Tatiana Lee is a FABULOUS actress and model. She’s been seen in many projects with Apple including Coffee with The Ceo Tim Cook, and in one of their first commercials on Accessibility. She’s been featured on the social media of the clothing brand Torrid, She will appear in the YouTube web series “Pretty Dudes”, and is the first black woman with a mobility disability to be featured in an international lingerie ad for Parfait Lingerie’s #PerfectFigure campaign. However, what makes Lee unique is she has done all of this from her wheelchair. She was born with Spina Bifida, a birth defect in which a developing baby’s spinal cord fails to develop properly. This meant that she was not supposed to live to see her teenage years. Nevertheless, she’s overcome these obstacles and has gone on to accomplish more than many would have thought possible.
Growing up Lee loved beauty and fashion, but quickly noticed that people who looked like her were not represented in the media. “I didn’t see myself in magazines, TV, and when I watched runway shows- I didn’t see anyone who looked like me, a black girl with disability.” In 2010 she undertook the responsibility of representation and moved to Los Angeles, CA to pursue a career as an actress and model. On the importance of representation, Lee notes “Seeing yourself in mass media impacts your childhood, how you see yourself, and what you think you can do. It’s a big deal. I wanted the future generation to see someone who looks like themselves. 20% of the population has a disability and we make up less than 2% of representation in media. Kids not seeing someone who looks like them shapes their future and how they feel about themselves. That has always been my passion and drive.”
While some with disabilities shy away from the spotlight and cower at challenges, Lee is the exact opposite. She credits her attitude and unstoppable drive to prove people wrong to her mother. “My mother, was a single mom and is a strong woman. She always reminded that I was beautiful and that I could do anything I wanted to do. She also reminded me that I was a black girl with a disability, so I would have to work harder for the things that I wanted. She’d say “there are people who are going to want to stop you and you have to fight for it if you want it.”” In addition to her mother and siblings, Lee’s faith plays a significant role in shaping her perspective and pushing her forward. Raised as a Nichiren Buddhist, and apart of SGI USA, Lee believes in promoting Peace, Culture, and Education, and making the impossible possible. “I just think challenges are how you see them. I just see them as things I have to get around.”
Lee’s positivity and relentless drive has opened many doors for her and given her access to some of the industry’s biggest names and influencers. Through her blog, “Accessible Hollywood,” Lee chronicles her experiences and what her encounters have been like, and also gives suggestions for people to make places more accessible to all, and she seeks to inspire others like herself. Lee recalls one instance where she did what some would have considered unthinkable. “Lots of places [in LA] aren’t wheelchair accessible. I went to check out an acting class that was not accessible, so I got out of my chair and dragged my wheelchair up the stairs and got back in to go check out on the class. That’s the determination I have, but not all people with disabilities are like that, or are even able to do that. I’m very fortunate for what I can do” I want to show people that if you want to do it, you can go out and get it done.”
Obstacles are not new for Lee, but she does not let them deter her from her goals nor does she live with many regrets. In looking back on her journey, Lee’s only regret is that she did not push herself sooner. “I used to regret that I didn’t push myself sooner. But everything happens for a reason so when it happens it is the right time. I’ve positioned myself in a good place at a time when different companies [Hilfiger and Target] are working with and doing more for those with disabilities. I’ve laid the foundation; I’ve done the work so I know what I’m worth and I won’t settle for less than I deserve. Now is the time.”
Lee’s fearless and unapologetic determination shows no sign of stopping. In addition to all the projects she’s working on she started Improv classes at the fame Upright Citizens Brigade in Hollywood to better hone her craft. She’ll be hosting more events and fundraisers to ensure that those with disabilities have equal access to the entertainment industry. She will continue collaborating on different projects with disability fashion stylist, Stephanie Thomas and her fashion content collective Cur8able which Tatiana is the #HollywoodCur8tor for and much more. Although it may seem as though Lee has a lot to manage, she insists that she loves what she does and has fun with it. She also has words of wisdom for those pursuing their goals: “I like to have fun, party and have a good time. Make sure you do that! Take time to enjoy life and have fun, in the midst of it all. Life is too short to just not be happy- so enjoy it and be happy in every moment!” Lee is without a doubt a star in the making and possesses the intensity and presence that will take her far!
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