LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Angela is a stunning model, Auti is a dancer who is trying for a baby, Tiphany is designing a clothes line and Mia works as a graphic designer.
And all four women are paralyzed from the neck or waist down and are about to shatter widespread notions of what it’s like to spend life in a wheelchair.
“Push Girls”, launching on the Sundance Channel on Monday, chronicles the lives of the ambitious and dynamic quartet in a way that producers say has never before been seen on U.S. television.
“Plenty of people have no idea what it’s like to spend the day in the life of someone with a disability, let alone a spinal cord injury,” said Tiphany Adams, 29, who was paralyzed in a horrific 2000 car accident.
“How do we get in and out of a car? How do we go to the bathroom. How do we go grocery shopping? How do we get in the shower? How do we get dressed? I thought it was a brilliant idea for the world to see that,” she said.
Told without self-pity, “Push Girls” shows the women going about their lives in Los Angeles just like other good-looking females in their 20s, 30s and 40s - flirting, going to nightclubs, in bed with boyfriends, chatting about love lives and searching their souls about the future.
Unlike many current reality shows dreamed up in writers’ rooms and producers’ offices, the 14-episode documentary was inspired by the girls themselves.
“I wanted to do a show about people in wheelchairs. Then going out to find them, the girls came first,” producer Gay Rosenthal told Reuters.
Rosenthal became involved after meeting and becoming friends with Angela Rockwood, 37, a model and actress who was paralyzed from the neck down after a car accident in 2001. Recently separated from her husband, Angela is seen in the show trying to resume her modeling career.
“I was so taken by Angela’s energy, her aura, her outlook and her joie de vivre,” said Rosenthal. After meeting Angela’s three friends, Rosenthal proposed the idea of a documentary and they quickly agreed. New friend Chelsie Hill, 20, who was paralyzed from the waist down in a car crash just three years ago, is also featured in the show.
“I felt I had to tell this story. That night so changed my life. When you see all of them share such an energy and positive outlook, you cannot help but be inspired,” Rosenthal said.
Nothing was off limits for the filming of the show, giving Rosenthal a careful path to tread between realism and voyeurism.
“When people hear it’s a show about women in wheelchairs, I expect them to think it’s going to be exploitive. That doesn’t surprise me, but hopefully the way I am telling the story and the way the girls are sharing their lives, it’s going to be ‘Wow! How dynamic, how interesting,'” she said.
Sundance Channel general manager Sarah Barnett said that “Push Girls” was a great fit for the cable network’s drive for programming that is bold, broad-minded and unusual.
“I realized this was a story that had never been told,” said Barnett. “None of us wanted to make a show that glossed over anything but that really looked at the reality of what it is to be in a wheelchair and what it is to push through what many of us might think is the incredible obstacle of that.”
Rosenthal said she hoped “Push Girls” would help to change perceptions of people in wheelchairs the way TLC documentary series “Little People, Big World”, which she also produces, has done for dwarfism.
“It has been extraordinary to see the change. In the beginning of ‘Little People’ it used to be like, ‘little person! midget! freak!.’ I remember little Zach getting chased in one of the early episodes. Now it’s like, ‘little people - cool, be my friend,’ and I can’t ask for more than that,” she said.
Reporting By Jill Serjeant; Editing by Bob Tourtellotte