for a wheelchair user is few and far between, so, of course, I submitted for it. I didn't know what company it was at the time, but later, I got a call from the casting agency saying they wanted to book me for the job. I asked what it was for, and they told me it was an opportunity to model for Apple! They were working on an ad campaign to show how Apple products are accessible for people with different disabilities, and they wanted somebody to represent a wheelchair user. They were building their accessible page on their website, and I ended up being featured on it. That led to also doing a commercial for them which gave me exposure all over the world. People started finding me, especially other women of color with disabilities, and expressing how powerful it was to see me in that campaign. Seeing a woman of color in a wheelchair in a major company's ad campaign is amazing.
That’s when I realized everything I'm doing and fighting for is making an impact.
From there, I signed with an agent, and that has given me so many other opportunities. I've spoken on panels about supporting the inclusion of people with disabilities on film and TV. I've done a TV pilot. I’m in a short film called Footloose that is on the festival circuit right now. It won best awareness campaign for the Easterseals Disability Film Challenge. I also just recently modeled for a lingerie company called Parfait Lingerie for their #PerfectFiguire campaign. That is an amazing stride because all I want is for people to feel comfortable with who they are. We live in a society that tells us we have to be able-bodied to be successful or seen as attractive, but that's not the case. We are beautiful just as we are and can do anything right from our wheelchairs. I’m a curvy, black girl with curly hair and a disability. Traditionally, society sees those traits as unattractive. With this lingerie campaign, I have challenged those values and am showing people that I am beautiful, graceful, and empowering. It's been really fun and exciting to be on the front line of the fight for inclusion in mass media.
Don't listen to people who tell you, “no.” Just keep going.
Always stay grounded in your faith, and continue to encourage yourself. Every day, I tell myself that I am amazing, I am capable, and I'm going to make it happen. I always remind myself to come from a place of love, peace, and equality. I don't want to be that person who puts someone else down to get to where I need to be which Hollywood has a reputation for doing. When people tell me, "no," I've developed this attitude of, "watch me!" I am going to do it.
I'm an SGI Nichiren Buddhist, and my philosophy has helped me stay strong because I have a mission to help transform the way society sees what is different. It's bigger than me. Our future generations need to not feel isolated the way I did as a little girl. I deal with bipolar depression, and I contemplated suicide numeros times growing up because I felt so alone. I never want any child to have to experience that. I always remind myself that the little me would be so proud of who I am today. I strive to be the person that the younger me would have been happy to say, "She is my role model."
Editor’s Note: Read more about Tatiana’s modeling and acting adventures. Follow her on Instagram @mstatilee and Twitter @mstatilee.
Editor’s Note: Meet Kirk Ingram: dad, husband, sports enthusiast, and former collegiate athlete and hockey referee. His always-on-the-move lifestyle would drastically change in August of 2015 when he dove off a boat into shallow waters and hit bottom headfirst. The result was a spinal cord injury, paralysis, and having to figure out his new life as a wheelchair user.
My daughter was born just two weeks before the accident. My wife, Melissa, has been a warrior by my side through everything. Fortunately, our parents help us out as do my siblings. Melissa has been a trooper since day one.
At the time of my accident, I had been working at Target Corporation for five years. They were, and continue to be a huge support in my corner. They were patient with me while I was recovering and then helped me transition back to working between 5-10 hours a week. They've been tremendous. I've been very fortunate and blessed to be working for such a great company.
My paralysis was difficult to comprehend at first. Initially, I wasn't even able to talk or eat due to a ventilator, so I had to figure out how to communicate without being able to move any limbs. Eventually, I also had to work toward getting out of my hospital bed and into different settings, whether that was to go to rehab or just outside. One of the first goals I set out to do while in the hospital was to return home. It was really tough to grasp that I wasn't going to be able to do that for quite a while. It took nine months before I was able to return home.
Progress with a spinal cord injury is very slow, so I’m not moving as quickly as I’d like. I have made strides with different shoulder and arm exercises and am working on improving my bicep strength and shoulder stability so that one day, I can hold my daughter again. I'd like to be able to do that in the near future, but it's probably a little bit further out than I want to admit. I work out on average about 20-25 hours week. Unfortunately, my insurance doesn't pay for physical therapy, but I'm in two different workout programs with personal trainers who specialize in SCI.
My goal is to continue to work hard with my trainers, so I’m physically fit enough when a cure is made available.
I try to take each day as it comes and keep in mind that things can be adapted and made accessible. It can be very daunting and intimidating at first, but there are a lot of good people out there to help and ways to make adjustments in your day-to-day life. There are many different tools and technologies for spinal cord injury and other disabilities that are making it possible to essentially do a lot of what you did before your injury.
I'm a Christian, and I believe that God isn't going to give me anything that I can't handle. Being paralyzed is a very difficult situation to be put in, but my faith and knowing people are thinking of me and my family have definitely made it easier. That’s a tough word, though, because nothing in my day-to-day is easy compared to before my accident.
It’s about being thankful for the abilities that I do have. It's not being content with it, but also not getting too frustrated to the point of becoming depressed.
It's knowing that God and our church community are with me and my family as we go through this journey. Some doors are opening as others are shutting, but faith and the number one goal of holding my daughter one day help me to continue moving forward.
My wife and I are on a board of a non-profit called Get Up Stand Up To Cure Paralysis. We're looking to partner with other organizations and create a support system for people with SCI. As the
vice-chair, I've been working on our fundraising events. We have one coming up in September, and our goal is to raise $35,000. My wife is the research committee chair, so she helps decide how to best spend the money we raise and how we can continue to promote more SCI research.
Editor’s Note: The Get Up Stand Up To Cure Paralysis fundraiser will be held on September 14, 2018, in Minneapolis, Minnesota. More information can be found on GUSU2Cure’s website.
Betsy Bailey has a diverse background including experience in marketing research at American Express, business operations and client relations with 601am, travel and culinary writing with VegDining, and playing volleyball professionally overseas.
Betsy is excited to get back into writing, something she’s adored since childhood, and thoroughly enjoys the process of getting to know her interviewees. On top of her work with Wheel:Life, she also teaches students learning English as a second language, speaks French fluently, and travels any chance she gets!