Recently, PositiveVibes Magazine had a chance to talk with model, content creator, and triple-threat performer Jessica Ping-Wild. Ping-Wild was born with CHILD syndrome, a genetic condition that causes skin, limb, and, in some cases, organ deficiencies on one side of the body. Specifically, she was born with a shortened arm and a shortened leg that doctors further amputated when she was only a couple of months old. Due to her limited mobility, Ping-Wild sometimes uses mobility aids such as a wheelchair, thus inspiring her lifestyle blog called The Rolling Explorer.
Prior to establishing her blog in June 2020, Ping-Wild grew up in Pontiac, Illinois, and later graduated from the University of Notre Dame with a BA in English literature in May 2019. During our conversation with the multitalented young woman, PositiveVibes could not help but notice how Ping-Wild has already accomplished so much; she is successfully writing her own story. It is a story that does not lament or dismiss her experiences as a disabled woman but, instead, one that embraces her experiences and aims to better the experiences of the entire disability community.
Disability Doesn’t Define Her Character
Worldwide, CHILD syndrome affects only about sixty people. Ping-Wild shares that doctors are rarely familiar with her condition, much less the general public. Surely, the lack of understanding surrounding CHILD syndrome and a general lack of consideration for disabled people would make one feel excluded and lonely. The normally bubbly and energetic Ping-Wild reveals that these challenges have certainly affected her attitude in the past; even now, she may find herself upset on occasion. “In every part of my being, I can’t get away from my disability,” she says. “I’m more than my disability, but I’m also my disability.” Like this, she acknowledges not-so-positive aspects of her condition but manages to write them into a story in which she proves herself to be a dynamic individual capable of anything — especially advocacy.
Indeed, one of the most interesting features of the advocate’s blog is her series on ableism and ableist language. This series is a collection of posts that explains potentially harmful terms such as “differently-abled” and “crazy” to promote the use of more inclusive and accurate terms. The Rolling Explorer herself defines “ableism” as “any intentional or [unintentional] form of discrimination based on one’s level of ability.” She notes that her definition includes “unintentional” because misconceptions about the disability community have been so widely accepted that they have become beliefs ingrained in society. In turn, these misconceptions frequently manifest as internalized ableism or systemic ableism. Essentially, Ping-Wild’s language series and similar blog posts bring disability matters to the forefront and highlight common biases, encouraging readers to recognize and help fix issues facing the disability community.
Still, Ping-Wild knows that everyone will not be receptive to such language lessons or the other stories she uses her platform to tell. She supposes that being born with her disability and knowing no “before” has taught her some grace when it comes to dealing with those who are less willing to unlearn stereotypes or deconstruct their biases. However, Ping-Wild admits that she does not always handle people’s stubbornness or rude behavior well. After all, she is still human, so she may respond to these people by “meeting their energy.” For this reason, she often reminds herself to be patient with others and even herself. She consciously works to “unlearn” the flawed beliefs that society has taught her about her own disability.
A Tale of Two Countries
Although she is from the US, Ping-Wild has lived in the UK for the past year and a half. In the expatriate’s opinion, American cities and her now-home London are telling two different stories. She says that the UK is “drastically behind on the practicalities of living with a disability” and that “accessibility is poor at best.” If one follows Ping-Wild on social media (@therollingexplorer), they know that she often “spills the accessibiliTEA.” That is, she reports on the accessibility of locations in and around London to raise awareness and push for more accessible spaces. But that’s not the whole story. Ping-Wild believes that, despite the UK’s poor accessibility, the people there generally exhibit a better attitude toward the disability community. She suggests that the American dream mindset — the idea that everyone has the means to realize their dreams and aspirations — may hinder some Americans’ ability to empathize and cooperate with the disability community. Of course, the UK’s healthcare system is also much more accommodating.
Further, in February 2022, Ping-Wild participated in London Fashion Week. There, she walked the runway and attended a rostered press event for the sustainable adaptive clothing brand Unhidden. Ping-Wild expresses immense gratitude for the opportunity to challenge taboos and expectations that have long plagued the fashion industry. She was finally able to be the representation that she never saw as a young girl! Dedicated to offering PositiveVibes and her followers the full story, though, Ping-Wild also expresses that she was a bit disappointed. Very few disabled models or those who otherwise did not fit the industry ideal walked for major brands or appeared on the main stage. The model points out that the fashion industry and, more broadly, the media and entertainment realm must work harder if they truly wish to progress toward diversity. For example, given that one billion people worldwide are disabled, Ping-Wild calls for television and silver screens to feature more disabled actors and characters. In particular, she hopes TV series and films will begin to incorporate authentic characters whose storylines are not rooted in pity or the desire to be “cured.”
Her Story’s Got a Positive Plot
Even though it has its difficulties, Ping-Wild maintains an overall positive outlook and finds much happiness in life. For instance, she finds inspiration in other content creators like Sophie Butler, a disabled woman interested in fashion, fitness, and feminism. She cites Taylor Swift as another one of her positive influences, as she considers the superstar to be all classy, funny, creative, and talented. Ping-Wild also admires Oprah Winfrey and her rise from hardship to heroine. While she has met several creatives and celebrities, the multihyphenate is hopeful more will soon enter her story so that she can work with them in some capacity. In addition to these individuals, Ping-Wild states that, ultimately, nice people bring her the most happiness. That group includes her family, husband, friends, and community; she greatly appreciates her genuine supporters and dedicated followers.
For readers seeking ways to unlearn negative ideologies and relearn ideas that bring about positive social change, Ping-Wild recommends reading Disability Visibility: First-Person Stories from the Twenty-First Century. She describes this book as a collection of essays on various topics written by different people from different backgrounds, therefore demonstrating the intersectionalities of disability. Because July is Disability Pride Month, it is a great time to do some reading and relearning — to rewrite stories to improve the world’s disability visibility.