How does one find their purpose in life? For Tanisha Sepulveda, it has been through more than a decade of work and volunteering to move the needle on disability accessibility. Not only because of her own disability, but also because she saw the trouble her brother had having cerebral palsy, she has been acutely aware of the lack of accessibility in the built environment. This drew her to an interest in architecture. A pivotal bus encounter with a fellow wheelchair user led her to get an AA degree in a program that focused on architecture, engineering, and drafting which perfectly aligned with her objective to help find solutions. Tanisha has also joined forces with BIPOC Mobility Action Coalition (BMAC) which is part of Disability Rights Washington. This group focuses on transportation equity and justice - such as transit access, upkeep of sidewalks, and where communities and services are built. Tanisha is passionate about affordable and accessible housing and is helping BMAC make this part of their focus to raise awareness for this matter.
To get to this incredible point in her life where she is making a difference, Tanisha has, remarkably, overcome much adversity.
Tanisha was raised by her adoptive Mom and lived with (also adopted) older and younger brothers. Her younger brother has cerebral palsy and was adopted when she was seven and he was three. Helping to care for him gave her an early experience in disability. At times, she was responsible for his full care, helping him get dressed, fed and medicated through the G-tube. It also showed her how people with disabilities are treated and how they are viewed. As a teenager, she had some struggles with her relationship with her mom which led to her being put back in the foster system at 16. She feels these struggles helped her to be able to deal with adversity and be able to handle the difficulties that came her way. At that point she moved back to the Pacific Northwest where she lived on her own, taking care of herself.
Tanisha’s injury occurred in July 2010. This started off as an evening of fun with her friends swinging in a park and ended with a crash and fall from the swing leading to C4-C5 SCI and crushing her C3-C7 vertebrae so she has a cage. This began her journey with a whole host of new struggles. She spent 3 months in Harborview worrying about what her future would be, bills piling up, finding caregivers and, of course, going through all the medical issues and learning new skills. She feels very fortunate that the apartment she was living in prior to the injury was already wheelchair accessible so she was able to move back into it.
As most everyone experiences, she contended with difficulty coping with all that comes after a sudden change in circumstances. She relates she went from being proud of her ability to be completely independent by the age of 18 to being completely dependent. Having to depend on caregivers and losing trust and faith that those she was dependent on will show up has been, and continues to be, one of her biggest struggles. Another issue was trying to find a new future. Initially she felt directionless as her aspirations prior to the injury included possibly culinary school and activities that included the use of her hands and being on her feet.
Fortitude and Grit Prevail
Tanisha’s amazing inner strength, fortitude and grit has been hard won but has helped her positively navigate through all of the adversity she has faced. She does credit her mom with providing the foundation for this trait. She relates that her mom is a very strong, independent woman who taught her that you don’t need a man, you can do things yourself and if you want things done right, do it yourself. Some beliefs she has learned on her own along the way that she feels have helped her move forward, are recognizing that any situation is temporary so don’t make permanent decisions on temporary situations and talking through problems with others helps you cope.
Finding Support was Huge!
She admits that she didn’t think she needed any support groups at first. She was trying to feel as ‘normal’ as she could and she did have her brother and pre-injury friends around still. Her first introduction to the Here and Now Project was when one of Kenny’s caregivers reached out on Instagram which eventually led to meeting him in about 2013. She remembers how open he was about his injury and his own struggles. After that initial encounter, they met at the 25th ADA celebration in 2015 along with Khazm and his 206 Zulu band.
“Meeting so many others who have been in the same situation and going through the same things - that was huge for me! My story is so involved but a lot of what has gotten me to this point has been the Here and Now Project. This organization essentially got me connected with people that understand. It has been an amazing support network and showed me what is possible.”
Words To Her Newly Injured Self
“Find a support group and get acquainted with other people with similar disabilities because they will be such a helpful source of knowledge and understanding. Also, keep yourself busy and try new things! You might not be able to do things the way you did before your injury, but with a little bit of practice you might be able to find a new way to do it!”
Fun Facts and a Call for Action
Tanisha and her partner have 5 cats. Technically, they have 4 cats and then they got a cat for their cat, Chicken. They are Cinco, Loca, Kitty, Chicken and Chicken’s cat, Egg. When she isn’t busy with work or her social activism, Tanisha enjoys watching Netflix. She is currently working through ‘The Last of Us.’
If you want to help Tanisha bring further awareness of the lack of transit services, join the BMAC in their movement for ‘Week Without Driving Challenge’ October 2-8, 2023.