A wheelchair-bound fashionista whose Tinder dates cancelled when they discovered she was disabled is on a mission to prove that disability doesn’t need to hamper style.
Heather Williams, 29, suffers from muscular dystrophy but says that being in a chair enables her to wear towering heels without experiencing painful feet.
“When I used to walk, I couldn’t wear certain shoes so when I got a wheelchair I was suddenly able to wear five inch heels,” said Heather, a communications director from Sacramento, California, USA.
Heather now runs a popular blog and Instagram site called “Wheels & Heels” where she gives fashion tips for wheelchair users.
“My aim is to make 300 pounds of wheelchair look good,” she said.
“There’s a misconception that people in wheelchairs aren’t into fashion or clothes or their appearance.
“In fact, there’s an added pressure when you have 300 pounds of metal underneath you to feel pretty and sexy.
“I want to put myself out there and show the world what I like to wear. I think I have a pretty decent fashion sense.”
Heather was diagnosed with limb girdle muscular dystrophy when she was 12 years old.
The progressive genetic condition means that the muscles in her hips and shoulders will weaken over time, making it impossible for her to walk unaided.
By the time she enrolled at Mills College, in Oakland, California, Heather required a wheelchair to get around campus.
She said: “When I was a child, I’d try to keep up in school but I’d get so exhausted that I’d sleep all weekend.
“When the diagnosis came, in a way it was a relief to know what was wrong with me.
“I got a wheelchair when I began at my all women’s college. I wanted to be in a safe environment when I went into a wheelchair.
“I was very self conscious. It has taken me a while to be proud of using a wheelchair.”
Heather found the world of dating difficult with prospective partners making hurtful comments, demanding to know what was “wrong” with her and even cancelling dates when they discovered she was disabled.
She said: “I got told: ‘You’re very pretty, for someone in a wheelchair’.
“Men would ask me: ‘What’s wrong with you?’ before they even knew my name.
“Some people feel free to ask those questions without realising how rude they are.
“I’ve been at a bar and been hit on by men who will ask me inappropriate sexual questions.
“They say: ‘Can you have sex? Can you feel down there?’
“People don’t look at us like sexual beings. Would you ask an able bodied woman a question like that in a bar?
“I’ve arranged to meet people on Tinder and messaged them before our date that I am in a wheelchair and they have cancelled.
“But if they are going to be that big of a jerk, you probably don’t want to go out with them in the first place.”
In early 2014, Heather met her now partner Corky McDonnell, 42, a project manager at an architect firm, at a comedy club where she volunteered and he performed.
They have been a couple for almost five years and have just moved in together.
She said: “He was very charismatic and he has always been really good about my disability.
“He is very supportive about my love of clothes. He doesn’t think it is just clothes, he understands that it means more than that.”
A love of fashion helped Heather to acclimatize to life as a disabled person and she now wants to help other disabled people to express themselves through clothing.
“I loved going thrifting when I was younger, putting outfits together, wearing my mom’s pieces from the 1980s.
“Now I like to help other people like me find cute outfits.
“There are not many representations of people who look like me in magazines or on TV.
“I want to make fashion more inclusive so disabled people can enjoy it too.”
Heather shared her top fashion tips for wheelchair users.
She said: “If you find something that fits you go, buy it in lots of different colours.
“If something has some slits on the side, that’s good.
“Anything that is tight is not going to be great when you are sitting in a wheelchair.
“Finally, I like to pick out one bold piece to lift an outfit.
“You can’t go wrong with some leopard print booties.
“I am all about living live while making 300 pounds of wheelchair look good.”
Heather posts her outfits and fashion tips and tricks on Instagram @wheelsandheels_.