Christopher & Dana Reeve Foundation launches a national campaign to elevate the voices of the 5.4 million Americans living with paralysis

Short Hills, N.J. (April 23, 2019) -- The Christopher & Dana Reeve Foundation, the leading nonprofit dedicated to improving quality of life for people living with paralysis, launched today a new, national campaign – ‘See Us’ – to gather the largest collection of stories from individuals living with paralysis and ignite a national conversation to challenge the misperceptions and stereotypes commonly assigned to the greater disability community. Stories can be uploaded to Instagram by using the campaign’s dedicated hashtag #ReeveSeeUs or by visiting ReeveSeeUs.org.

“There are over 61 million Americans living with a disability and more than five million living with paralysis, representing the largest minority group in the U.S.— larger than any ethnic, age or religious minority. Each of these individuals has a powerful story to share that is rich with achievement,” said Peter Wilderotter, President and CEO, Christopher & Dana Reeve Foundation. “It is our hope See Us will rally a swelling chorus of voices that will challenge the world to see the millions of people living with paralysis for who they really are and what they have accomplished. It is no longer a choice but rather an expectation to be universal in thought and inclusive in action.”

While people with disabilities make up approximately 12 percent of the U.S. working-age population, they account for more than half of those living in long-term poverty with the unemployment rate double the national average. On top of which, there is a lack of disability representation in government and business, creating barriers and significant gaps of support at the leadership level. Outside of the workplace, people with disabilities are often treated differently due to implicit bias and assumptions on ability.

The mission behind See Us is to highlight the realities of living with paralysis through the power of storytelling, and raise awareness of the prevalent social stigmas that overshadow the accomplishments of community members. While the campaign will be an ongoing effort by the Reeve Foundation to collect stories directly from individuals and families impacted by paralysis, the Foundation will also work to engage policymakers and corporate leaders to foster meaningful, authentic inclusion.

“Our goal with See Us is simply to share with the world how people with paralysis want to be seen and to let their words spark a movement that is long overdue to address the drivers of inequality,” said Bill Cawley, Director, Peer & Family Support Program, Christopher & Dana Reeve Foundation. “Disability inclusion has become more of a buzzword versus actively including the perspectives, realities and experiences of individuals living with paralysis. Through a groundswell of storytelling, we will highlight the everyday abilities and achievements of the paralysis community and challenge the world to see them beyond living with a disability. One thing can’t define everything.”

The Reeve Foundation appointed three campaign ambassadors to be featured in a national PSA for See Us (ChristopherReeve.org/seeus) that highlights the misperceptions they face as someone living with paralysis. The PSA was created by purpose-driven agency OBERLAND. The ambassadors include:

Jessie Chin: Born in Staten Island, Jessie is a student at City College who aspires to become a high-school counselor to help at-risk youth. He is also a “sit down” comedian who has performed at comedy clubs across the NYC-area and credits the power of laughter for his positive outlook on life. He sustained a spinal cord injury as a result of gun violence at a young age.

Just because someone is living with a disability does not make them less of a person. My life does not stop, from attending college to performing comedy in front of large audiences. I want the world to see me simply for who I am—a son, brother, friend, boyfriend, student, athlete, model and comedian. Everyone faces adversity, in fact, it’s something we all have in common. How we deal with our circumstances defines us.—Jessie Chin

Laura Grace Beck: Self-described adventurer and activist, Laura lives in Chattanooga, TN, with her husband and two German Shepherds. Since sustaining a cervical spinal cord injury in 2016 as a result of motor vehicle accident, Laura continues to travel, explore the outdoors, and share her journey on Instagram at @anhonestquad.

I want to see a world in which it’s no longer curious to see a wheelchair user everywhere you go and for the community to feel empowered, and not let their ‘disability’ define them. I want an accessible world, a world full of adaption that opens the doors for us to have the same opportunities that every other individual is given. See Us, to me, is about opening the eyes of others who look the other way, fighting for inclusivity, hoping for a cure, and never letting our disability stop us from living our very best life possible.—Laura Grace Beck

Ian Malesiewski: Currently a freshman at the University of Miami, Ian sustained a spinal cord injury in 2016 while wrestling at the Cadet World Team Trials. He was a Division 1 wrestling and football recruit with aspirations of becoming a collegiate athlete, but his life changed in an instant after being paralyzed from the neck down. He is pursuing a neuroscience degree and using his platform to advocate for increased rights and resources for individuals with disabilities.

I want to show people how paralysis doesn’t define my life or derail my future. I want to be seen as a dedicated and disciplined human being, just as I was prior to my injury. We’re all people, just with a little less movement.—Ian Malesiewski

Participants are also encouraged to join the Reeve Foundation’s advocacy program where they can send a See Us message to congressional representatives, as well as participate in the Foundation’s online community, Reeve Connect, to engage with peers and foster lasting community connections.

This campaign was made possible through a cooperative agreement with the Administration for Community Living (ACL). For more information on See Us and to access a gallery of community-driven stories, visit ReeveSeeUs.org.

About the Reeve Foundation

The Christopher & Dana Reeve Foundation is dedicated to curing spinal cord injury by funding innovative research and improving the quality of life for people living with paralysis through grants, information and advocacy. We meet all 20 of the Better Business Bureau’s standards for charity accountability and hold the BBB’s Charity Seal. For more information, please visit our website at www.ChristopherReeve.org or call 800-225-0292.