Bethany A. Hoppe is the author of “Raspberry Vogue,” a wheelchair diva’s lifestyle blog. She is a public speaker, voice-over artist, film-television script-writer, play-write, and wheelchair dancer. She has appeared in music videos, several independent films, and has won awards for her writing, documentary production, acting, dancing, modeling, and community service. Bethany combines academic research and personal narrative in a humorous, spicy delivery style that leaves audiences educated and inspired to take their next step in achieving balance in their lives, with or without disabilities.
You have an oblivious passion for theater and drama, when did you first discover that that interested you?
I have always loved acting, theatre, film, and performance. I grew up watching my oldest brother perform in high school theatre, and was hooked on the variety shows of the 70’s! Theatre and drama became significant to me as early as first grade when during recess, because I physically was unable to go down over the hill to the lower playground, my friend Beth (also with a disability) and I would create variety shows and perform them under the trees of the upper playground. Teachers and students would come to our shows every time. I learned very quickly that this was an important way to express yourself, to reach out to others, and connect. When you can entertain others while telling your story – magical things happen!
You have an interesting background, with achievements ranging from award winning sports-woman to beauty queen.
Part of that stems from having an inclination towards film, theatre, and entertainment, and part of it is because I have just always enjoyed being physically active, doing whatever I found I was able to do physically. I’m not someone who likes the word “No,” and I’m not someone who sits back and believes people when they tell me I’m not able to do something. Throughout my public education, I participated where I could in P.E. class, but while in high school I had to take an M.E. (Medical Excuse) as a grade, and I hated it. So, one day I approached the gym teachers and asked to be graded on my progress in weight lifting. They agreed. This was the 80’s, so I was one of the only girls with a weight lifting chart on the wall of weight room. When I got to college and learned about adaptive sports for the first time, I was in!! I competed in bench press competition, very successfully. Outside of sports, however, I was all about the clothes, the glitter, the makeup and the lights! I am competitive as well, and I just wanted to go out and compete to achieve the things I was naturally interested in like my peers.
You created the first wheelchair cheerleading troupe in the Nashville area called “Wheelcheerleaders.” Can you tell us a little about the troupe?
Several years ago, after I relocated to the Greater Nashville area, I wanted to find a way to give back and participate in the disabled community in some way. One of the concepts was adaptive dance, and the best fit was to collaborate with an already established kids adaptive sports organization that was, at that time, run through Easter Seals. (Now it is an independent nonprofit called A.B.L.E. [Athletes Building Life Experiences]. What we discovered was the girls in this group did not have an activity they could participate in if they were not interested in wheelchair basketball – yet they were part of the community that met for the monthly recreational days. So, I created a cheer and dance team that supported the youth basketball team and coined the phrase “Wheelcheerleader.” I am not active with that anymore, but the concept is certainly there, and I am very happy to have had the opportunity to create it. I know it gave young girls with disabilities the same opportunity to wear cheer gear, earn badges, and do an activity they perhaps normally were unable to try out for in their schools.
You actively promote the status of women with disabilities through your writing and public speaking. What do you think are the greatest challenges that women with disabilities face today, and how can we work to assist, as a society?
I think the greatest challenges that women with disabilities face today is access to education, women’s programs, and community services that they need. While women with disabilities (hopefully) for the most part have access to health care related to their disabilities, they generally do not have clear access to services for women in general. I think a huge misconception is that if a woman with a disability is getting medical care for her condition, she is taken care of. This isn’t the case, because we are not our disability. We are women first. And Women deal with domestic issues, educational barriers, women’s health and sexual rights, family planning, gender inequality, and jobs issues. The best way we can assist women with disabilities, besides first being mentors, and secondly being aware of the challenges they face, is to ensure that the programming available to women, are accessible to them, just as they are to non-disabled women. Scholarships for furthering education, which means better jobs, pay, and ultimately independence. Domestic abuse intervention programs, protocol, and safe housing that is accessible and appropriate. Emphasis on Reasonable Accommodation (I emphasize Reasonable) in jobs so that women with disabilities are able to successfully and effectively contribute their talents and skills at work. Jobs placement and interview processes that are based on their education, training, skills, and experience rather than their physical status.
If a woman looks amazing on paper and resume, she should be interviewed and considered for a job based on that. The opportunity should not be taken from her because she has a disability, any more than positions should be taken from other women for being mothers or single parents – Bethany A. Hoppe.