Angela Rockwood, Mia Schaikewitz, Auti Angel and Tiphany Adams have each spent most of their adult lives in wheelchairs. And long before there were any cameras around, each had become an ambassador for people with disabilities, whether through charity work or by chatting with fellow gym-goers who had questions about their physical capacities.
“They start asking, ‘What happened?’ We start sharing our story, and then it becomes this inspiring moment,” says Rockwood, a former model who was injured in a car accident the week before the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. “Regardless if we had the TV show or not, this is something we were already doing.”
The four women have been close friends in Los Angeles for years. Each is strikingly beautiful, stylish and dynamic. And interesting, with or without the disability. In the first episode, which aired June 4 on the Sundance Channel, the show deals directly with the logistics of the women’s lives — how they drive and bathe, whether they can exercise or have sex. (Yes, Tiphany explains with an eye roll, “lots and lots of sex.”)
But the narrative quickly becomes about the women, not their disabilities. At 42, Angel is attempting to have a baby with her husband. Schaikewitz, 34, is figuring out her relationship with a boyfriend who doesn’t want children. Adams, 29, is trying to find a career that suits her while dating both men and women. Rockwood, 37, has recently separated from her husband and is wading back into the modeling world.
To Rockwood, it seemed as if the universe conspired to create the show. While cheering on a friend who was auditioning for “American Gladiator,” she met the show’s producer, David Hurwitz. A year later, she found his card while cleaning out her closet with a friend who was encouraging her to find a bigger platform for her message. Rockwood decided to e-mail Hurwitz the next day, but before she had a chance, he sent her a Facebook message.
Hurwitz introduced Rockwood to Gay Rosenthal, executive producer of “Little People, Big World” and “Ruby.” Soon they all met for brunch. “Immediately when we met her we all knew that we were in good hands,” Auti said during a recent visit the four women made to the District. “She was going to embrace our vision. We wanted to be able to reach out to the masses and tell people, ‘No matter what obstacle comes your way, it’s always overcome-able.’ ”
Schaikewitz, the only one of the four who was not injured in a car accident, had the most reservations about being featured in a reality series. She was rendered paralyzed at 15 by an arteriovenous malformation that burst in her spinal chord. She works as a graphic designer, and while she’s an outspoken advocate for disability rights, she is deeply protective of her private life.