Disabled Model Bri Scalesse’s Message: “My Chair Is My Freedom”

Tell disabled model Bri Scalesse that her wheelchair limits how she lives her life, and she will tell you quite the opposite. In fact, she went viral with the powerful statement, “My chair is my freedom.” This resonated strongly with everyone in the disability community and further afield, too. Scalesse’s raison d'être has become confronting the world with the difficulties her disabled brethren face in the everyday world, while also challenging the common perception that wheelchairs are nothing more than limitations on their users.

As a teenager, Scalesse was very insecure about her body

These days, Scalesse has become used to the catwalk, but she hasn’t always been so self-confident. In fact, her teenage self would probably balk at the idea of showing her body off. She told August, a gender-inclusive female sanitary product company, “I was really insecure about my body growing up.”

She continued, “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 wanted to be what I didn’t see”

“I remember wanting to wish away the disabled parts of my body for so long,” confessed Scalesse. “Especially as a teenager, when you’re… coming into your body and you’re starting to have crushes.”

She went on, “And you want people to find you attractive and desirable — and society isn’t saying that disabled people are attractive or desirable.” Despite this, the young girl’s dream was always to become a model. As she put it, “I didn't see models that looked like me, so I wanted to be what I didn’t see.”

Life changed at six years old

Scalesse grew up in Norwich, Connecticut, with her mom and dad, but when she was six years old, tragedy struck. She was in a terrible car accident which took the life of her mom and left her with a devastating spinal injury.

She told August, “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.” It meant she has been a wheelchair-user ever since.

Moving to New York to study

The young girl went to live with her grandmother, whom she has praised for her fiery and determined temperament. When she came of age, Scalesse attended Trinity College in Hartford, where she attained an English degree. She then moved to New York City to complete a Master’s in non-fiction writing at Columbia University.

Getting around the city as a wheelchair-user turned out to be a story with two sides. She revealed, “New York City is incredible as a disabled person and also very hard for a disabled person.”