Woman With Cerebral Palsy Is Crowdfunding Nashville's First Inclusive Fashion Show

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Alicia Searcy is on a mission to prove that fashion is for everybody, and by everybody she means every body.

Known online as Spashionista, Searcy lives with cerebral palsy and uses her online presence to advocate for social awareness and acceptance of people with disabilities.

Alicia Searcy

“Fashion isn’t just for the young, thin, and able-bodied,” Searcy told The Mighty. “Imagine how successful [fashion designers] could be if they began embracing a broader size and shape spectrum into their designs, and how empowering and uplifting it would be for women and men who feel ‘less than’ about their bodies to be able to wear something chic and stylish.”

With this idea in mind, the Nashville native, set out to crowdfund the city’s first inclusive fashion show.

“Every year I attend numerous fashion shows, including Nashville Fashion Week, that showcase the best and most promising designers our area has to offer,” she said. Going to these shows, as someone with a disability who is passionate about fashion, Searcy started to imagine the designs she was seeing on the runway, but with a more inclusive set of models. “I want to show designers and boutique owners that their clothes can look beautiful on an unconventional model.”

“When it comes to looking stylish from the seat of a wheelchair, I’ve found that there are more options than limitations,” Searcy said. “ I try to encourage other women – especially other women with disabilities – to embrace who they are.” Now, after four years of blogging and teaching women with disabilities the ins-and-outs of fashion, Searcy is looking for a larger platform.

Searcy is currently more than halfway towards her funding goal, and has the logistics of her show, Fashion for Every Body, fully planned. Her show, Nashville’s first fully inclusive fashion show, will feature collections from nine local fashion designers as well as pieces from two local vintage boutiques. Twenty models, ranging from 18 to 50 years old, have signed on to walk the runway. Seven of the show’s models use mobility aids and represent a variety of disabilities including cerebral palsy, muscular dystrophy, Epstein-Barr virus, fibromyalgia, trigeminal neuralgia, hypothyroidism and paraplegia. One of the collections being featured in the show, ALTER UR EGO, features their adaptable jeans line, designed for people in wheelchairs.

The show premieres September 10, at 6pm at abrasiveMedia in Nashville.

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What It Was Like to Be a Teen With Cerebral Palsy in the Dominican Republic

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Please read Part 1 of this story here.

The big date was fast approaching. In two more years I would be turning 15, a significant age for a girl in Hispanic culture. Very slowly my childhood was slipping into the past. Soon I would become a señorita. No more playing with dolls. Despite the changes my body started to experience, I would not be like the rest of the señoritas from my town.

The other girls my age had an active lifestyle. They attended high school and had friends. Las señoritas would go out in groups to the movies, to the clubs, and for walks in the park. They also had overnights at their friends’ homes. They had enamorados too, guys who flirted with them. At 9:30 a.m. on their day off from school, I would see las señoritas pass by my house on their way back from the colmado (grocery store). They were doing mandados (errands) for their mothers. They carried brown bags full of rice, oil, beans, onion and pepper. A little earlier they had gone to the Mercado (market) to buy fresh meat for la comida (lunch,) the heavy meal of the day.

Las señoritas wore ponytails, shorts, make-up and T-shirts showing their belly. The sun, along with the warm temperature, made their brown skin gleam as they swung their hips when they walked. They sang aloud to the hottest pop songs of the time. Across the street were los pretendientes (guys who hope to become a girl’s boyfriend or husband) who flirted with the girls: “Mamacita, que Buena estas,” (You’re hot.) They blew kisses to las señoritas. The girls kept walking and tried to ignore the guys.

I didn’t walk to the stores. I didn’t wear shorts. I just wore skirts or dresses to cover my knees. None of the boys blew kisses at me. My hips didn’t move the same way as the hips of las señoritas.

Once the señoritas from next-door arrived home, they started helping their mothers with heavy housework. These girls cleaned the house, mopped the floor, and washed clothes by hand for their parents and the younger children. They also cooked lunch. Since they were señoritas, they must share housework and show their parents that when the time came to be married, they were ready to meet the expectations imposed by society on their gender: To take care of their house and kids, and be a good partner to their husbands.

I didn’t meet any of those expectations. I didn’t have any friends to go out with. I didn’t go to school. I didn’t walk by myself to the grocery stores or carry heavy bags of food. I didn’t cook heavy meals for my family. I didn’t mop the floor or wash the clothes by hand. I was different.

In those days, stereotypes were still strong in the Dominican Republic. There was a perception that people with disabilities were worthless. Every time I walked along the streets, people asked my parents what was “wrong” with me. ¿Ella Hablá? ¿Ella entiende cuando le hablán? Que pena? (Does she talk? Does she understand what others are saying to her? Poor thing.)

I disliked hearing the same questions and expressions of pity over and over again. Even though my family treated me with love and respect, society pushed me to the side because I was different. Besides dealing with the same issues that most teens face in terms of identity and physical changes, I also had to deal with physical limitations and social rejection due to my cerebral palsy.

As a teenager in my town I never fit in, a circumstance that started in my childhood. When I was a little girl, I didn’t have the opportunity to attend school. Special education didn’t exist in the country back then. Even though I wanted to attend school, I couldn’t. All this turmoil from childhood was quietly building up inside of me. Once I reached the teen years, I became even more aware of prejudice against people with disabilities.

I was 13 years old when my life started to go down a dark road. I had no idea where to turn. Should I go right or left? I felt hopeless. Depression set in. I didn’t know what to expect in the future. I had no idea how my life would be once I reached adulthood. The main role for a female was to marry, have kids, and take care of a partner. These goals seemed unreachable for me. I didn’t meet the criteria. In my depressed state, I was focused on everything I believed I couldn’t accomplish.

My mother was very concerned about my well-being. One day I heard her talking on the phone with my father, telling him her worries regarding my emotional state. Dad had moved to New York City to find work, due to the financial hardship in the DR. Dad asked Mom to put me on the phone. He told me to take care of myself and to try to do something I enjoyed. Hearing Mom tell Dad her concerns for me, and hearing Dad trying to console me reminded me of how much I was loved by my parents. That made a huge difference. I felt like I was worth something as a person. Life had meaning. The dark road of my teen years started to get brighter each day.

After my conversation with Dad, Mom and Soris, Mom’s sister, who was like a big sister to me, I was motivated to find something to do, since I was home all day. I helped out more around the house, swept the backyard, and became more active at home. Feeling loved by my family and like I had worth as a person helped me to recover from depression.

The biggest day of my teen years finally arrived. On August 15, 1987 I turned 15 years old. I was now a señorita. I didn’t have the big quinceañera birthday party, traditional in Hispanic cultures. I wished for one, the way I saw it in the telenovelas (soap operas). Usually the parents host a big party for the quinceañera, inviting relatives and friends. The night of the party, the quinceañera wears a pink or white long gown and a crown. She dances with her father to the traditional quinceañera song, “El Vals de la Mariposa”(Butterfly Waltz).

Even though my parents didn’t host a quinceañera party for me I had a nice 15th birthday, which I will always remember. It was the first time I got so many birthday gifts. Soris bought me a pink and a white cake decorated with a small pink flower on the top. Dad’s younger brother gave me a black and white teddy bear.

My parents bought me a nice bouquet of yellow, red, and white flowers. Mom made me a pink outfit. Pink symbolized being a female, but also being a girl who is turning into a woman. That day, Dad called me from New York to wish me a happy birthday, which made the day complete.

During these years, it was hard for me to accept that I had cerebral palsy and couldn’t have the kind of life the other girls had, but the love and support of my family was infinitely stronger than any form of prejudice or ignorance I was forced to confront every day.

Juana Ortiz’s book “I Made It” is available at www.juanamortiz.com and on Amazon.

The Mighty is asking the following: Write a letter to your teenaged self when you were struggling to accept your differences. Check out our Submit a Story page for more about our submission guidelines.

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What I've Learned From My Partner With Cerebral Palsy

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I think society can be critical about how relationships between people with disabilities should be handled. Some say those with disabilities shouldn’t pursue relationships — just live their lives alone and be done with it. They won’t know the difference.

I’ve come to learn that mindset isn’t true. In my friendship and courtship with my partner, Billy, over the past decade, I learned love has no limits. Love has no boundaries when people have the ability to make their own decisions on how to live their lives and what they want out of it. Like any other person would.

My visit to Rhode Island a few weeks ago rekindled a relationship years in the making. It initially faltered due to pressure from society as well as pressure from outsiders looking in. Some people looked down at Billy as a person with many limitations, because of his cerebral palsy. In reality, he has the same wants and needs as anyone else: companionship and a sense of belonging that comes with any relationship. Isn’t that what everyone in this life deserves?

I was surprised how things have changed in the last decade of knowing him, especially the mindset of my friends and his care staff and their understanding of this random situation that is my relationship with him. They’re all for it now because our relationship brings us great happiness. They see us as regular people in love.

Regular people.

I know my time with him may be shorter given the age difference and his needs, and our relationship will face challenges others may not face, but the fact remains the same.

Everyone on this earth deserves to be happy and find their soul mate, and it just so happened that the universe chose this for us. As to why, who knows? The universe works in mysterious ways.

But I know for a fact that the last decade has taught me to see love from a different point of view. It may not be the relationship everyone wants for me, but however this plays out, I know I made an impact on him and others who have stuck through our challenges with us.

Billy has taught me how to love, how to be patient, how to look at things from a different angle and how to see the world as a beautiful place despite its rather dark exterior.

Fate made us click. It’s a strength that has held us together in my journey to find myself. It’s the power that brings you up when your spirits are low.

I may not have the “normal” path set forth by society in front of me, but I’m adventurous, spontaneous and not afraid of where this road will take me.

Love is without limits. As it should be. And how it will be.

Follow this journey on Legally Blind Bagged.

The Mighty is asking the following: What is a part of your or a loved one’s disease, disability or mental illness that no one is aware of? Why is it time to start talking about it? If you’d like to participate, please check out our Submit a Story page for more about our submission guidelines.

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To My Boyfriend With Cerebral Palsy, Whom I Was Told Not to Date

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My sweetest Bill,

From the day I met you, I knew something special was about to unfold in my life. Meeting you would forever set me on a course of finding my voice in a world that at times has tuned me out.

And by special, I’m not talking about the crutches you once used when I met you, the wheelchair you now rely on, or your learning differences. “Special” can carry a negative stigma that downplays the amazing attributes you possess: your strong will to prove others wrong about you, your sarcastic sense of humor, your amazing judgment of character, and your self-acceptance that to this day, I’m still trying to find in myself.

We faced a lot of negativity from family and your care staff when we decided to take a chance and go on a date 10 years ago. I felt pressured to leave you to make others happy. “Date ‘normal.'” “You could do so much better.” “You’re just a college kid who doesn’t know anything.” Those mean words and more made me leave you behind for seven years to explore the world on my own.

The truth was, I was never happy. My family and friends were and so was your staff, but I was falling apart. And you knew it. Despite us dating other people and pursuing other goals, we still made time for each other via a phone call. You always told me “We are stuck together like glue,” and you never gave up on me.

Seven years later, after I broke up with a long-term boyfriend whom I thought would make others happy, I found myself on a plane to be reunited with you. I learned my happiness shouldn’t be based on other people’s expectations, only my own.

I didn’t fall in love with you because of pity. I didn’t fall in love with what society sees, “the man in a wheelchair.” I fell in love with Bill, the man with an infectious personality, the most piercing green eyes, the strong arms that make me feel safe on days when I’m falling apart. And so much more.

I see a person with a strong will to make the most of his life and achieve his goals.

I see a person.

You.

I thank you for being with me at my best times and my worst times, the times where I gave you my undivided attention and the times I let you down in my quest to please society. I thank you for taking me under your wing and giving me a second chance, although at times I don’t feel like I deserve it.

I know our time together is limited, given our distance and the cost it takes to make the trips across the country to see each other. I know our dates are through Skype, whenever we can get it to work properly, and gift giving is through snail mail. But the times we have together are deeply treasured. Every waking moment, the good and the bad, is spent in total happiness.

I may have some haters in my life, but this time around, I refuse to let them bring me down. I want to be happy, and my happy is with you.

Thank you for sticking it out with me, even in my darkest moments. I love you Sunshine.

Forever yours,

Mandy

Follow this journey on Legally Blind Bagged.

The Mighty is asking the following: What’s a dating story related to your disability and/or disease that made you laugh, roll your eyes, cry or was otherwise unforgettable? Check out our Submit a Story page for more about our submission guidelines.

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Brennan Srisirikul, Actor With Cerebral Palsy, Has a One-Man Cabaret Show

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Brennan Srisirikul aims to inform, entertain and inspire with his one-man show.

The 24-year-old actor and singer, who has cerebral palsy, will bring “In My Own Little Corner” to New York City next Saturday, June 18. The cabaret performance premiered in Rhode Island in February.

The show, according to Srisirikul’s website, “includes stories of the twists, turns, and triumphs of living life on wheels” — in short, a theatrical autobiography.

A “Cinderella” lyric inspired the show’s title — “…in my own little corner, in my own little chair, I can be whatever I want to be.”

“That has sort of been my motto my entire life,” Srisirikul told The Mighty. “I also like the concept that I’m living my own fairytale, despite what others may think looking from the outside in.”

“In My Own Little Corner,” which consists of 16 songs interspersed with commentary, has been a long time coming for Srisirikul.

“I have been toying around with the idea of doing a one-man show for a while, but frankly, I was too afraid,” Srisirikul said. “I was craving to do something creative on my own terms.”

That craving originated when Srisirkul saw “The Lion King” at age 8, but it wasn’t until college that the Bangkok native began channeling his life with cerebral palsy into his acting.

He credits the transformation with one particular work session in class at Rhode Island College.

“[My teacher] began to ask me questions about my journey and identity as a disabled person as an exercise to help me to connect with the text [I was working with],” Srisirikul said. “It was quite an emotional moment being as vulnerable as I was in front of my classmates. At the end … she said,’You are enough just the way way you are.’ It was truly life-changing, both personally and professionally. I feel like in that moment, everything changed.”

Now, Srisirikul is going public with what he’s learned. He says he hopes “In My Own Little Corner” serves as a testament to what people with disabilities are capable of.

“As cliché as it sounds … we are capable of way more than what sometimes meets the eye,” Srisirikul said. “I think that transcends beyond just the disabled and differently-abled community into every community, be it about race, culture, background or sex.”

“There are so many people who are underestimated, that have so much to bring to the table. I want people to think about the things in our lives that we think hinder us,” he added. “I truly believe the thing that we think is a hindrance to us could our greatest asset. So many people sell themselves short for no reason because of preconceived notions we have.”

That’s why the Massachusetts resident, who also works with the arts advocacy organization Alliance for Inclusion in the Arts, is taking the stage: to represent his life with a disability.

“Disability is not a costume you can wear or [a] technical skill. It’s a lived experience,” Srisirikul said. “As they say, art imitates life. The more representation and exposure my community gets in the media, the better I think everything gets, because art makes people think. That’s why the arts are so important. Change starts with art.”

“In My Own Little Corner” will be performed live at the Metropolitan Room in New York City on Saturday, June 18 at 1pm. Srisirikul also has a Facebook page and a website.

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My Life with Cerebral Palsy Isn't Sad

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I have spastic diplegia cerebral palsy. One thing I really wish you knew about my life as a disabled person is that it isn’t sad. Yes, there are challenges, and I have days when I really don’t like what I’m dealing with, but my life is not sad. I don’t want your pity. I have had several surgeries and have frequent doctor’s appointments, but everyone at the clinic knows my name now. They know my interests, and what my goals are after I graduate from college.  There is a whole community of people out there who share the same experiences as I do.

Krista Grosland

Spastic diplegia CP has taught me several important life skills, too, not the least of which is adaptability.  I’m always adapting to the environment, whether it is easily accessible or not, and that’s a nice skill to have. I’m proud of the things I’ve learned, the shared experiences I’ve had with other disabled people, and the relationships I’ve been fortunate enough to form.

The biggest reason I don’t want you to pity me or feel sad for me, though, is because overall, I’m a lot like you.  I had a doctor’s appointment this morning, but you know what I did after that? I spent hours at a coffee shop with friends trying to do homework…and procrastinating more than I’d like to admit. Doesn’t that sound like you or a college student you know? And on that note, it’s time I actually get some work done for school.

Thank you for taking the time to see a snapshot of my life as it truly is.

The Mighty is asking the following: What’s one thing people might not know about your experience with disability, disease or mental illness, and what would you say to teach them? If you’d like to participate, please send a blog post to [email protected] Please include a photo for the piece, a photo of yourself and 1-2 sentence bio. Check out our Submit a Story page for more about our submission guidelines.

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