Marcela Marañon has spent the last few years climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro, skiing the Alps, swimming in Spain and hanging out with elephants in India. But she isn’t just a world traveler; she is advocating for disabled rights around the globe by hitting everything on her bucket list while in a wheelchair.
Marañon immigrated from Peru to Dallas in 2000 for college, but instead Marañon went through the unimaginable. At 20 years old, she was hit by a drunken driver, losing her left leg, her boyfriend and the use of the lower half of her body, becoming paraplegic.
Marañon adapted quickly, learning to drive a car with hand controls, finishing college, getting married and having her daughter. Soon after the accident, she began posting on social media fashion tips for those in a wheelchair, immediately gaining followers from around the world.
“This is what I do because I want to motivate (my followers) to come out of this shell and to not be afraid, and to try new things and be adventurous and go places they really want to,” Marañon says. “I don’t want them to think or talk of ‘Well, I can’t go because I am in a wheelchair.’”
After posting about the lack of accessibility in places she visited, brands and destinations began reaching out and asking her to come visit their cities and businesses and discuss the accessibility there.
“Kilimanjaro was pretty difficult because the more you ascend the mountain, the steeper it gets,” Marañon says. “I was in this wheelchair with special technology that comes from Israel that is made to climb mountains and big rocks, that way when the person is pulling the wheelchair, he doesn’t have to use all of his strength because the wheelchair is making it more smooth.”
Brands like ReWalk Robotics also reached out, asking Marañon to be one of the first American ambassadors for their exoskeleton device that helps people with spinal cord injuries stand, sit, climb stairs and walk.
In 2017, she launched her personal brand, The Journey of a Brave Woman, to pursue disability advocacy full-time. She also created The Brave Woman Apparel & Co to sell merchandise advocating for disability rights, where some of the proceeds go to donating wheelchair ramps in India and hosting events for disabled children.
“During the pandemic, I was using every cent to help people in the community, especially those who are disabled,” Marañon says. “So the mission of the merch is to be able to make a place around the world that is accessible.”
Still, no journey is complete without setbacks.
“I was injured this year and I’m still recovering, so that kept me from continuing traveling and doing the things that I do while I recover,” Marañon says. “I’m hoping to go back to my travels and continue my accessibility awareness content soon, and I also want to get involved in fashion and make it more inclusive.”