Disabled Women Make History: Dr. Gabrielle Ficchi

Posted by Stephanie Woodward in Life After Paralysis on December 13, 2022 # Disabled Women Make History

Dr. Gabrielle Ficchi “I've dedicated a lot of my career to helping individuals make the shift from seeing disability as something you have to seeing disability as a part of who you are.”

“Individuals in the Disability Community have unique mental health needs, and they should have the option to interact with therapists and providers with a firsthand disability experience,” said Dr. Gabrielle Ficchi, a dog mom, licensed therapist, and CEO of her own practice, New Perspectives, LLC. “I became a disabled therapist to help fill the gap. It's hard to go to a provider who does not understand the impact of disability.”

Originally from Philadelphia, Dr. Ficchi has been chasing the sunshine since she was young, first moving to Florida and then landing in Tucson, Arizona, where she has been living with her husband and practicing as a therapist and certified rehabilitation counselor for the past ten years. Dr. Ficchi also serves as an adjunct professor in both counseling & disability studies, teaching courses in rehabilitation and counselor education. For Dr. Ficchi, her work in higher education spaces is critically important because she uses her platform to spread the idea of disability as a social construct and identity rather than just a diagnosis.

It’s not just her work as a professor that is making a difference; Dr. Ficchi’s role as a disabled therapist is also significantly impactful for her clients with disabilities and their families. “Having a counselor with a deep understanding of disability issues, in my experience, is important for progress. This partnership helps create an understanding of disability to set and reach goals consistent with one's ideal image and reach a point of self-acceptance,” Dr. Ficchi explained. “Families get a different level of support and counseling that can be focused on empowerment to encourage the disabled people in their lives to get more involved in their community and help in the long run to embrace disability, creating an overall better quality of life.”

Part of empowering her clients with disabilities and their families involves the recognition of disability rights. “Disability rights are important because they mean being seen as people and valued members of our society,” Dr. Ficchi shared, “In my work, this intersects with therapy because a lot of my clients are navigating their relationship with disability. I'm trying to help them get to a place where they take pride in either themselves or their family members being a part of the Disability Community.”

Diving deeper into how disability rights intersect with therapy, Dr. Ficchi explained, “Oftentimes trauma associated with the disability experience can be traced back to the lack of disability rights and equality that someone experiences and then those experiences, in turn, make it harder to come to a place of pride and self-acceptance. I've dedicated a lot of my career to helping individuals make this shift from disability being something you have to seeing disability as a part of who you are.”

Dr. Gabrielle Ficchi When Dr. Ficchi isn’t busy teaching and running her therapy practice, she spends her time serving her community. She is on the board at the Easterseals Blake Foundation as well as Care 4 the Caregivers, where she advocates on disability issues to help raise awareness around bettering the lives of disabled people in the community. “I want to help families see that disability can be embraced and valued - not just by the disabled person but by everyone within that system because I truly believe that to really love someone means fully accepting them for who they are.”

While Dr. Ficchi has been a true force in helping disabled people become proud of who they are, she did not have any disabled women mentors when she was younger to help her embrace her own disability identity. “I only had a few disabled peers growing up, but it wasn't an environment where I saw individuals with disabilities succeeding and kicking ass and embracing themselves,” Dr. Ficchi shared. She believes that the silos within the Disability Community contributed to her lack of community and mentorship when she was younger, and now she’s working to change that. “I think if we could make more of an effort to see ourselves as a collective under one big umbrella of disability, we could recognize just how strong we could be together.”

When thinking about advice to share with other disabled girls and women who want to be leaders, Dr. Ficchi said, “First and foremost, I want them to know that we need them. This community should have disabled women leaders in all aspects. I would also tell them that it's okay to take a risk, and it's okay to fail and try again just like everyone else.”

Dr. Ficchi concluded with one last piece of advice “Lastly, and I know this is a lot, but I really want them to know they have the right to true happiness - not the way that sometimes happiness gets defined within the Disability Community where it can often be confused with just being content. They should find their greater purpose in doing what truly makes them happy.”

Stephanie Woodward is an attorney and Executive Director of Disability EmpowHer Network, a nonprofit dedicated to empowering girls and women with disabilities. Stephanie is passionate about seeking justice for marginalized communities - and has an arrest record to show for it. As a proud disabled woman and civil rights activist, Stephanie is committed to bringing more women and girls with disabilities to the forefront through mentoring and activism.

The National Paralysis Resource Center website is supported by the Administration for Community Living (ACL), U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) as part of a financial assistance award totaling $8,700,000 with 100 percent funding by ACL/HHS. The contents are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily represent the official views of, nor an endorsement, by ACL/HHS, or the U.S. Government.