At 20 years old, a car accident resulted in Marcela Marañon being confined to a wheelchair, paralyzed from the waist down. Fast forward to today. The adult Marcela enjoys a very influential spot in the social media space. Her Instagram account, @thejourneyofabravewoman, which she started in 2017 “reflects my life,” Marcela said. “I feel really brave putting myself out there and doing things” but with 399,000 engaged followers, it is evident that her contribution is felt.
With a degree in communications which included taking social media classes, it was easy for Marcela to identify this medium as one worth using to spread her message. As she navigates her way through the social media biosphere, engaging with her audience and building a strong online community, followers respond positively to her posts, but Marcela admits that her presence on social media goes beyond just her travel adventures posts, fashion and clothing tips. She sees herself as a role model for women with a disability and also those without a disability. With her positive demeanour, she is empowering women to “go ahead and reach for the stars and to do whatever they want to do with their lives, regardless of their physical limitations.”
Through social media, Marcela touches the lives of many. She feels blessed by the positive feedback she receives and to realize that many are being helped by the content she posts. Comments from parents and little girls who reach out to her saying, “I have a disability and did not feel beautiful, but because of you, now I do,” gives her reason to continue along that Instagram journey. Each of her posts are accompanied by happy feelings as she knows at least one person will be helped as a result. Messages from people seeking advice on the clothing they should buy that will fit them well as a wheelchair user; questions about self-confidence, fashion and accessible travel – these make the time-consuming task of preparing Instagram content worthwhile. Marcela modestly says that she does not like to be called an influencer, but admits that some of her followers are indeed guided by the content she shares, some are inspired by it and based on the feedback she receives, can attribute some of the decisions taken by followers as having being influenced by her.
Marcela’s adventurous personality does not permit her to limit herself, so she frequently steps outside of her comfort zone and embarks on many journeys around the world. Travelling solo, she confidently visits countries with which she is unfamiliar, sometimes not even being able to speak the same language and oftentimes not being sure beforehand how accessible it will be. But as she checks a completed excursion off her list, it is done with a sense of satisfaction that another accomplishment has been achieved.
Although she has travelled to over 15 countries and experienced some amazing things, her most memorable is climbing Mount Kilimanjaro. “It was challenging mentally, physically and emotionally but it was a phenomenal experience because I never thought that as a person in a wheelchair, I would have been able to do this and I am very grateful for having had the opportunity to do it.” The team at Paratrek and their ingenious Trekker was her climbing aid and the euphoric feeling of getting to the top remains with her even today.
Exuding confidence as Marcela does is often not an easy feat. “Everyone has insecurities and so do I, but I do not allow it to show,” she shared. “People see confidence in your eyes,” she continued, “so I make sure that I maintain that confident feeling as much as I can.” She does admit that sometimes it is hard, and not being able to wear an item of clothing or a pair of shoes the way she would like to is bothersome, but that feeling is often just a fleeting one, quickly replaced by positive thoughts.
“I do not like to have people pitying me because of my disability.” Marcela continued, “I do not like to be treated as a person with a disability. Treat me like you would treat everyone else – like a person!” She worked in the health care industry for 10 years. Her employers knew her needs and met them. She was treated like a regular employee which she appreciated, and at no time was she made to feel any different from the able-bodied members of staff. This can happen in every workplace for other people with disabilities and she urges employers to seriously consider inclusive employment because people with disabilities are people first.
As the charismatic Marcela continues to give followers a peek into her world, companies are recognizing her impact and are capitalizing on her expansive reach to help spread their message. She is a global ambassador for several brands whose products are aimed at helping wheelchair users live full lives. One of these products is the Exoskeleton which she, as an ambassador, has been using as home therapy twice a week since 2014. She has the first unit created and wears it to stand and walk. Marcela enjoys the flexibility of having another mobility option, and her Instagram followers get an insight into a technology which they too can experience as a result of her making them aware of its positive impact on her life.
If you are a person with a disability and specifically a wheelchair user, Marcela says to you:
“Do not be afraid. It is important to live like if you do not have a disability. Do not limit yourself.”