Margaret Eby
September 25, 2014 9:54 am

Women in wheelchairs are powerful, proud and beautiful. That’s the important message that Raw Beauty Project NYC, an arts organization that partnered with mobilWOMEN.org and the Christopher & Dana Reeve Foundation, wants to get across in its stunning series of portraits of women in the disabled community.

The photographs, which debuted at New York City’s ACA Galleries last weekend, show twenty women with different disabilities, from spina bifida to cerebral palsy, in images that spotlight their strength. The models hope that these photos can prove something about the marginalization of disabled women and show that disability doesn’t make them any less powerful.

Photographers from across the country signed up to volunteer their time for the project, with proceeds going to research for multiple sclerosis. Walter Chin, one of the photographers, opened up about his involvement in the project to Multiple Sclerosis News Today.

“We have let these stereotypes persist for too long and the only way to break the cycle is to show the beauty and bravery of women with disabilities,” Chin said. “To me, this campaign is telling twenty stories of inspiration through the lens of a camera.”

Take Monique Stamps, one of the models whose career ambitions altered after being in a car accident at age 16, leaving her with a severe spinal cord injury. She became a social worker, starting a chapter of Women Embracing Abilities Now. “I believe there is a sisterhood among women with disabilities and it is important to share our stories with each other,” Stamps wrote. “I want us to be seen and treated just as intelligent, valuable, beautiful, sexy, and as sexual as women who do not have a disability.”

Or Aimee Hoffman, who became paraplegic at age 30. “Instead of being ashamed of my disability, I am learning to own it and today have the strongest sense of self — ever,” Hoffman wrote. “I am proud to say we are finally entering a new era when people are realizing that beauty comes in all different shapes, sizes and colors. I feel the beauty of a woman is how she feels on the inside, which will in turn radiate on the outside. It’s about how she carries herself, whether she happens to be sitting or standing, walking or rolling.”

Or Emily Ladau, who has Larsen Syndrome, and has become a huge advocate for body positivity for people living with disabilities. “When I was 10, I appeared on several episodes of Sesame Street to educate children about life with a physical disability, so my passion for advocacy blossomed quite early,” she explains. “In the years following my time with Big Bird and Elmo, I worked towards embracing my voice as a disability rights and body positivity advocate.”

The point of the portrait series is to help empower disabled women, and encourage their visibility. Too often, the voices of women with disabilities aren’t part of the conversation. They’re left out of the larger community of women, an exclusion that needs to end. The Raw Beauty Project is helping to cut that out, one picture at a time.

Check out some more of amazing images below:

You can see the entire photo series at ChristopherReeve.org.

(Featured image by Sandra Arenas/RawBeautyProjectNYC)

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