Bliss Welch: Disabilities Advocate and Stretto User

Bliss Welch understands the challenges that many wheelchair users face with accessibility and inclusion. She has endured many of those struggles herself! Awareness, education, and understanding are key elements that must be put in place to enact change. Bliss is dedicated to being a voice for change so that all those who come after her will have a smoother, more accessible path on their journey through life.

Born and raised in Chattanooga, Tennessee, Bliss was diagnosed at age 19 with a very rare condition: limb girdle muscular dystrophy. The progressive nature of the disease led to her needing a mobility device at 26. Most recently, Bliss received the Edge 3 Stretto® Power Chair, which has given her the freedom to continue to live life independently.

While Bliss loves the Stretto and its ultra-narrow width, her favorite feature on her power chair is iLevel® technology. Bliss uses iLevel all day long, from reaching light switches and doorknobs to retrieving clothes from her closet and food from her refrigerator.

“Without iLevel, I would be fully dependent on a caregiver to assist with these activities,” Bliss said.

With iLevel, Bliss can engage with others and maintain eye contact while communicating. It also gives her additional height as a parent.

“I love that I can use iLevel to remain taller than my growing daughter, Annabelle,” Bliss said.

Bliss enjoys seeing the world through Annabelle’s eyes. Together, this mother-daughter duo keeps busy with arts and crafts, reading, “singing off key,” and building with Legos. They also enjoy traveling together, with Walt Disney World being their favorite destination.

In between adventures with her daughter, Bliss is actively involved in the disability community, striving to make a difference in the lives of wheelchair users like herself. To help others who are also affected by her rare condition, Bliss has attended the Jain Foundation Dysferlin Conference, which allows scientists from all over to share their data and research regarding the protein dysferlin and how its absence or mutation contributes to specific diseases. By sharing her patient perspective, scientists and researchers around the world can put a face and a human life to the disease they are seeking to treat.

Bliss was crowned Ms. Wheelchair Tennessee in 2013 and went on to compete at the national level, becoming Ms. Wheelchair America 2014 First Runner Up. Today, Bliss remains active with Ms. Wheelchair Tennessee and currently serves as treasurer for the organization. Bliss has also served on the board of the Mayor’s Council on Disability in Chattanooga, which provides direction and guidance to city council and the mayor. In addition, she is the chairwoman for the Harvesting Inclusive Play Committee (HIP), which works with other local organizations to raise funds to build a universally inclusive playground.

Through her passion to help others and change the world’s perception of people with disabilities, Bliss has shown Annabelle how to be an advocate as well.

“Our children really do mimic our behaviors and Annabelle is already an advocate for wheelchair users,” Bliss said. “Every day, she inspires me to be a better person and advocate.”