Bay Area influencers use Disability Pride Month to highlight struggles, community accessibility advances

Two Tampa Bay Area women are sharing on social media their experiences of how disabilities and accessibility impact their everyday lives. 

During the month of July, Disability Pride Month, they have an opportunity to show how accessibility efforts in the community positively impact their lives and the lesson they hope parents will teach their children about people with disabilities.

You’d never know that 27-year-old Amanda Steijlen and 21-year-old Emily Rowley had only known each other for an hour. 

"It’s great, social media is so great with bringing the community together," smiled Steijlen. 

The women follow each other on social media and are both dedicated to showing their thousands of followers that they, too, can do anything.

Rowley explained, "I was born with no arms as well as I had scoliosis. I have a spinal fusion from the neck down, two titanium rods with 24 screws."

Two Bay Area women show what life is like with a disability

Two Bay Area women show what life is like with a disability

Amanda Steijlen was born with muscular dystrophy. 

"I have limb-girdle type 2A, so basically my muscles are missing a protein to build, and they break down over time," she explained.

The women see July – Disability Pride Month – as an opportunity to show others what their life is like and how little things can go a log way to make their life experiences like everyone else's.

"I feel like it’s been so awesome to have people listen a little bit more than usual as far as talking about accessibility and what people can do with their businesses to make it more accessible to us," Steijlen explained.

Even with the help of her husband, getting around isn’t always easy for Steijlen.

"Sometimes it is difficult to feel accepted in a world that’s not accessible and that’s the fact of it. Sometimes you just have to sit with that and feel those feelings," she explained.

Rowley has mastered using her feet for just about everything. She uses her feet to drive, dress and roll cigars at JC Newman. 

Rowley said, "I’m trying to end that assumption that just because someone has a disability doesn’t mean I can’t do something." 

Visit Tampa Bay partnered with the women, taking them to some iconic spots where accessibility is celebrated. 

Vanessa Evans, the director of public relations for Visit Tampa Bay, explained, "We want to inspire travelers from all over even travelers who need special assistance to come out and enjoy it. It’s fun for all. We have something for everybody."

Amanda and Emily say they often get stares or odd questions when out in public. 

"I’ve had times where kids are like, ‘Why doesn’t she have arms?’ to their parents and the parents will scold them or say, ‘Don’t say that.’ But let them be curious because that’s the only way they’re going to learn that there are people with disabilities and not everyone is the same," explained Rowley. 

"I would like people to just say ‘hi’ and get to know me as a human being before they ask me what my disability is and what’s wrong with me," explained Steijlen. 

The girls say they’re just living their best life, hoping to inspire others along the way. 

Amanda is a life and mindset coach and started a non-profit two years ago called Wheely Big Dreams. She has the goal of gifting others with physical disabilities the wheelchairs they need to live independently.