Ardra Shephard is many things: a Canadian writer behind the award-winning blog, Tripping on Air, a rollator supermodel*,* a leader in the chronic illness community, and one of the top MS bloggers “in the universe” according to feedspot.com.
She has contributed to FASHION, InStyle, and WebMD, to name just a few, and was recently featured on the cover of the National Multiple Sclerosis Society’s Momentum Magazine, the largest MS-related publication in the world (winter 2020).
This month, however, Ardra gets to add another accomplishment to that already expansive list, as she creates and hosts a ground-breaking new television series, Fashion Dis.
Today, Ardra was kind enough to chat with me about the show, her life, and finding her path as a disabled creative. I’m also pleased to mention that Liberare was selected as one of the brands to be featured in the fashion segment, so keep an eye out for our products if you watch!
Maddie Highland interviewing Ardra Shephard, February 9th, 2022
Maddie: “Hi Everyone! I’m Maddie, the product designer at Liberare, and I’m speaking with influential Canadian blogger, Ardra Shephard about her upcoming Television Series, Fashion Dis, which she is both the creator of and is going to host. Is that correct, Ardra?
Ardra: Yes, that’s right.
Maddie: Awesome! So I’m just going to run through a few questions about the show. The premiere is today, right? Later tonight?
Ardra: It’s tonight yea. It’s been kind of a wild day. Very exciting!
Maddie: Do you and your team have anything special planned for the launch?
Ardra: I mean, it’s still Covid times, so everyone is doing their own thing but my family has organized a while Zoom watch party, which I feel is going to be bananas. Like, twelve households on Zoom, but watching and then muting, but whatever, it’s amazing. Hopefully, they actually get to see the show and it’s not a total mess.
Maddie: That’s so cool, haha. Do you want to tell our community a little bit about the premise of the show and what inspired you to create it?
Ardra: Yea, sure! It’s called Fashion Dis and it's a makeover show that features people with disabilities. It’s not about fixing anybody. It’s really about elevating and celebrating people with disabilities who have FOREVER just been left out of the fashion and beauty industry. The purpose of the show is–I don’t want to say two-fold because it’s probably more than two–but really, it’s to give a platform for people with disabilities to see themselves [as] the cool kid version of themselves and highlight the growing amount of products and designs available specifically for the disability community, which is something I know you guys at Liberare are all about. [Fashion Dis] is about getting the word out there about the solutions there are to some of the fashion and beauty problems that are unique to the disability community.
Maddie: That’s amazing and we are so happy that we have a little feature in your show. I remember that in your blog you said something along the same lines, that you really wanted to start the style portion of your blog to become the icon that you were having trouble finding. So it’s so cool that it’s been your life mission and it’s coming together in this show.
Ardra: I mean, yea. I wasn’t born with a disability, so it wasn’t until I was in my 30’s that I started to need a mobility aid. I was struggling with what was happening to my body physically, but emotionally I wasn’t prepared for what having a mobility aid was going to do to me psychologically and so I found myself hiding my walker in photos and feeling really shitty about having them. Then I was looking for images on the internet for people who were young mobility aid users who looked cool or stylish and it was like...crickets. And this was 2017! I couldn't find anyone! It was 2 years before Selma Blair hit the red carpet with her cane. Things have changed so fast and it's so exciting.
Now you can hop on Instagram and there are so many hashtags. There are tens of thousands of these examples that I was looking for and I’m really happy to be a part of this change. It’s amazing to me that things can actually change. And also sometimes it seems like [change isn’t happening] for a really long time and then it’s all at once. But it’s still niche, right? We’re still looking to social media and it’s people with disabilities driving the conversation themselves as it should be but there is so much room in mainstream media to see disabled bodies included the way they deserve to be. And so I’m hoping with a show like Fashion Dis, that’s a step in the right direction.
Maddie: Right, that’s amazing. Now admittedly I don’t know anything about the process of launching or making a TV show. Could you give us some insight into the process? Maybe some of your challenges in getting it pitched or launched?
Ardra: This is still a whole new world to me—although I’ve recently been told I’m no longer allowed to say that, haha. I was connected with a network here in Canada that is committed to telling disabled stories and they had found me through things I had written and the blog. And they said, “We want to work with you. What’s important to you? What kind of show would you like to make?” And I was like, I’m not thinking about TV, I’m a writer. But of course, I thought about it and what was missing.
[I began thinking of] my own experience of trying to claim my identity as a disabled woman and not seeing those images of representation that I had needed so badly. [Back then] I had decided to hire a photographer and a stylist and put those images on IG, tagged them as #babeswithmobilityaids and it was such a rewarding, empowering experience that I wanted other people to feel the way I feel. So that was the kernel of the idea, like, how can I do that? I need someone else’s money first of all, (laughs.)
Actually though, there are so many people involved in making a TV show. There were many times when I just sat back and was amazed at how something that was so important and precious to me suddenly had this huge team of people all invested behind it and saying, “Let’s do this! Let's make it happen.” It was awesome.
Maddie: Wow that is so cool! I love that! And it definitely takes a team. Even with Liberare it's crazy how many hats we all wear so I can kind of understand.
I also read a quote on your blog that I just wanted to share because I love it: “Disability has an image problem. Fashion Dis is about to change that. The real makeover is the one that gets people rethinking what it means to be disabled.” So do you think the world is ready for a show centered around the positive celebration of disability? Do you anticipate the show will push any boundaries?
Ardra: I one-hundred million billion percent hope that it does push some boundaries. Every detail of this show was very intentional. We haven’t seen enough disabled stories told historically but the ones we have seen have not been authentic. I didn’t want to make a show where it was this sad soundtrack, violins, origin story centered on fixing “broken people.” Like, no we’re done with that. That's bullshit.
Our producer said, “if I’m overweight, you don’t need to know why or how I gained this weight to know I have a style obstacle.” And it feels like disabled bodies have been treated in a way where we have to explain ourselves. It’s nobody's business! So [with Fashion Dis] we really wanted to move the conversation to “here is the cool shit that people with disabilities are doing and these are the roadblocks that they are up against.”
Maddie: I love that and it’s one-hundred percent amazing. I’m happy this is being put out as a video format because as you know there are more disabled models and photoshoots which is great but I think delving into people’s real lives will help others connect on a different level.
Ardra: I think for the culture to change—and it is changing—[the public] has to care about a community. And the only way to do that is if we know that community. Storytelling and TV--think of your favorite show–you feel like you know these people. Fashion Dis is really an invitation to get to know some people that you might not otherwise come across and then you care about them and you want better design and better spaces. Then you don’t have to be weird around people with disabilities, haha. It’s about normalizing this human experience that affects all of us.
Maddie: Totally, yea. I wanted to ask one more question about the show–and I don’t want any spoilers– but do you have a favorite episode?
Ardra: It was so hard. When I was watching the rough cuts, I kept saying, “this one is my favorite.” I think we did a really good job of picking six participants who are so unique and bring something different to the table, that there’s no repetition in the episodes. You could binge watch it all if they released all of the episodes at once.
Maddie: Haha I’m a big fan of binge watching. So to wrap up, I actually have a lightning round of some fun questions, but before jumping to that is there anything else you’d like to share about the show that I didn’t ask?
Ardra: I’ve been talking non-stop about the show. I think you covered it. There’s excitement and now is just the time to watch.
Maddie: Awesome! We’ll definitely include links for the show in the blog post. So, I have my fun questions. I’m sure the show production has been taking up most of your time, but I always like to ask: Have you read or listened to anything lately that spoke to you?
Ardra: I just read a book by Eula Bliss, Having and Being Had. It was about consumption. A make you think [type of] read about how you spend your money and why. Not a fun read, haha but I recommend it.
Maddie: Oh that sounds really helpful! And do you have a favorite quote? Something that you go to that inspires you?
Ardra: I have so many mantras that help me get through my day. I like to say that “A difficult life doesn't have to be a joyless life.” I really live by that because people look at disability and feel sorry for me all the time and I’m like, “don’t feel sorry for me, My life’s pretty good, haha.” So yea, I like that.
Maddie: Love that one! And I know that you write extensively about your life with an MS diagnosis in a way that blends your style, experiences, and activism. Is there any particular advice that you would give other disabled creators that might be interested in pursuing a similar career path?
Ardra: When I started writing it was six and a half years now and I never could have dreamed that it would take me on this road. In the early years, I worked through a lot of my own internalized ableism and if you follow the blog, you see me work through that. But what I said to myself in the beginning was I’m going to focus on creating the best content that I possibly can, writing the truest thing that I know, and that is my only focus. Whatever opportunity comes from that is a bonus.
So I think it’s about why you do what you do. It’s such a crazy world right now where we think about our marketing and our brand. I'd say very baseline, just focus on doing your best work and being your truest self. There are a million people writing about MS, if I’m going to say something, what do I have to say that’s different? Lean into you and your voice and your perspective.
Maddie: That’s great advice. And my last question–well kind of a question. I just want to know. Do you have a favorite or go-to piece in your closet? Because honestly, from one fashionista to another, I have to know, haha.
Ardra: So my favorite hobby right now, because there’s still not a lot of places to go, is to spend a lot of time in my stylebook app.... like a sick amount of time. I don’t know if you know this app but you can document your whole wardrobe and build outfits. I love it. But yea, my favorite piece? I’m loving my seasonal pieces now. But it’s like picking your favorite child. That’s not a fair question, haha.
Maddie: Sorry, I know! Mine changes every month too. Thank you so much for speaking with me, Ardra! I’ll be putting the links at the bottom of the blog post, and best of luck tonight with the premier. We can’t wait to see how it goes!