Former Ms. Wheelchair Pennsylvania, current head of the Ms. Wheelchair Pennsylvania organization, public speaker, advocate, spokesperson and more. Barb has an amazing story that goes from denial and rejection of the disability community, to becoming a major catalyst in the creation of ambassadors and community in the state of Pennsylvania and beyond. Barb was called to advocate, and from her roots in small town America, to the national stage, she has proven that she can grind to success, and rise to the need to educate on disability issues and inclusion. It's not an episode you'll want to miss.
Barb's Link Tree HERE
Barb's Instagram: HERE
Link to The Landscape FB Page
Link to The Landscape Instagram Page
Link to sign up News Letter
Naveh Eldar 0:16
Welcome to the landscape, a podcast to shed light on the people, programs and businesses that are changing the landscape for individuals with any type of disability. I'm your host Naveh Eldar. Last episode I spoke to a former ms wheelchair Kentucky. And Today my guest is Barb zlatni, also known as rolling rainbow Barb, who was a former Miss wheelchair Pennsylvania, and currently runs the Miss wheelchair Pennsylvania organization. If you haven't listened to the last episode yet, the MS wheelchair competition judges on advocacy, and women who can impact the world around disability education and inclusion. One reason I was very excited to speak to Barb is because she is from small town America, and has a story and voice that doesn't always find its way to the forefront. Barb is passionate down to earth, and has an amazing story that goes from rejecting the idea of being part of the disability community to being an amazingly strong force in creating community across the state of Pennsylvania and beyond. Barb starts the conversation by describing her hometown.
Barb Zablotney 1:31
I am from a town called windber, Pennsylvania. It is near what was known as a city but recently it got brought down to a town because the population is dwindling, called John's town. And I actually live in the county where flight 93 went down on 911. So it's literally in the middle of nowhere. There's nothing here except for mountains. It's very gorgeous here. The scenery is very gorgeous, you know, especially this time of year. I love it here when it comes to that. But you know, growing up here it is a very small, small town. The town I grew up in wimber has about 4000 I think population, there's I think three or four red lights in our town. And pretty much it's an old coal mining town and there's only one I believe active coal mine still here. And right after 911 there was a mine accident that also made national headlines cue Creek mine. There was like five miners that were trapped underground for like a week or something. It was a crazy thing. And that's whenever they start realizing mines weren't safe. And that was another reason why a lot of mines closed down around here. The city of Johnstown used to ultimately be a booming still city, Bethlehem still had a bunch of steel plants and everything here. And Johnstown is known for having three huge natural disaster floods that just kind of wiped out the city three different times. And so we don't really we're not really known for positive. But the as a result of that, obviously, these are things that really impacted our community long term. And, you know, these floods happened before I was here on Earth, and you can still feel the effects like now I can see the effects, you know, I can see the effects of these steel mills not being up and running, I can see the effects of these coal mines just closing. So as a result, it is a very depressed area. And I know everyone's like, oh, everywhere is depressed in America, you know, but there's, you it's barely it's impossible to even get a job at like McDonald's around here. So people really, really struggle around here. I feel like the culture around here is just you know, go to work, go home, raise your family, you know, you don't really leave this vicinity, you just stay in your little community, you don't go out and that's like the norm. And everyone is just very hard working. I guess it's blue collar, right. Growing up, my dad was a pharmacist. So I saw a different side, I guess because of that. And we we've kind of went on weekend getaways. And I knew that there was a world outside of here. And my sister lived outside of Philly and everything when I was growing up, and we'd go visit her. And as I got older, I started realizing more and more like wow, this place doesn't really have much to offer. You know, I turned 16 I could get up could barely get a minimum wage job. I'm like, this is wild, like what the heck and then I decided to go to college and I went to college. Well, first I went to Penn State Altoona, not that wasn't for me. It wasn't far enough away from here. And then I went to Johnson. In college, which was in Scranton, Pennsylvania, it's about a four hour drive from here. So it's it's a whole different world. Like everyone thinks like Pennsylvania, it's weird because because I'm part of the Miss wheelchair America world. I have friends from all across the country, right? And it's so interesting to hear how they see Pennsylvania and they see Pennsylvania. Like, it's like they think of Philly and Pennsylvania, you know, and I that's not what I you know, that's not what I'm seeing, like, where I live is lovingly known as pencil tucky that's, you know, there's rednecks driving around with their, you know, um,
Naveh Eldar 5:40
hey, my last guest was Miss wheelchair, Kentucky, so she may be giving you a call after that. Oh.
Barb Zablotney 5:49
That's so funny. Yeah, so, um, I probably, I probably know him.
Naveh Eldar 5:55
And then so you went off to college. And you at that point, you were not. You hadn't had your accident yet. Now. So. So how was the experience of finally being out of this small town? And then at what point during your college career? Did you have your accident?
Barb Zablotney 6:13
Yeah, so um, like I said, I went to Penn State Altoona, which was about a 45 minute drive from here. And Altoona, Pennsylvania is like, a little bit better than Johnstown, Pennsylvania, but not much, right. So I was not feeling it, I decided to change my major at the time. And so I withdrew at the end of the semester. And I took a semester off, and I worked. And that's when I applied to Johnson College in Scranton, Pennsylvania, for Veterinary Technology. And so I went to school for Veterinary Technology to be a certified edtech. I moved out there, July of 2005. And it was, I would say, it was a culture shock at first, because I was finally seeing diversity that I've never seen before. For me, it wasn't necessarily like, oh, there's these different people. I was like, Oh my god, there's these different people. And I want to learn all about them. Sure. And so it seems that I gravitated towards people that, you know, were different than me to learn more and stuff. My best friend out there at the time, she was Hispanic. And so I got to learn so much about the Hispanic culture, she was married to someone from Mexico. And, you know, I that's why I was introduced to great food. And I was like, you know, horchata was amazing. I was like, Oh, my gosh, this is amazing. Um, things like that, that you just don't get in a small town. Like, I always tell people like, we don't even have an olive garden here, I have to drive an hour, I have to go drive an hour for target. We don't have authentic Mexican food. We don't have authentic ethnic foods. Like, for me, it was very enlightening to learn from these other people and, and just try different things and everything. And that's when I also started kind of traveling more. My ex fiance was in the Marines and I met him out there. And he took me to California on a plane for the first time. You know, we went to New York City several times. Now New York City was like, I like I was I had anxiety attack there. There were so many people. I was like, I can't deal with all these people. And so it was like overload their sensory overload, I guess. And yeah, I ended up living out there until my accident happened, which happened December 2007. I was five weeks away from having my degree. I had a five week internship left.
Naveh Eldar 8:44
And so and so how did you what was the accident and and what impact did it have on you? Like, what is your injury? Exactly.
Barb Zablotney 8:51
I was home visiting my family for Christmas here in little town, Pennsylvania. And, um, I ended up going back because I had work I worked at a movie theater at the time in Scranton, and I left here wearing a T shirt, the temperature was around 50 degrees and it was raining. And so I didn't really think much of it. It was December 30. Apparently there was a winter storm brewing that I didn't know about. I ended up ultimately hitting black ice lost control of my vehicle and hit into a bunch of trees. I was not wearing my seatbelt at the time and I was paralyzed on impact. Had I been wearing my seatbelt I may not be paralyzed. So anyone listening please wear your seatbelt. Um, you know and i and i did put my seatbelt on going there and I undid it to get my phone out of my pocket and then I never clipped it back in. So now I'm very adamant about clipping the seat belt, but I ended up needing emergency surgery they need to put two rods and nine pins into my back to stabilize me. The doctor told me at the time I was going To be permanently paralyzed, I had no idea like what that really entailed. He just said, you're never gonna walk again. You're never gonna do your life as you know, it's not gonna be the same.
Naveh Eldar 10:11
How did you respond to that? What did you think when he said that?
Barb Zablotney 10:15
I was so out of it. Like, I remember that moment very vividly. Like my whole accident, I was conscious for the whole thing. I pretty much thought I was going to die, my body went into shock. I remember all this stuff. And so when he said that I was so sick at the time, I was vomiting, all this stuff. And they were about to take me into surgery when he told me this. And I remember crying, and just going, Oh, my God, what, what just happened in my life. And before I even had time to think about they put me out. I remember waking up, then my ex fiance was sitting next to me. And he was there, I guess, all night long with me. And I woke up vomiting. Again, it ended up being a repeating issue that came from an inner ear concussion I had sustained during the accident. But, um, they kept telling me, you know, that I was going to be paralyzed. And, you know, the nurses would tell me, like, come in, and when they were changing things, or whatever, and, you know, tell me that I have a spinal cord injury, and they were kind of explaining what my life's gonna be like. And, you know, I remember thinking First off, like, Can I still have sex? I can't feel anything like what? Right? And I remember the one nurse, like, was like, Yes, you still can, you know, and I'm, like, I'm so out of like, I could barely even move my arms at the time. I couldn't even think of that at the time. But I was still just like, what is my life gonna be? And then they sent me to rehab and my rehab experience was not exactly stellar. I was at rehab for two months. You know, try, they were teaching me how to live my life in a chair now. And I pretty much was like, No, I'm gonna walk, I'm gonna walk, I'm gonna walk. I was very adamant that I was very much in denial. Um,
Naveh Eldar 12:10
so would you say that to them? Or were you just thinking that internally?
Barb Zablotney 12:13
Oh, no, I said it to them.
Naveh Eldar 12:14
And they would just obviously, they would tell you, you're not being honest with yourself?
Barb Zablotney 12:20
No, they would say you need to get over it. And you know, you need to not worry about that. And we need to get you here. Just get over it. Just get over. I don't know why you're so upset about this, you know? Yes, yes. I that's why I'm like, it was such a, it wasn't the best experience. Um, I had multiple therapists tell me I know what you're going through, because I've treated people like you my whole life. Right? And I'm like, really? Okay. And, you know, looking back at first, I was like, maybe I'm just being, you know, I'm just not thinking clearly, because I'm going through trauma, right. And looking back, now, I was valid in those feelings. 100%. And they made me feel like they weren't valid, you know, right.
Naveh Eldar 13:06
Right. And I'm gonna pause you for one second, cuz it's a pet peeve of mine is that even if somebody has gone through something you've gone through whatever that might be, whether it's divorce, or injury, or, you know, losing a parent, it's, it's not the same for everybody. And so to say that I know like to, to project on you that you should be thinking something or should be to, to not validate what you're going through, is frustrating to me, I guess is the best is the polite way to say it. So so I apologize for that.
Barb Zablotney 13:38
Oh, no, I it's, you're 100% right, and everything you're saying?
Naveh Eldar 13:43
Okay, so now you're in rehab. You are, you know, trying to tell yourself that you you're going to work hard, you'll figure it out and you'll walk one day. Yeah. So how long did that go on? Before you realize that, that this is this is not what's going to happen?
Barb Zablotney 14:01
I should add that my family was four hours away from me too. So I was kind of secluded at this rehab facility around no one that was very close to me. So I was pretty lonely going through trauma. I my ex fiance drove two hours from Scranton to be with me on weekends and stuff. But you know, for the most part, I was pretty much alone. Honestly. I so they were very much adamant that you know, there's no point of standing, there's no point of walking. I don't know why you're even you know, really hung up on it. You need to learn how to live your life in a chair. And maybe they were right. But there was a more tactful way to go about it for sure. And just the lack of empathy I had from therapists and from psychologists from psychiatrists for nurses was absolutely astounding. They didn't really care that I was a 21 year old woman who just lost everything as I knew it, right. Like, that's the part that was crazy to me like looking back. I'm like, what kind of monster were they like, and I had one ot there I still talked to to this day. She was a godsend. She was the only one who, you know, listen to me and realize I was someone who just lost everything as I knew it. And she actually told me she learned a lot from me because I was very vocal about the process and what I was feeling inside and how I was dealing with things. At the time, I didn't know that there was like spinal cord injury centers of excellence. I had no idea that was the thing until I went on Capitol Hill two years ago. Now I know it's a thing. But why I wasn't sent to the one in Pittsburgh or even you know, Magee in Philly, I don't know. But I do feel the the staff there probably is more trained on how to deal with someone going through such a traumatic experience at a young age at that, like it was like the this place was so used to hip replacements and knee replacements. And I was like a diamond in the rough like of, you know, dealing with with stuff. So they weren't really specialized to deal with spinal cord injuries at that point in time. And so I ended up coming home at the end of February. And I started in home therapy. And I was able to stand with a walker that April, and I ended up getting fitted for braces and stuff. And I was able to stand in ambulating braces, they had home health aides coming in and helping me and everything. My mom was still around then so she was helping me with things. And so that's kind of what I did for a while and I was progressing, because I ended up being diagnosed as a T 10 incomplete spinal cord injury. And that rehab hospital sent me home with temporary accessible parking tags. And by all accounts, my spinal cord, in the MRI, they are in all the proof they had in the surgery that The surgeon said that they he couldn't find anything wrong with my spinal cord. So they thought it was just bruising and swelling and it would subside. Okay, um, and it wasn't until later an MRI was done that they found like a bone shard in my spinal cord. And that's what's paralyzing me. Okay, so as I was progressing, my in home therapist told me, now's the time that you want to go to invasive therapy and stuff. So perhaps you should think about going back to Bryn Mawr. And so I was like, Alright, if the insurance will pay for I'll go back insurance pay for it. I went back for another month. So I focused on walking and trying to recover. And if I got sent home, they once I got home I had in home therapy again. But the therapists they sent me was different than the last one. And the next I think it was two days later, my mom died suddenly in her sleep. At that point, I kind of was feeling defeated 100% I was like, you know, what's the point I'm done fighting, I'm done with all this, whatever. And
right after she died, the home health agency discontinued their care and everything. So my insurance stopped paying for all therapy at that point. So it was kind of a Okay, well, you know, this is all it is, this is what it is. And now I have to deal with the loss of my mother, which looking back I think was harder on me than dealing with my injury. Both were hard, but I feel like my mom's you know, I was 22 just went through a traumatic event. Everyone wants their mom, right, you know, like your mom makes you feel better, you know. And so then I just kind of was trying to get through it day by day. And then my, as soon as I started like working towards more independence, I realized that that Oh yeah, the rehab hospital had a wheelchair vendor come in and fit me for a wheelchair that I could not independently will on my own. Okay, I had to go through this whole process with VR to try and get a lightweight, manual chair that I could independently disassemble and will on my own. And that was a whole headache and a half. Finally I got that. Then I started the process of driving with hand controls. And as I started to get more independent with things like that, my ex fiance started having issues of his own. He was in The military, he was one of the first troops sent into Iraq in 2002, at the start of the war, and he had all types of issues. So he kind of refused help. And he refused to help himself. And it kind of started translating into abuse in the relationship emotionally, physically. And I knew I had to get out of this somehow, some way. Because it just wasn't getting better. He wasn't getting help. And I was under the belief of this guy was here for me during my hard time, there is no difference between what I went through and what he went through is going through, I'm going to sit, I'm going to stick by him, as long as he's willing to help himself. And he kind of just refused at all. And it just until he sees that he needed help, I'm just going to be a controlling bitch in his eyes. Yeah. So I'm like, this is pointless. I'm just doing myself more harm. I'm not going to get any better staying here. So it was a mutual thing. We broke up Christmas of 2010. And it was then that I kind of started spiraling into a very dark depression.
Naveh Eldar 21:18
And what year did your mother passed?
Barb Zablotney 21:21
So I got paralyzed December 30, of 2007. And she died December 20. of 2008.
Naveh Eldar 21:29
Okay, so this is all within a three year period. We're talking so you become paralyzed at the age of 21. Is that correct? Yeah, mom passes. Your fiance has some post traumatic stress disorder for the military and kind of is not treated and becomes abusive. And so you guys split? Yes. Wow. Okay. And so and so logic, not logically, but you know, not surprisingly, you you spiral into
Barb Zablotney 21:59
depression. Yes. And I, I'm allergic to alcohol, so I can't drink? Not really, how about the drug life. So I kind of went to food as my coping mechanism. And during this depression, I put on over 100 pounds of extra weight. And at this point, it made my life 100 times harder, I couldn't transfer I couldn't independently take care of myself. I disabled myself with that behavior, right. So but what's crazy is I was secluded in the small town, on the only young woman, like in a Tri County area, I was told that had a traumatic injury, trying to live a quote unquote, normal life. And I had no one to look up to I had, I had no idea what life in a wheelchair for a woman was to look like, I there was no community in here, you know, and that's the thing about small town, rural America, you know, there's no community. And I think that's a thing. I've noticed wheelchair users and cities kind of take for granted that like, there's like a little community of wheelchair users that go and do things and you know, whatnot. But when you're in a small town, you don't know anything. So I was kind of stuck trying to figure all this out on my own. Now, my rehab is four hours away. My fiance ex fiance is four hours away, you know, I'm here alone with my family, thank God, but I didn't know anything. So back then social media wasn't where it is today. So there was no online support groups on Facebook there, you know, there was none of that, you know, in early 220 10 2011 2013, you know, I was just trying to figure it out. And I was struggling with my bowel and bladder. And this literally that that was the part that was the most depressing part to me, because I felt trapped in my body. Not only was I 100 pounds of extra weight that I couldn't independently move around, but now I'm like, covered in you know, excrement and I can't control it. And it just, it was spiraling out of control. Most days, I just wished I would die. Like it just seemed like the easier option. And then I was like, Alright, what can be done here? What What's going on? I need to figure out what's going on with this bladder and bowel like what what can I do? And I went saw a couple doctors more or less long story short, and then they told me you know, more polite way but they've kind of were like, you know, you're too fat for any kind of surgical intervention You're too fat for you know, you need to work on losing weight before we can do anything safely. Like, this is not good. So I'm like, Well, people with legs that work can't lose weight how you expect me to, but so they did give me resources, you know, they set me up with a food addiction counselor, they sent me up with a dietitian, I found a trainer that helped adapt workouts for me and stuff. And I had to get in that mind frame of, I need to do this to change my life. And it was not easy. It was not fun. But I knew I had to do something. And it was a lot of working on myself and realizing why coping by eating. It was a process. But as time went on, I ended up losing the excess weight as I started to lose the weight. That's when I started to realize I was like, wow, this is how a normal person feels started dawned on me that like, I'm like, I'm pretty sure I was like struggling with depression before my accident. I didn't realize just what it feels like to be clear, you know what I mean? Like, clear, and, quote, unquote, normal.
Naveh Eldar 26:03
So you're telling me that you were starting to feel better than any point in your adult? Yes. Even before your accident?
Barb Zablotney 26:11
Yep. Yep. And what's also interesting, during that process of depression, a show came out on TV called push girls. And that was my first time seeing women live independently and in chairs. And I know, I never knew what was possible, just by seeing what they were doing. Did I want to live their life not 100%? You know, I watching them hang out, like, I remember, I was like, I could never be friends with other girls and chairs, watching them together. I'm like, Yeah, I could never be hanging out with other chicks and chairs, I don't know, you know, and I, I kind of started to realize I kind of secluded myself then from the disability community, not just because I'm in a small town, but I think a part of me just didn't really want to be part of it. Because then that would be me accepting this disability, like I still in my head was not accepting that I was disabled. Right. So that's kind of where I was like, it was a mental struggle there. But watching that show helped me to see how I could live, ultimately, and that is possible. And so that definitely was something that was very invaluable to me living in a small town not having role models like that. But yeah, I I started feeling a lot better than I ever did in my adult life. I kept going to the gym, I kept working out I kept at it. And, um, some point in there, a family friend told me, you should do miss vulture, Pennsylvania. And I'm like, Do I look like a pageant girl? I'm covered in tattoos. At the time, my hair was bright pink. And I was like, I don't think that that's for me, like, No, but I had a gut feeling to look further into it. And so I went online, looked at the website, and I realized that it was an advocacy based platform. And during my time of realizing that I was it was more I was more clear. And I was as a result, I was more active, I was going out more in the community. And as I was more active and present in the community, I was realizing how much ignorance I was dealing with. And it was a continuous thing. The more I was out in public, it was almost every single time I was out in public, something was happening. And I knew once I saw the website that when I saw it was an advocacy based platform, what I was going to go on for my platform that it was going to have to do with something with changing ignorance with education and inclusion. I went and competed for the title of Miss wheelchair, Pennsylvania, 2018, and I won.
Naveh Eldar 29:03
You look, I wish people could see your face because even now some years later, you're like, I don't know how that happened. But
Barb Zablotney 29:10
literally, I am still like, How the hell did all this happen? Every day. I'm like, still astounded by how my life has changed tenfold. And I honestly owe it to the Miss wheelchair Pennsylvania platform. I really do. It opened my world up in a way I never could imagine. Yeah. And it's not a pageant. It's not It has nothing to do with beauty. It has everything to do with advocacy and how well you articulate your message. And I think that that's it gives women with disabilities the confidence to speak up about issues that a lot of people just don't want to speak up about.
Naveh Eldar 29:54
You you compete, you win. And then what like how does your does your community you even know about it does does do you start traveling what happens?
Barb Zablotney 30:04
So the competition was supposed to be January 2018. I guess the other people like they couldn't find another couple people to compete, or they could cancel something like that. So they pushed it to march. So in January, I already had set that, you know, I was going to do newspaper articles and some press to let my community know because my thought is, okay, If I don't win this thing, at least I educated my community. You know, like, it may be small, but hey, least I educated a few people with what I want to get out there. Even if it's not, you know, the whole state, like I was hoping. And so that's what I did. So my community did know that I was going to compete in Bradford, which is a four hour drive about as well. Three hours, yeah, three hours. It's up near Erie, Pennsylvania. And let me tell you, it was like a winter storm when I went up there to compete in March two. And so yeah, it was crazy. But I ended up winning, I announced it on my Facebook page. And at that point, the the media got hold of it. And I contacted the other ones who didn't. And I started doing news stories, I started doing, you know, more newspaper stories and stuff. And they were very supportive of it all. I was very shocked. And very, I'm very humbled that this area was so accepting of it. And so supportive of me, I ended up having to do a fundraiser to raise funds to go to Nationals. And they were there. And the whole community supported me as well. With that, it was very, it was very overwhelming. And you know, sometimes when things are just so like, awesome, you can't put it into words, but you're just very grateful and humbled and you know, everything. And I would say that's the best way to articulate what I was feeling like this warm, fuzzy feeling. Um, and at that point, I was like, I don't want to let down my community. I don't want to let down you know, everyone who's believing in me, right. So I ended up going to Grand Rapids, Michigan, to compete for the title of Miss wheelchair America. 2019 I did not win my but my soon to be best friend did. And she ended up winning, she deserved the moment I met her. I'm like, this girl's winning. She is amazing. And I want to be like her 30 years post injury like her like she, to me, was is such a good role model of a strong, independent woman with a very similar injury to mind. So,
Naveh Eldar 32:56
so go ahead and tell us her name and where she's from.
Barb Zablotney 32:58
Yes, so her name is Karen Roy. And she's from Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Okay, if you check out my YouTube channel, there's some videos of her nine together on there. I've been working on footage of her and I forever that I still because I'm so busy with things I don't have time to edit video anymore. But I have such amazing footage of her night together that I hope to get released eventually. But me and her spent a whole weekend on the road together last year. And it was a really good time. And I think we got some really good footage of us together and whatnot. But you know, getting two girls and chairs into the car into our car all on our own. It's pretty cool. But you know, I ended up winning the People's Choice Award. And that is voted upon your community and whatnot. And it's $1 vote and I ended up setting a record and Miss wheelchair America history of the most amount of votes they ever got money raised with it. Very nice. Congratulations. Thanks. Um, so yeah, that's and I thought like, I'm gonna go there and things are gonna die down then. No, my life just it got busier after nationals. And I was like, What the heck is happening? Each opportunity that came my way I was just like, this was okay. Okay. And I just kept saying yes to everything. Because I was so wanting to learn everything I wanted to know more. Because I kept to myself for decades. So I didn't know anything about much of anything other than my experience. So I think that was ultimately my advantage. And everything was my lack of knowledge of things that I didn't think I already knew something and fighting. You know what I mean? Like I I went in there with a very open mind of learning. And I think that that was kind of it kind of helped me ultimately, like I said, each thing it's so crazy how one little person like One person you meet leads to something else that leads to bigger opportunity. And you're like, holy crap, how did all this happen? And it definitely was a very amazing experience. I was I only had a 10 month long reign. And I made the most out of it. I traveled 20,000 miles to and through seven different states and did 68 appearances.
Naveh Eldar 35:23
What are all you doing since then?
Barb Zablotney 35:26
Oh, Lord, where do I begin? So yeah, I am, I run the Miss wheelchair Pennsylvania program, I ended up becoming the president of it last September of 2019. I didn't necessarily want to take on the program at all. Because I liked what I was doing at the time. And I knew it was going to be a lot of work. But I couldn't let the program go under either because I knew what it did for me. And I knew that these women this this that year, last year, who expressed interest to me that they wanted to compete, what opportunity could come from it for them, and I was like, I have to do this for them like, and so I ended up taking on the program. And starting from the ground up with it, following a new 501 c three, doing all that stuff, it was a lot of learning, it's still a lot of learning, I'm learning, you know, every day with something. And you know, now I put on a virtual event, this time around, we actually started a new thing. It's unique to the Pennsylvania program, we have an ambassador program. So I always felt like the mission statement was a little off and how they were kind of showcasing things. Miss wheelchair, America's mission statement is to empower women with disabilities. I felt like the state's Okay, you're empowering one woman once a year, if you don't win, too bad. So sad. Like in a lot of the women, I would, I was realizing kind of felt they weren't good enough and more times than not, to me, they should have been the winner. But somehow they were nervous or, you know, whatever. And they felt like their voice wasn't good enough. And I was like, This is wrong, like, This isn't how it should be, what can we do. And I came up with this, you know, Ambassador idea, and then my vice president kind of formed it into the program it is today. And now we have eight women that are part of this ambassador program. And we help give them resources, we give them workshops throughout the year to learn and we kind of help guide them to become better advocates and to kind of learn more, because ultimately, it's all about learning. And you know, knowledge is power. And the more you know, the more effective you'll be as an advocate. And, you know, if you just go up there, you know, just complaining. And that's it, no one's gonna take you seriously, you know, anyone can complain. But not everyone could come up with a solution and try to enact a solution. So that's kind of what we try to teach them a little bit. And we now have a new title holder this year as well. So to watch these women, this live share, grow. And all of them grown in their own different grew in their own different ways. And that's what was unique to me, because I'm expecting, oh, you should do all this stuff. But for some of them, their growth is learning consistency and communication, these life skills, because they're so young yet, some of them are 2122 23. You know, they're still figuring things out. And they also are new to the disability world. So they're trying to learn these life skills that I guess I just took for granted that I had, I guess, and didn't realize that this was something that needed to be there to help them. Yeah, as well. So that that's kind of where my heart is, is empowering women with disabilities to get that confidence to go and make a difference in their community and in their world, essentially, because one voice by itself, yes, it can make change. But a whole army of voices together is what is more impactful. And I always tell them, we're stronger together than apart. And I always drive home the point of sisterhood and unity. Because that's kind of was my strength after nationals was these bonds I made with these ladies from all across the country and other programs that as I traveled, I went and met these people and I go to an event I find you know, Miss wheelchair Maryland from 1993. And she just takes me under her wing as her own and it and it's just a very close sisterhood. And when you come across someone who is a former title holder, they're all very accepting and open and wanting to bring you in and know For you and help you to grow and be a better advocate. So I think that that's kind of what what I think is important with the program. Other things that I do, I started a united spinal chapter here in my region, because as I stated, I was alone, there was no community here for wheelchair users. And my vice president, and a friend of his had this vision of like a support group type thing. And they kind of requested my help. And so I ended up getting united spiral involved. And now we have a official united spinal chapter here. And before COVID, we were doing like monthly peer support groups and monthly activity, outings and stuff. And so that's pretty important, I think, to the people in this region. And I sit on a on the center at my local center of Independent Living board, I now got a job at as a consumer advocate at a medical supply company. So you know, that's been a good learning experience as well. I ended up being featured on a high production commercial by UPMC, which is University of Pittsburgh Medical Center. Here in Pennsylvania, it's one of the top employers in Pennsylvania, they use me to market their health plan that I have. So that's currently being grown all across the state right now.
Naveh Eldar 41:28
And so from what I'm hearing, if I can, you know, just try to understand it, it capsulate everything you just said isn't, you're just very lazy. So
Barb Zablotney 41:40
Naveh Eldar 41:41
do nothing, you care about nothing? And I'm tired of it. Why did I bite you onto the show?
Barb Zablotney 41:49
Naveh Eldar 41:50
If we can look at the psychological arc that you went through, I mean, you went from not wanting to have anything to do with the disability community, right? You're like, I don't even want to I don't want to look at you, I don't want to people would have invited me to something or you would is something wrong with you, of course, I don't want to go anywhere with you to running this wheelchair Pennsylvania, starting this peer support or peer Ambassador group, starting a peer support group, with the spinal cord injury program that you started. It's just like a phenomenal that community that you're building, coming from a place of not even wanting to be a part of a community. So I think that's super, super amazing. Any goals you have for the next year? So
Barb Zablotney 42:42
yeah, I actually want to apply to college. That's like, I should probably have done that by now.
Naveh Eldar 42:48
But what do you what are you gonna take
Barb Zablotney 42:50
on disability studies?
Naveh Eldar 42:52
Barb Zablotney 42:53
Um, I, I think I've learned that a lot of people do take me, I guess, seriously now. Because I felt like early on, people weren't taking me seriously. And I feel like the community overall, it's all about proving yourself is what I've gotten. And I get it to some degree, but you know, it is kind of disheartening to see people kind of coming on, you know, wanting to make a difference. And as I look into what I want to do, I feel like I want to learn more about legislation. Right. And I think the only way for me to, you know, logically get there and to be taken serious is to have a degree about that, in particular. So that's kind of a long term goal, and something that I think I can't my soul can finally rest at night knowing I finally have a degree. Um, it's one of those things that just, I didn't finish what I started and it just bothers me sure to like my core. I know I can change that by doing this. So that's kind of what I'm looking at, you know, as far as that goes, but in my local paper, I monthly I get a spot to write an article about, you know, educating able bodied population, I guess about issues that wheelchair users face, and how they could change their behaviors to make our situation a little bit easier for us. I I've been doing that. So I have a monthly, you know, kind of call them I guess that I do, which was kind of a cool opportunity I got so just kind of things like that. I just want to bring people together. I want more. I want women with disabilities to be empowered. I want Our community to be more educated about their rights. You know, looking back at my story, hearing other people's stories, the injustices we face is ultimately because of our own lack of education about our rights like we don't know our you don't know what you don't know. Right and so the society as a whole just as like, Oh, you should be thankful for what you have. Just hush be thankful for what you have and that's not the case. Watching this the world you know, specifically United States deal with this coronavirus pandemic. I'm like, man, if y'all got paralyzed, y'all would be Oh, man, you think this is? You know, and I and it's weird, because a part of me is like, I've already gone through this before. I've already done the keeping away from people I've already you know, I'm still in a better place than I was back for 10 years before. So I'm kind of like it is what it is and keep to myself and try to stay safe. And right now.
Naveh Eldar 46:03
Yeah, you just you've just had like a really amazing journey. I extremely enjoyed watching your videos on YouTube, I will put a link for that in the description of the of the show. I know you haven't posted anything in a while. But you. But you also have articles out there. If there's like a link to the newspaper. I'll add that. So
Barb Zablotney 46:22
my Instagram handle is the rolling rainbow. And I have a link tree link there. Gotcha. And I put all my new things on there that I'm featured in. This, for instance, would be featured in that then like once you know what I mean? So it just those things so then people can easily access it and stuff.
Naveh Eldar 46:44
Also, I'll put a link to your link tree.
Barb Zablotney 46:47
Yeah, script. So
Naveh Eldar 46:48
there you go. That'll be the best thing. And so I you know, I always end with personal questions. And so the first one is the obvious one, which you just mentioned is that you go by rolling rainbow BB, and one why into who gave you that? That nickname?
Barb Zablotney 47:04
So funny. It's really really funny. I mean, I don't know if you can see what I'm wearing right now. Yes. So,
Naveh Eldar 47:12
um, is this for people who don't see you You which I did not pay attention to where do you I did not pay attention until you pointed it out. She has on a T shirt that has a rainbow on it. And there are the Hello Kitty is flying on a paper airplane. And there's some other creatures I don't know what they are. But they're all rainbow. And then very, very colorful pants with like colorful Owls of different pink and orange and bright color. So yes, you are dressing very brightly.
Barb Zablotney 47:46
my wheelchair too. is um, rainbow. I don't know.
Naveh Eldar 47:53
So she's backing up so I can see the the wheelchair Yes. And like the books are all rainbow the spokes and the handles and the frame. The frame is very colorful.
Barb Zablotney 48:04
Okay. Yes, it's, it's all on my Instagram. I have pictures of it everywhere.
Naveh Eldar 48:09
Were you always into colors like this?
Barb Zablotney 48:12
No, it's so funny. Um, it's also funny when I look back at it all like, this is so long. So, um, and I would I if you ask anyone from like, high school, they probably like describe me as like golf. Right? What they would describe me as like, fan shirts, you know, jeans and that's it. Yeah. Um, and I kind of just kept that style forever. So I've I've always been about the 90s nostalgia. I don't know. Everything like this is 90s and this is 90s like 90s is all over me my I just exude 90s nostalgia. So the 90s nostalgia I always was like, Oh my gosh, I'd go to flea markets and collect like Lisa Frank stuff. That was my my hunt and peck at flea markets were Lisa Frank stuff so I started like hoarding all this Lisa Frank stuff. For years and years and years. I had I like had totes and totes of Lisa Frank stuff. It was crazy. So um, I ended up always saying I want to lease a frank tattoo. But like, I didn't really like think much about it. And then my accident happened. And I ended up getting the tattoos on this arm, you know, for my mom and then I realized I wish my mom was around to see it. So I got the tattoos for my family still here so they could see it. And that's what I was like, I kind of want to get a lease of Frank half sleeve. So I ended up finding a tattoo artist who did you know my full Lisa Frank sleeve. That's what this is. That's Lisa Frank. full sleeve. Wow. Um, it was seven sessions four hours each and he's from Baltimore, Maryland, he was on season four of Ink Master, his name's Halo. And so I made sure if I was going to get like a full sleeve, I was going to do it right, you know, like and not look bad like, Huh. I mean, it's eight years old and looks like it's new.
Naveh Eldar 50:13
That's great. Yeah, so it's super colorful.
Barb Zablotney 50:16
Yes. So I got this during my brink of depression. And, um, I, I feel like the whole tattoo thing was kind of like a healing mechanism of some sort for me, you want to feel pain, but like, I'm still baby with pain, but like, it's, you know, you just feel so numb to life. So like, it was some kind of weird psychological thing. So when I got this tattoo, you know, it's so bright and everything. I was like, you know, 100 pounds heavier. And I can't find any clothes that are bright to match this because I was like, I want to match my my my tattoo, that's all I want to do is match my tattoo. It'll make it brighter. I want my match my tattoo. So that's when I was like, my chair needs to match this needs to match. And it just became this obsession about matching my tattoo. And so then I'd like look for bright clothes. And I'm like, you know, fat people want to be bright too. But there's like, no bright clothes. It's like all black clothes. And I'm like, What the heck, what's going on? So as time went on, and I started losing weight, I was like, yeah, you can finally wear all these bright clothes. And that's just kind of became my thing. And I you know, each chair, the last two chairs I've got I've been bright and colorful and everything I can make colorful on it. I do. And I'm working with someone now to add another part that's going to be colorful on the chair. So I'm super excited about that. Like I've like every part needs to be colored. And so someone one day was like, you're like the rolling rainbow and then a friend of mine who has since passed away. He young started singing the song to Reading Rainbow, right? However, the rolling rainbow and I actually have a funny like video he did on it. It's so funny. That's kind of where it all kind of stemmed from and I was like, that's so funny, and I ended up trademarking the name. Uh huh. I paid to get a trademark. And, um, now I trade I have the name officially it is mine. And I am the rolling rainbow. And it's a it's a lifestyle pretty much it's, it's there's my room is just covered and rainbows. It's just everywhere, everywhere. Even my my keyboard, my my laptop pace, like everything is rainbow. It's, it's kind of crazy.
Naveh Eldar 52:44
I'm so happy I asked that question. So my cheeks hurt. I'm so hard. I have big cheeks. And so when I smile for an extended period of time, they hurt me. So thank thank you for that. So look, Barb, I want you to to know how much I love advocacy, obviously. But I'm so we cannot have enough advocates. I mean, you refer to it on why you put together that those ambassadors but the more voices we have, the louder we are, the more we can impact. Yeah. So I really, really appreciate because not only are you a great ambassador, but you're helping to create ambassadors and so I love you for that. And thank you so much for coming on the show and I'm excited to do something else with you in the future.
Barb Zablotney 53:36
I would love that I love you for what you're doing to like what you're doing this podcast is absolutely incredible. And I think it's very, you know, keep keep up the good work and, you know, keep amplifying our voices, whatever means necessary because you know, mainstream media ain't doing it for us. We have to do it ourselves, you know, and we got to keep plugging away.
Naveh Eldar 54:02
Find the link to all of Bob's platforms in the episode description. Make sure to subscribe to the podcast, leave a review and give a star rating if you listen on Apple podcast, and make sure to share episodes with others. Also make sure to follow the landscape podcast on all social media outlets. In the next episode, I welcome Ryan Kress who was a registered nurse, adaptive athlete, Speaker model and current ms wheelchair Virginia. And she is not afraid of causing a little controversy if that's what's called for. I look forward to seeing all of you in the next episode.
Transcribed by https://otter.ai