Tag Archives: disability awareness

Making Connections After A Spinal Cord Injury Can Change Your Life

At age 13, a spinal cord injury changed Reveca Torres’s life. She began working with HelpHOPELive to fundraise for injury-related expenses in 2008. Now the executive director of the spinal cord injury support community BACKBONES, Reveca devotes her time to helping others discover vital SCI resources and find joy and connection after injury. Here are her insights on connecting with others, fighting stigmas and learning to embrace your new life.

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Do spinal cord injuries create both physical and emotional challenges?

Definitely. Physically, your body is entirely different post-injury. You have to re-learn what your body can do. All of your internal systems are affected, from bowels and bladder to body temperature and your sense of touch. Everything is so different. It takes years to be self-aware and understand the new feelings, signals and reactions in your body.

Initially, I thought of my body as broken. Now I know that my body is still alive. It’s still working. I won’t ignore it. You have to learn to stay healthy or you risk being stuck in bed healing from issues and other injuries.

What can you learn through connecting with peers?

I think it’s really important to get to know other people with spinal cord injuries so you can begin to understand how they handle their daily lives. Connection is a great way to learn from others and discover some self-acceptance, too. Getting comfortable with your situation is one of the biggest hurdles when you are first injured. You need to see that others in your situation are making it work.

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Connect with others with SCI and learn how they make it work.

Knowing that someone else understands exactly what you’re going through is powerful. It’s wonderful to not have to explain yourself or what you’re feeling. You can talk, ask questions and learn from each other. There’s a lot of relief knowing that someone else knows what it’s like to be you. I hear that when I talk to people on the phone: the conversation starts with a lot of questions, nerves and anticipation. By the end of the call, there’s a sound of relief in the caller’s voice.

What helped you to make a breakthrough after injury?

I didn’t have a lot of friends with injuries after I was injured at 13. I had to learn how to conquer a lot of physical challenges on my own. Acceptance was a big part of that – I was coping with SCI AND being a teen! At college, I met other people with injuries who were playing sports, dating and traveling. That community gave me the confidence to try new things.

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Moving away from home helped Reveca find her independence.

I had a lot of support from family and friends and they were behind me all the way after I was injured, but ultimately they couldn’t show me how to build a life for myself. I had to see other people make it happen to get there myself. Moving away from home made a big difference for me. Going away to college was intimidating, but when I got there, other people would approach me and start conversations and we’d become friends. Give yourself those opportunities, whether that means putting yourself out there or moving to an area that gives you access to a stronger SCI community.

Is it tough to make connections if you are nervous or naturally shy?

It is always intimidating at first to connect with others or ask questions. Those physical and emotional challenges after injury can make you feel like you need someone else to advocate for you. Someone close to me gave me a really good piece of advice: become your own advocate. Family members provide as much as they can for someone they love and they want you to get better and get to a good emotional place, but that support can hinder your growth.

Do you have to embrace the “disabled” label to be a part of the SCI community?

Initially, I didn’t want to hang out with other people who used wheelchairs. I didn’t want to identify as “disabled” – I wanted to believe I was still the same person. I was the same person in some ways, but I was also very different after injury, and I had to learn to embrace that. Being part of the disability community doesn’t stop you from participating in the able-bodied world. You can have both!

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“There shouldn’t be a line between ‘us’ and ‘them.'”

Being injured is not something any of us asked for or want to be a part of, but the SCI community is a great group of people. We have all gone through something life-changing and we have learned how to adapt. These communities are essential not just for people who are injured but for their friends and family members as well. Our events are open to people with and without disabilities. There shouldn’t be a line between “us” and “them.” We are all human, and we can all relate to one another on different levels.


BACKBONES splash wheelchair beach disability spinal cord injury Reveca Torres

To connect with other people with spinal cord injuries, visit BACKBONES online. If you need help covering uninsured injury-related expenses, reach out to us.

Meet ‘The Most Accessible CEO In America’

Americans who use wheelchairs spend billions annually on travel and entertainment. Are American restaurants, hotels and hotspots prioritizing accessibility? Brett Heising, the founder and CEO of the accessibility review site brettapproved, Inc., shares his perspective.

Brett Heising founder CEO brettapproved disability accessibility review

What is brettapproved all about?

Our platform offers user-submitted accessibility reviews for restaurants, hotels and entertainment venues across America. Brettapproved allows people of all ages who use wheelchairs to mindfully plan out their next excursion, whether they’re heading to a neighboring town on a Saturday night or across the country to visit family.

Are American hotspots making an effort to improve accessibility?

For the vast majority of the establishment owners I speak to, their hearts are in the right place. They are in hospitality, so they really have an inherent dedication to customer service. Every property has elements that need to be overcome or altered, but owners can do a lot: little things, like reconsidering furniture placement in a hotel room or extending the width between tables in a restaurant, go a long way toward improving accessibility for people in chairs.

People in wheelchairs are just like everyone else – we just sit down more. We have the same hopes, dreams and aspirations. When the stigma surrounding us disappears, anything is possible. Attitude is everything, for travelers who use wheelchairs and for business owners.

Do you ever receive negative reactions to your visits?

It all boils down to one word: responsibility. Often, when I talk to a hotelier or restauranteur, I am able to show them a brand new context and a new perspective on accessibility. I’ll say to them, “I’m glad you have never had to think about these challenges before. But now that we’ve met, you have a responsibility to do your best.”

No one wakes up and wants to treat a group of people disrespectfully. They just don’t know that it’s a problem until we show them. Once you know, you have to do the best you can to fix it.

How has the public responded to brettapproved so far?

There are so many people who have reached out to me via email supporting the platform! I remember one conversation with a woman named Cathy, whose daughter, Maria, is disabled due to hydrocephalus. Maria is just the most beautiful little girl you’ve ever seen – there is life and light in her eyes. Cathy told me how much she and her family depend on brettapproved and use the site not just to read reviews but to write reviews together when they visit new hotspots. They are not only using the platform for their own purposes but using it to contribute to greater advocacy and support for the entire network.

It’s amazing to see people gravitate towards the brettapproved online community. As human beings, we want to give of ourselves, regardless of our ability level. That’s a fact that drives me and so many others. It’s a powerful aspect of brettapproved, and we will never lose sight of it.

Brett Heising CEO founder brettapproved

Can individuals who do not use wheelchairs still be a part of your mission?

If you are someone who doesn’t have a friend or a loved one who relies on a wheelchair, that’s a blessing. As an able-bodied person, you can still support brettapproved, and we highly encourage it. Maybe you don’t need a room with a rolling shower, but if you find yourself in an accessible room the next time you visit a hotel, take pictures of the room, add the room number and property name and post it on brettapproved.com. The more we share the better the site will be! You can reach out to us to learn more about becoming a certified reviewer. I love seeing individuals with all different ability levels come together to support this cause.

Should people who use wheelchairs just stay home to avoid complications with accessibility?

Absolutely not. Your body is just a cradle for your mind. Being nervous or anxious can definitely be a barrier to travel, but there is no ‘reset’ button. This life is the only one we get, so make the most of it! Resources like brettapproved can help you to plan appropriately so that natural anxiety does not overwhelm you or ruin your trip.

My goal is to be the most accessible CEO in America. If you’re nervous about travel, give me a call or shoot me an email. It’s always possible to work through anxiety and travel confidently.

Ultimately, just because a specific location receives a low rating on brettapproved does not mean that people who use wheelchairs should avoid those locations. It just means that if you go, you should be prepared for an adventure.

What I’ve realized over time is that when people extend themselves to you and tell you they can help you, on some level, the person who is offering you help feels rejected if you decline that assistance. It’s actually mutually beneficial for you to accept help when it’s presented to you. Say yes! Thank people sincerely for being part of the process!

What sort of expenses will people who use wheelchairs have to cover to travel comfortably?

Most people with a permanent physical disability do not earn the same as their able-bodied counterparts. To add to that injustice, people with wheelchairs inevitably have higher expenses to maintain quality of life. A wheelchair cushion alone can cost hundreds of dollars. Wheelchair tires or tubes can run $100 or more per component.

I think it’s important to realize that just like everybody else, people with disabilities run the socioeconomic strata. We strive to showcase upper-crust hotels but also budget-friendly hotels and restaurants. Find places that work for you, based on your budget and your needs.

What should someone do if they encounter resistance or hostility from staff at a particular establishment?

Let me tell you what I do myself. Instead of getting heated, I roll back for a second, and take 30 seconds, two minutes or whatever it takes to cool off a little. Then, I reapproach the situation calmly and gently lay out for the staff member who I am and what my needs are. I ask the staff member, “How can we work together? What can I do as a consumer to help you help me?” My final approach is to look the individual right in the eyes and ask, “Can I count on you to help me?”

There is a part inside of each and every one of us that is willing to go the extra mile to ensure that someone else is satisfied not only as a consumer but as a human being. We need to take responsibility for our lives and not just ask hoteliers and restauranteurs to take the next step. It’s not all about what the world can do for us. I’m an individual in a chair, but I don’t approach the world saying, you owe me this. The world owes us nothing, but it will give us everything if we take responsibility for our actions and put ourselves in position to be successful.

Where do you see brettapproved going within the next decade?

A prudent saying comes to mind: “If you want to make God laugh, tell him your plans!” Everything I do and have done in my life I have done with a singular focus on growth and success. Within the next decade, we should have millions of brettapproved users who rely on our platform to connect with family and friends, plan business trips and experience the rich life they deserve. We are also envisioning a boutique hotel chain that would be 100% wheelchair accessible – wouldn’t that be something? Instead of planning to stay in one of three or four accessible rooms in a particular hotel, you could have your pick of the entire building.

Word-of-mouth awareness and digital outreach is a major part of our short-term development strategy. I think major hotel chains need to know who we are and what we do. It serves our company no purpose to slam anybody and it’s counterproductive. I want every restauranteur and hotelier to be an ally and to view brettapproved as a resource. I also want anyone with a physical disability or mobility challenge to use the site. After all, the platform is for all of us! So please sign up for an account today.

brettapproved disability review Brett Heising wheelchair

Learn more about brettapproved online and on Facebook. Thanks for your insights, Brett!