How this disability advocate and wheelchair user navigates NYC bathrooms.
Let’s Dive In: August x Liberare Collab
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Are you ready to continue the conversation about periods & disability?
👙 👩🦼 Liberare is the inclusive lingerie brand designed by disabled babes for easier dressing.
🩸🌳 August is the sustainable, unapologetic and gender inclusive period care brand that ACTUALLY works.
Together, we listened to the insights of our 3 models about how their disability affects their period and what they're looking for in accessible period products and disability-inclusive underwear!
Meet Bri (she/her)
Bri is a professional model based in NYC.
She’s also engaged (eeek!) to ANOTHER model – talk about a dynamic duo!
Nadya: Is this your first lingerie shoot?
Bri: This is my first lingerie shoot with a brand. But I have done, like, test shoots in lingerie cos’ I feel so good in it.
Nadya: Tell me a little about yourself.
Bri: I grew up in Connecticut and then I moved to the city for grad school [Bri studied nonfiction writing!]. But I always dreamed of being a model since I was a little girl.
I didn't see models that looked like me, so I wanted to be what I didn't see.
I've been living in New York City ever since grad school. I met some incredible people and got opportunities in the modeling world, so, I became a model.
Then also through getting closer to my community, I became a disability advocate.
I try to do as much advocacy as I can for my community because it's so important and there's so many things that still need to change for people with disabilities.
And then, for grad school, I wrote a memoir about my life as a disabled woman.
– TBD on the release date but keep an eye out on this space for updates👀🗞️
Nadya: What does being a disability advocate look like for you?
Bri: BIG sigh from Bri Oh, there's so, so much that needs to change.
I think for me, as I've gone about my life, the things that are present and happening come into my advocacy.
For instance, in 2021, I watched my best friend's wheelchair get broken by an airline, and then a month later my wheelchair was also broken by an airline.
And then we had more friends throughout the year have their chairs broken and a really incredible disability advocate passed away last year because of her chair being broken.
So that's become a really big focus for me and advocacy: the way that airlines treat wheelchairs and mobility devices in general.
Bri then explained how, since getting engaged she’s now focused on that aspect of having disability because, did you know that many disabled people will lose their benefits if they get married???
As Bri expressed, it’s actually a privilege to be on route to marriage saying that it’s really important for her to talk about, “so people know that there is no marriage equality for people with disabilities – and that needs to change.”
Nadya: Tell me a little bit about your disability.
Bri: I am a T12 paraplegic. I've been a paraplegic since I was six years old.
I was injured in a car accident and a full time wheelchair user.
There are different levels of the spinal cord where you're injured. So for me, that means I'm a paraplegic.
Depending on where you're injured, you can be quadriplegic. So, there are different levels of the disability.
Nadya: Have you always felt as confident and sexy as you do now (in lingerie and in general)?
Bri: No, definitely not. I was really insecure about my body growing up.
I didn't see anyone that looked like me and all of the models, especially when I was growing up, in magazines, had one very specific body, and that was just never going to be my body.
My body has a lot of visible signs of disability, and to me, I wanted to change those things. I remember wanting to wish away the disabled parts of my body for so long.
Especially as a teenager, when you're kind of coming into your body and you're starting to have crushes and you want people to find you attractive and desirable – and society isn’t saying that disabled people are attractive or desirable.
It really wasn't until I found my community, until I found other people in chairs that I love, that I started to love myself because I could only see beauty in these women.
I was like, “they are SO beautiful. Their disabled bodies are SO beautiful. Everything that they're insecure about to themselves is so beautiful and powerful. So why can't I see that in me?”
And that's when the shift really, really happened for me, because I was like: I can't be giving them so much love and not give that to myself.
Nadya: How is it living in New York City and also in a chair?
Bri: New York City is incredible as a disabled person and also VERY hard for a disabled person.
There's an amazing community of wheelchair-users in New York City so that gives me so much life.
And being able to just kind of roll anywhere, especially in Manhattan, is really powerful. I can pretty much get anywhere I need to – I grew up in the suburbs and I couldn't just like get anywhere I needed to go without a car. And so it's really nice to be able to roll places.
But, the subway is only 25% accessible – only 25% of stations are wheelchair accessible and oftentimes the elevators are broken down at those stations…
Nadya and Bri reflected on the fact that NYC subway elevators also always smell really bad since they’re used like bathrooms – ick!
Bri: So, it's not a friendly transportation system for wheelchair users and so that can be really hard getting around the city.
There’s the good and the bad for sure but I think something that's really beautiful about New York City is there's so many different types of people here that you just feel kind of like just part of the crowd – You feel like you're one with everyone else…versus where I grew up, I felt really different.
Nadya: Tell me a little bit about your period journey. When did you get your first period and what is it like now?
Bri: I got my first period when I was 14 in high school.
It was super, super heavy and I had crazy migraines and crazy periods when it first started.
And then I went on birth control and it kind of leveled out until I was about 24 – so, for a good ten years, I was in a good spot with that and then I started getting it again regularly and really heavy at 24.
I'm 27 now and the past few years with it have really been a journey because it's been really heavy and I've been getting really sick around the time of my period…a lot of nausea.
So it's been this weird time with my period, trying to figure out what it looks like now, because it's kind of like this ever-changing thing.
I also went on blood thinner for blood clots and just to protect my body…and that makes my periods SOOO bad.
Nadya: What’s your experience with a heavy flow and using a wheelchair?
Bri: As a wheelchair user, to find an accessible bathroom in New York City can be really hard sometimes. And then for me, the easiest way to change if I need to, when I have my period, is to lay down. And so that's nearly impossible if I'm out and about. So it's still a really big process.
I mainly use really heavy pads – that's kind of my thing.
But…probably at least a couple of times a period, I’m changing this cushion cover because I'm bleeding through.
For me – honestly something that I've never talked about – but when I do have a really heavy period and I know I'm going to be, like, out all day, I will sometimes wear a silhouette/pamper (whatever you call it), and then layer pads as well. That's how heavy it can be.
But it's just necessary to live my life and feel comfortable moving around on my period sometimes.
…Which is something that, I think as a young woman just wanting to feel sexy in my body, can be a really difficult thing.
Nadya: If you could change anything about the design of the pad to make it more accessible, what would it be?
Bri: Disabled bodies are so unique but I do kind of feel like pads are made for standing people…the way that they're kind of just streamlined.
I wish that maybe there was more of a comfort, almost like sitting on a cloud. I don't know if that's, like, circular or what that would look like – I've never actually thought about it until this literal moment right now.
But for me, because I'm sitting, it wouldn't be, like, strange the way it would be maybe on someone walking down the street.
I think that a ‘pillow pad’ would be really nice because the way that a pad sits when I'm sitting, it's just like…not the vibe.
Nadya: Is your menstrual cycle an open conversation with your fiancé who you now live with?
Bri: Yeah, for sure. He is incredible and the most understanding, loving human being I've ever met.
And so he's never been weird about any part of my body disability period or anything like that.
Something that is incredible about having a partner is having that extra help sometimes.As a paraplegic, I have been so focused on being fiercely independent for a lot of my life, but now, I have this person who I can rely on and feel at home with and feel safe with.
If I bleed onto my chair, I'll have him lift me into the shower. It’s moments like that that are really beautiful and intimate and helpful. And he's always so open to whatever I need with period care, which is incredible.
Nadya: Are there any ways that you think the period industry could be more inclusive of all body abilities?
Bri: I think that, similar to every industry and so much marketing: I haven't seen a lot of marketing to my community.
To consider us is really the biggest thing. And to know that we have periods and we exist. Recognize us and create for us, as well.
Nadya: Just a few more questions for Bri…What is your relationship to the word disability?
Bri: I think it's so, so, so complex, and I've had a lot of brands and able-bodied people in general ask me, “what is the proper term?” and that's so hard because it's such an individual choice and each person identifies in a different way and with a different term.
I would say most people that I'm close to in the disability community prefer ‘disabled’ because we feel like ‘disabled’ is a powerful term.
I think a lot of able bodied people are really uncomfortable with the term ‘disability’ because they're uncomfortable with disability – but we don't look at it as a bad word, we look at it as a word that kind of embodies us.
We're not able bodied and that's okay. That's not a bad thing. That's a beautiful thing.
So, I really resonate with the word ‘disabled’, now. As I said, in that period growing up where I felt so bad about my body, I hated that word and I didn't want to be a part of my community.
Now I’m probably too proud of it – it's like my biggest identity marker. I am so deeply proud to be disabled, but it's just like this liberation that I didn't have growing up.
Nadya: Similar to how we’re teaching students and the next generation to include pronouns in their intros, do you think it’s also appropriate for someone to ask about what ‘disability language’ a disabled person prefers is used in reference to themself?
Bri: I think that it is a question that if it was openly asked, would make people disabled and non-disabled more comfortable. But, I think everyone is also at their own place with their journey of disability.
So maybe there are some people who wouldn't be comfortable talking about it, or wouldn't even know how they want to identify yet. I think it's just on an individual basis.
It's really hard, but I think we need to just not be afraid to talk to disabled people or to try and understand.
Thank you Bri!
AUGUST X LIBERARE
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