Wheelchair women get their own reality show
by Jim Provenzano
Tiphany Adams talks with an enthusiastic rush like any other 20something woman excited about life. Yet her excited tone may have something to do with the woman she's dating. That, and the fact that other parts of her life have been videotaped since November, along with three friends of Adams'. The four women comprise the cast of the Sundance Channel's new show Push Girls, possibly the most disability-inclusive reality show in TV history. Forget Glee, for a moment, and its fictional handicaps. All of these women have active lives in and out of wheelchairs.
A four-year Los Angeles resident, Adams originally hails from various Northern California cities: "Lodi and Tracy and Fremont, Stockton; I used to move every six to eight months," she said.
Movement, especially since her car accident that left her barely surviving and now a paraplegic, is part of the show. The only cast member who's dating a woman – she eschews the bisexual label, but has dated men – Adams' most recent thrill was attending her high school reunion.
"I said I wasn't going to go to my high school reunion unless I could do it "Hollywood," said Adams. With a film crew on her tail, that event, which was also the anniversary of her car accident, took on a positive spin.
Although the show airs in early June, more episodes are being taped. "My life has been on camera for months." That includes her relationship with Miyoko, a Japanese-African American woman. "We have been dating for a little bit," Adams said cautiously. Although she said she is "open in a sense; my dad and sister knew," having her personal life become part of a TV show is a bit nerve-wracking.
Having endured a few troubled relationships in the past, Adams was hesitant to start anew. "But now they're gonna put my relationship on the air," she said, still sounding somewhat astounded. "Everyone's gonna know the person I am. It's not just my sexual orientation, but it's pressure. My nieces and nephews had a vision of me. They don't see me outside the family, how crazy I can be, dropping F-bombs," she giggled. "I want to be an amazing role model to them."
But Adams said the opportunity to become a larger role model for women with disabilities to be seen, and also be a bit glamorous, is the benefit. Her co-stars, each with their own story and renewed sense of self, have careers, relationships and challenges.
Adams' younger kin seem to be the most open about her national coming out. "It was beautiful for my 18-year-old nephew to say, 'Auntie, I love you no matter what. I look up to you in so many different ways.' It felt really good."
Despite her trepidations, Adams agreed when asked if she felt like part of a larger media presence and cultural awareness of differently-abled people.
"People are afraid of the 'unknown' unless they're educated and informed." She references a scene in the first episode of Push Girls where a mother pulls her curious child away from Adams. "I want to say, 'It's okay. This is our life. Don't grab your kid when they want to touch our wheels. It's all learning for others and teaching.'"
Adams has had to teach others (a career she aspires to), and become a bit of an activist in her own life. She told of how she had to address accessibility issues on a Stockton college campus, from bathrooms to having to be carried three floors to a lecture hall when an elevator wasn't working for several days.
"People assume a place is accessible when there's a sign," she said, explaining that the school has 30 bathrooms, but only five are ADA-accessible. "If something's not done, I tell them they need to fix it." She sees the show as entertainment for the curious, but also as a learning tool. "I have a voice here. I can make a difference for those who have always been in a chair, or with special equipment they have to use. I don't have to accept things because they don't know better. You have to go to an extreme sometimes."
Finding a community of women with similar experiences, as in the reality show, has helped Adams grow beyond perceived limitations. "I found we had things in common other than being in wheelchairs." The ongoing episodes of Push Girls will show that, including sharing aspects of the four women's varied lives, a lot of which, Adams admits, won't be in the show. As with all such formats, hundreds of hours of footage are condensed into each episode.
"There's so much stuff they capture, yet so much that won't be included," she said, like the frequent naive or curious questions she gets from strangers. "I'm really a strong believer that there is no naive question. I guess it's how you present it. There is definitely a certain level of respect that should come, especially when it's personal. I'm willing to educate and give other people a chance."
And she's done that, whether attending Los Angeles and San Francisco Pride events, or even the Dinah Shore Classic women's parties in Palm Springs. Or, she can poke a little fun. Bored with regaling the details of her car accident yet again, Adams said, "One time, I lied about having a parachuting accident. But this guy's jaw dropped, because he actually had a parachuting accident! So, I don't joke about that stuff too often."
Push Girls premiered on June 4, and airs on the Sundance Channel nightly at different times. www.sundancechannel.com