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"People focus on your disability - instead of seeing what you can do." Tamara Mena

My mom and I moved from Mexico to the US when I was 13 years old to be close to my grandfather. He was not doing well health-wise and was in a wheelchair. And he was always so positive, he never let the wheelchair stop him in any way.

October 15, 2005 absolutely changed my life in seconds. Everything that I thought my life would be just crushed. That night, my boyfriend Patrick and I were in a taxi and crashed with a horse that was randomly standing in the middle of the road. The roof collapsed down to seat level, and thankfully Patrick had pushed me down and saved my life. But I was paralyzed from the chest down when I left the hospital. Patrick and the taxi driver were killed instantly. At that moment, I didn't care that I lost my legs. I was just devastated that he was gone.

The best way I could honor him was to keep going. My whole family was amazing throughout the entire time. No matter what, we still had to keep going and loving life and be thankful for what we have. Being 19 years old is a time when you just feel invincible. And then all of a sudden I'm in a wheelchair.

It was unthinkable that I could model in a wheelchair at all. My image of disability was negative, if anything. So in my first photo shoot after the accident, I did not include the wheelchair. One of my friends wondered ‘where's your wheelchair? It's part of you.’ In the next shoot I included the wheelchair. This was a turning point for me: I'm not going to let the wheelchair define me. It was the very first time that I was actually proud of myself, including the wheelchair.

My journey has inspired other girls to just feel empowered and feel beautiful and sexy in the wheelchair. So, in a way, I’m trying to become the representation I wish I would have had. If I had seen someone like me represented in a powerful and positive way, that would have helped me in my journey to know that ‘I can do it too!’

People focus on your disability - they see the wheelchair, they see weakness, they see inability. Instead of seeing beyond your differences and just getting to know you as a person and getting to see what you can do.

I do have grace for others because I was once completely ignorant too. But I also think we need to be louder - because we matter. Our stories aren't being told authentically. Only 3% of all characters on TV have a disability, but 95% of those characters are played by non-disabled actors. We need to be seen for who we are and be given more opportunities. We don't have to be normalized - we are normal.

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