Skip to main content

Colorado woman promotes message of disability empowerment

Email share
Cady Bell has found a new community of dancers in wheelchairs that helps give her confidence.

GLENWOOD SPRINGS, Colo. Cady Bell had to drastically change everything about her life after getting an unexpected diagnosis around three years ago. 

“Doctors didn’t know if it was just growing pains or what it could be. They checked for arthritis and autoimmune disorders and everything. But I was getting to the point where I couldn’t get through the grocery store because I was getting too fatigued,” said Bell.

After six years of researching on her own and going to various doctors for tests, a specialist discovered Bell has a rare genetic disorder called Ehlers-Danlos syndrome, or EDS. 

“It’s a connective tissue disorder. So, all of your ligaments, tendons and all of that are too loose — your skin — everything," she explained. "So, my joints will dislocate. I’ll be walking and my hip will pop out or my SI [sacroiliac joint] joint will come out. And I’m what you call an ambulatory wheelchair user where my legs can move but it’s not safe for me to walk because as you can imagine, I’ll just be walking and then my legs just dislocate and that’s not very fun."

Three years ago, Bell transitioned to using a wheelchair full time, but she questioned how she could still live a full life. 

Finding confidence and community with the Rollettes

“It’s not about the disability, it’s about who I am as a person, and so I want to keep being me and keep doing the things I love and going out with my husband and our dogs, and going on walks or ‘rolls,’” she said while laughing. 

Then, through social media Bell found another community that fulfilled her mission to still be her. It is a wheelchair dance group called the Rollettes out of Los Angeles. Bell said that was the first time she didn’t constantly feel so different. 

“Without the Rollettes I think I’d still be putting myself in a box of ‘well, I’m just this sick, disabled person.’ That sounds bad, but that’s kind of how you feel. You feel like there’s no one who understands who I am or my disability,” she explains.

The Rollettes dance group was founded in 2012 by Chelsie Hill who was paralyzed after a car accident. The idea was to empower women in wheelchairs to define themselves for themselves. 

Cady Bell lives in Glenwood Springs and told Rocky Mountain PBS she was excited to travel to Los Angeles for the Rollettes’ annual four-day disability empowerment event.

“It’s given me confidence and community — a community I didn’t even know was out there that is now full of some of the most amazing friends I’ve ever had in my entire life,” Bell said with a smile.

Now the Rollettes have more than 200 dancers across the country who are able to socialize, connect and take dance classes virtually. Bell feels, more than anything, the group has taught her how to be an advocate. 

“Believe it or not I had a fear of public speaking and tended to be more shy but when you’re in a wheelchair you’re going to stick out and people are going to notice you no matter what," said Bell. "So, if I’m going to be in a wheelchair and this is how it’s going to be, what do I want people to see? What do I want to represent?” 

Bell said for her it’s normal and okay for people to notice the wheelchair first but it's important thoughts and conversation go beyond that.

“Are you only focused on my disability? Do you care about the person that’s in the chair? What are their interests? What’s their personality? And no, I don’t know your friend in Ohio who’s in a wheelchair too. And yes, I can be beautiful even though I’m in a wheelchair. It has nothing to do with the wheelchair, thank you very much,” she said with a laugh.

Bell is now attending the Rollettes’ annual four-day disability empowerment event in Los Angeles and started on July 21. 

“When you’re the only person in the room who looks like you and moves like you because you’re in a wheelchair, and you enter a room with more than 200 women who look like you and are rolling around just like you," said Bell. "I can’t even explain the feeling.”

Related Stories

Rolling through life — powerchair skating duo takes on Denver and cities around the country

Two years ago Rocky Mountain PBS first met Chad M. Roth and Amber Riggs, his caretaker. As far as they know, they are the first and only powerchair skating duo in the country. Using Roth's powerchair, Riggs holds onto the back while roller-skating behind him. What started as a way to keep up with him while traveling, the duo now makes it part of their regular routine in Denver.

Spotlight Newsletter

Community stories from across Colorado and updates on your favorite PBS programs, in your inbox every Tuesday.

Sign up here!