New posting on our "Talent Showcase" series. Today we are showcasing Shaholly Ayers, a model from Honolulu, Hawaii, who is changing the way the fashion industry perceives people with disabilities. Check out what she shared with us.
Photo credits: Fotograf Anneli Nygårds
Q: How did idea for modelling come up?
A: I never understood why I was treated differently. It wasn't until high school, my junior year, when I really started to question the stigma surrounding disability and thinking up ways to change it. When I went to Hawaii a year later for college, I decided to try out for modeling. I was turned down by the agency, them saying I would never be a model because I was an amputee. It was then I realized that modeling was the way I wanted to change people’s view of disability. I thought the only way to really educate people would be through actions. So, that became my purpose for modeling and the drive to get me through the challenges associated with it.
Q: Some people with disabilities have problems accepting the way they are. You look very confident in your pictures. Were you always like this?
A: Well, thank you very much! I wouldn't say that I am confident 100% of the time, but I am way more confident now than I was when I was younger. It took years for me to get to the point where I was okay looking at photographs of myself showing my arm. I was in denial; I didn't want to be "different." But through my experiences, I learned that being different was what made me who I am. Having a limb difference did not define me as a person but was just a part of who I was, and there was nothing wrong with that.
Q: You are also a marketing professional at a public relations firm. Was your disability at any point a barrier to perform your professional activities?
A: Physically, there are very few things that I can't do. I might do them differently than my coworker, but I still get it done. However, despite that, in the past, I’ve experienced discrimination in the work place during job interviews.
Photo credits: Rich Heaton
Q: Do you try to educate people that are not involved directly with disabilities?
A: Oh yes. I encounter situations daily where people underestimate my capabilities due to the stigma associated with disability. When people ask me about my arm, which is often, I like to think of it as a time to educate people about my uniqueness. I used to get angry, but have learned to turn the conversation into an opportunity. I like to think I'm helping to dissolve preconceived notions they have about people with disabilities.
Q: Any message to the business community that are afraid of hiring people with disabilities?
A: Yes, 1-in-5 people have a disability. Disability spans age, gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation, and socio-economic status, making it one of the largest minority group in the world. By including people with disabilities into your marketing platforms, you are not only educating the masses and helping society to grow, but you are also tapping into a market that has been virtually untapped. From a business stand point this offers some awesome opportunities.
And just food for thought - None of us is immortal, and any of us would be lucky to get through this life without encountering a tragedy. Put simply, things happen. If you woke up on day as a person with a disability, wouldn't you want to have the same opportunities (career and otherwise), as you had prior to the accident? Wouldn't you want to live in a world that both loved and accepted you for you?
Shaholly Ayers on social media:
Instagram - @Shahol1
Twitter – ShahollyA
Facebook - Facebook.com/shahollydawn
Tee Talent Inc is a social enterprise that was founded to promote the talent of professionals with disabilities. We offer custom t-shirts, promotional products, graphic design services and public speaking services. Learn more about us.