When Mya Pol isn’t rolling down the runway at New York Fashion Week, she can be found dancing in her wheelchair for her TikTok followers. After suffering unexplained pain and exhaustion about two years ago, Mya went to different specialists to try to understand what was happening to her body. Since then, her doctors have made little progress and her condition has worsened. What her body is undergoing is not easily diagnosable and requires extreme specificity, she said, making the process of getting the right treatment a long and strenuous journey. Mya also has reflex syncope, which puts her at high risk for passing out and causes her to be “gravitationally challenged.” Because of this, Mya is a self-proclaimed “wheelie lady,” but not just any wheelie lady: she’s a dancing one.
“The very first dance I ever did in my chair is the first dance I posted on my TikTok . . . I made that dance almost a whole year before beginning to post,” Mya Pol told POPSUGAR via email. With almost 377,000 TikTok followers and more than five million likes, Mya’s content is not only going viral, but shedding light on what it means to be disabled. After using the social media app to fundraise for a service dog, Mya’s videos soon took off, inspiring her to dance every day — even on days when she was facing the most pain. “I realized that I don’t always need to wait for a perfect low-pain day to dance,” she said. “Sometimes it’s better to get up and dance through that pain, because the joy and release I have from enjoying the movement that my body can do is so much more important than the pain that is always sitting with me.”
“I wish people were more aware of what disability actually is, what disabled experiences feel like, what disability actually looks like . . . because there is no one right way to look disabled.”
Being in a state of constant pain, making these kinds of videos is one of the things Mya does not dread. “I love creating dance content because it is a way for me to reconnect to one of the activities I used to enjoy while able-bodied while embracing my disability and the current state of my body,” she said. Since Mya has only used a wheelchair for about two years, finding ways to interact with her chair by making shapes and taking up space has given her more reasons to dance.
Since not all wheelchair users are paralyzed, Mya has faced criticism on social media since her legs can move. “Disability is a spectrum: people’s needs and abilities can greatly differ,” she said. “Someone’s condition, such as my own, can have your symptoms and your range of abilities fluctuating day to day, hour to hour, moment to moment.” Just because Mya might not look disabled to some, doesn’t mean she’s not. The pain her body undergoes and the conditions she has — and the limits that society has put on her because of those things — have only fueled her desire for people to be more attuned to disability rights and the issues that surround it. “I wish people were more aware of what disability actually is, what disabled experiences feel like, what disability actually looks like . . . because there is no one right way to look disabled.”
The policies regarding disability rights are nowhere near where they should be, affecting Mya and other disabled people in different ways. After it took eight months to get her wheelchair, Mya now faces the question of if her school campus is wheelchair-accessible for her (spoiler: it’s not). The lack of accessibility is dehumanizing, she said, and has made Mya’s day-to-day life more difficult. “Rolling through life with a world that is so clearly not built to be accessed by me feels like rolling through a world that does not want me,” she said. “I understand that accessibility is not always an option, it can’t always be perfect, it can be hard to achieve, but I deserve to be able to enter the same public spaces as everyone else. Disabled people deserve to enjoy the same things as everyone else.”
I always say ‘pain is inevitable, suffering is optional. No matter how bad things get, there’s always a reason to smile . . . it’s just a little harder to find sometimes than others, and for me, dance is a reason to smile.
Being an ally to the disability community is about taking real action, Mya adds, like looking out for physical access barriers that they could face — from broken automatic buttons to stairs with no ramp option — and taking up these ADA (Americans With Disabilities Act) violations with the businesses or management yourself. Mya suggests calling senators and representatives and asking them to pass the 2021 SSi Restoration Act to remove the savings limit from $2,000 to $10,000, to remove the marriage penalty, and to make it illegal to keep disabled people on SSI in poverty. Listening and amplifying the voices of disabled people is one key way to become a better ally, as well as learning about what a day in someone’s life is like, so you can better understand how to accomodate their needs.
“I genuinely believe acceptance and inclusion come from awareness and understanding,” said Mya. “Unfortunately, we’re at a point where many people just aren’t aware of the issues we face, so they don’t even realize there is something to care about.”
From dancing in her chair to taking part in NYFW, Mya’s TikToks are inspiring others within her community to embrace and take joy in their bodies and disabilities. “I always say ‘pain is inevitable, suffering is optional.’ No matter how bad things get, there’s always a reason to smile . . . it’s just a little harder to find sometimes than others, and for me, dance is a reason to smile.”