With fellow Push Girl,
Ashley Cooper-Heath,
Ms. Wheelchair Florida

Well, minus the traffic-stopping good looks, the regular voice, the clothes, the dates and the cool wheelchair. I realize that’s an awful lot of missing qualities, but I really think it has more to do with attitude. It’s a spirit and passion for life. It’s about not letting disability keep you from living a full, active life.

I caught three of the four Push Girls on a talk show last week, The Jeff Probst Show. I’m proud to say I had no idea who he was until I flipped by Survivor (not watched, I swear) and recognized his crater-sized dimples. I’m such a fan of the show (Push Girls, not Survivor,) I decided to re-run my “Pushing the Envelope” post, because I think everyone should meet these girls.

It’s hard for me to judge how successful the show is or why. I love it. And I really don’t think it’s because I’m in a wheelchair. Lots of able-bodied friends I know have watched it and become hooked.

I did find out something on the talk show I didn’t know. One of the girls, former model Angela, recently returned to modeling on the show. She had quit young — 21 or so — because she didn’t like promoting the message of ideal beauty. She’s modeling again, paving the way for others with disabilities, because now she has a different message to put out there. How cool is that?

Jeff asked them what their life-changing event had taught them. Their answers seem to sum up what I’m always trying to convey. That life is short. It can change in an instant. Their second chances reminded them that life is precious.

Original Post:

There’s just no competing with California. Better weather, healthier lifestyle, prettier people. Even the girls in wheelchairs are glamorous in L.A.  Case in point: “The Push Girls,” a new reality show featuring four beautiful, brave women — all disabled.

Hooray! Finally, a reality show I can admit to watching. And a show I can relate to. Not that I have much in common with these women aside from height, or lack of it. No, next to this bunch with their stylish clothes, high heels and blinged-out wheels, I look ready for the nursing home in my stretchy pants and granny wheelchair. But I applaud them. They refuse to be typecast. They’re pushing boundaries and breaking molds. Their new series on the Sundance Channel (Mondays at 10) is dispelling any preconceived notions of what it means to be handicapped.

I’ve watched all episodes to date (not an easy feat since getting rid of cable) and I have to say — I’m a huge fan. I’m intensely curious as to how they do things. (This must go double for the average, in-the-dark, able-bodied viewer.) But producer Gay Rosenthal, who also produced TLC’s “Little People, Big World,” maintains the show is not exploitative or voyeuristic. I think people just like looking into a world that’s different from their own. Like the world of sports agents in Jerry Maguire, groupies in Almost Famous or doctors in “E.R.”

The show follows the women as they juggle relationships, careers, family and friendships. It’s interesting because they’re handicapped (and dealing with the natural obstacles that entails,) but also because they’re young, attractive, fun and seemingly fearless. So far, I’ve watched open-mouthed as they bounce down all kinds of stairs, perfect their chair dancing moves and even go out speed dating. I mean, these are some gutsy girls! One of the four was (and still is) a professional dancer who, on one episode, enters a packed ballroom dance competition to compete against able-bodied dancers! Granted, I can’t have been the only one to consider it might have been a pity-win when she and her partner took first place in the Show Dance category. But you can’t argue, she deserved a trophy just for having the hutzpuh to get out there. People say I inspire them. Well, these girls inspire me.

That doesn’t mean you’ll find me in heels anytime soon (I’m still a Florida flip-flop girl,) but it’s nice to see people in wheelchairs feeling good about themselves and life. I’ve been cautioned against calling high heels in wheelchairs ridiculous by a friend in a chair who used to wear them too. She moved here last year from (where else?) California — so make of that what you will.

Not everyone is sold. A critic for The New York Times worries that the show may give the mistaken impression that these women are representative. That the majority of disabled Americans are not in poor physical health and financial straits, unable to obtain jobs or even interviews, but young and independent like these women. Really? Since “Real Housewives,” do people think all housewives have personal chefs and wear $25,000 sunglasses? It’s Hollywood! Literally! I say capture the public’s attention with the pretty version, then work on social change. Maybe this media milestone will bring about real change for people living with disabilities. I’m hopeful — so goes California, so goes the nation.