Roll Models' and Designer Wheelchairs Add New Spin to New York Fashion Week

Discovery Through Design, a non-profit organization, has tapped a host of top designers to participate in its new fashion event, the Rolling with Style Gala, set for Feb. 6, at Cipriani (42nd Street) during New York's couture Fashion Week.

A veritable who's who of designers like St. John, Kimora Lee Simmons, Nicole Miller, Zang Toi, Marc Bouwer, Lloyd Klein and Thom Browne are donating their time and talent to create one-of-a-kind designer Quickie wheelchairs, as well as complementary fashion ensembles, for their "Roll Models" — four women who were chosen in a national search for their inspirational responses to their disabilities.

The Rolling with Style Gala, hosted by Lesley Stahl, of CBS "60 Minutes," will offer a full evening of celebration: a black-tie dinner; a fashion show with super models, as well as Roll Models; and live entertainment.

"A sense of beauty and self is vital, and this event is the first step in our campaign to change the way our society perceives women in wheelchairs," said co-chairwoman Ashley Lauren Fisher.

All proceeds from the gala, plus the donations of sponsors, will benefit the Christopher Reeve Foundation, The Miami Project to Cure Paralysis and The Spinal Cord Injury Project at Rutgers University.

The four founders of Discovery Through Design and "chairwomen" of Rolling with Style include Marilyn Hamilton (Carmel, Calif.), the co-inventor of the ultralight, compact, maneuverable Quickie wheelchair, plus disability champions Ashley Lauren Fisher (Morristown, N.J.), Wendy Crawford (Miami Shores, Fla.) and Julia Dorsett (Boca Raton, Fla.).

Hamilton says, "Properly fitted wheelchairs that look great not only give us confidence, but also allow us to get out there and go after our dreams in other areas of our lives. Full participation and integration into society is what all people want, whether in a wheelchair or not."

Crawford first came up with the idea of Discovery Through Design. The chairwomen came together with these objectives: to banish stereotypes of women with disabilities; to celebrate the accomplishments of disabled women; to promote unbiased treatment; and to raise funds for women's health care initiatives and spinal cord injury research.

"I approached Marilyn, Ashley and Julia because there was something remarkable about each of them that rounded out my vision," Crawford explains. "Although we each have our different passions, we demonstrate that our accidents may have changed our method of mobility, but they did not take away our joie de vie. We have the same needs as able-bodied women for beauty, adventure, achievement and respect — for well-lived lives."

"I've found that sports level the playing field," continues chairwoman Julia Dorsett. "When able-bodied and disabled athletes compete, there is more going on than scorekeeping. We're all winners when perceptions shift from disability to ability. That's what we are aiming to accomplish through Rolling with Style."

The Roll Models exemplify the same philosophy, and on Feb. 6 they will travel down the Rolling with Style runway in highly customized, couture wheelchairs, amidst a blaze of lights and high tempo music with their respective designers. The Roll Models, each an example of personal courage and achievement, are Michelle Boardman (Harleysville, Pa.), Melissa Holley (Nashville, Tenn.), Rosemarie Rossetti, Ph.D. (Columbus, Ohio), and Jenny Smith (Louisville, Ky.).

Quickie/Sunrise Medical is a sponsor of the Rolling with Style Gala. For more information about Discovery Through Design or to purchase tickets online for the Rolling with Style Gala, visit www.discoverythroughdesign.org.

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