Jeff, Erik, and Dave speak with Heidi McKenzie, a young woman from Kentucky who was pursuing her dreams of a fashion career until a car accident left her a T4 paraplegic at age 21. Our team met Heidi when she was selected for a Reach Award and attended the 2017 No Barriers Summit. She was chosen based on her many accomplishments that were not despite her disability but because of it and the difference she strives to make in her own community. An entrepreneur, Heidi started Alter UR Ego, a clothing line for people in wheelchairs that includes clothes that are as fashionable as they are adaptable. Heidi is also an outspoken advocate for accessibility, serving on various boards and working for community organizations. She was also crowned Ms. Wheelchair Kentucky in 2012! Listen to Heidi describe her journey and the positive attitude she employs to approach the barriers in her life.
Jeff, Erik, and Dave speak with Heidi McKenzie who is speaking from her home state of Kentucky. After a car accident left her as a T4 paraplegic in a wheelchair when she was just 21 she not just survived but started a thriving career and has been an outspoken advocate for folks with disabilities.
Heidi talks about what it was like to now live day to day in a power chair and learn her “new normal.” One of the pursuits that helped her find her voice and passion was the founding of her adaptive clothing company, Alter Ur Ego. After she was crowned Ms. Kentucky and went on to Ms. Wheelchair America she networked with other girls in wheelchairs and when they talked about their various struggles one that kept coming up was the difficulty in finding cute but functional clothing! Heidi knew what she had to do.
Her line of clothes include items that fit well, are still easy to get on and off, and have unique aspects like pockets on the thighs and straps on the waistband that work specifically for women in wheelchairs. But equally important, Heidi’s clothes are still cute.
“I’m more of a diva than a fashionista...if you look good you feel good.”
She talks about how, post accident, instead of shrinking she almost became louder and amplified her voice. Now that she found a cause and a passion; for helping people being seen as they are, and not just viewed through the lens of their disability, she continues to be happy and grateful.
“It hasn’t always been easy but I love life and embrace everything that comes with it.”
Heidi’s line of clothing is her creative outlet but she also strives to be a living example to help broaden and educate others about the adaptive needs of people with disabilities. She never turns down a social invite or the chance to take part in a new sport. Heidi’s facebook page is covered with photos of her smiling at the beach, trying out dance classes, surfing, and travel.
“I am who I am, I can still have fun and try different things it’s all just in a different way.”
Creating Alter Ur ego was a crucial part of Heidi’s recovery but she also needed her support system of family and friends. Later in the podcast Heidi discusses being open to help not just from those close to her but from new communities, like the group of friends she made at the 2017 No Barriers Summit:
“They’re my forever friends.”
Before she got to the point of advocating on behalf of others, Heidi first had to find acceptance of her situation. She realized part of being in a power chair was being stared at and even avoided. As a natural social butterfly and wanting to break down social barriers Heidi has infused her clothing with humor. Here are two slogans on her T-shirts:
“I’m in it for the parking.” & “I literally can’t stand it.”
Being independent and having autonomy are huge for Heidi and others in wheelchairs. She now speaks to groups who legislate laws about the importance of including people who are disabled in decisions - such as including adaptive playground equipment or providing adequate parking.
By being part of Ms. Wheelchair America, her own barrier-breaking company, and her attitude in life, Heidi demonstrates the importance of representation and being a strong voice for her community.
Check out Heidi's company: Alter Ur Ego
Like Heidi's company on Facebook: Alter Ur Ego
Find stories like Heidi's on No Barriers website: No Barriers
More No Barriers Podcasts? Go here: No Barriers Podcast