As a model who uses an electric wheelchair, Janira Obregon is an inspiration to many both in and outside of the disability community. She talked about what modeling means to her and why it’s important for people with disabilities to be represented in modeling.
What inspired you to first dive into the world of fashion and modeling?
Honestly, I would have never seen myself in the world of fashion and modeling. It literally just started because someone said I should give it a try, and so I did. Then Runway Of Dreams gave me my first big break, letting me be a part of their photoshoot and NYFW (New York Fashion Week) show!
Since then, I’ve felt the impact and difference I can make being in the fashion industry as a disabled model, and I love it! When someone sees a model who looks like them, they’re not just seeing a model, they’re seeing a part of themselves. They see possibilities for their future in a world that’s saying, “Yes, we want you here. You are wanted.” Representation is important, and it’s why modeling is so essential to me.
If you could give your younger self a piece of advice right now, what would it be?
I was such a shy person when I was younger. Still am sometimes. But I would tell my younger self to speak up more and to not be afraid to do so. I’d tell her that she is worthy and capable of great things, just like anyone else. That there is no one on this Earth like her and that her uniqueness is beautiful.
What was it like to be in your first New York Fashion Week?
Ohh, being in my first NYFW show is something that I’m still remembering till this day! Growing up, I never saw other kids like myself in events like that, or movies, magazines, etc. I’m glad I got to be a part of that event, to show that people with disabilities can do anything we set our minds to.
What are the topics you are most passionate about advocating for?
I believe that we all have disabilities, or things that we can’t do. With perseverance and a grateful heart, we can overcome any challenges and find the good in everything. In a sense, many of our disabilities become one of our abilities whether we choose to realize it or not. My goal in life will be to help people realize their great potential and the many abilities they have in spite of any disabilities or trials that may come their way.
What is something you wish to change within the disability community?
There is so much that needs to change within the disability community. I definitely feel strongly about disability euphemisms. While I can’t speak for the entire community, there’s a general consensus that certain words used to describe disability — such as “special needs,” “differently abled,” and “handicapable” — are considered disability euphemisms that are stigmatizing.
Society is afraid to say disabled, because we are taught that disability is bad or that it has a negative connotation. Disability is not a bad word and for many disabled folks like me; their identity as a disabled person is layered with pride, advocacy, and joy.
What are the biggest challenges the disability community has faced due to COVID-19?
The COVID-19 isolation has caused a lot of issues for the disability community. Definitely in the healthcare system for me, and I know others as well. When the pandemic and isolation started, I was scheduled to have a surgery in March, but had to wait until August to get it. A lot of people in the disability community had to have their treatments and services stopped and postponed, which wasn’t fair or easy to deal with.
Being a model who advocates for designers creating more inclusive styles and pieces, do you think you’ll ever go into fashion design yourself?
That’s something I never really thought of getting into. I think for now, I like the role of advocating and/or working with the designers to create more inclusive clothing for disabled people. But you never know what the future may bring — going into fashion design myself is something to definitely think about.