Bonnie Lewkowicz and I shared an elevator once. I knew who she was and she had no clue who I was. An over-eagerly smiling stalker? A rabid fan? I could see she was trying to be polite and not yell at me to quit my staring and smiling, and I could see it would be a really*good time to introduce myself, but I get shy in inopportune moments. Like that. So all I could get out was an awkward, “uhhh…… hi!”
Bonnie was gracious and that was a relief.
I’m a huge fan of hers, because as you can see, she has done some pretty radical work. Axis is the dance company that I plan on Moxie dancing for when she grows up (I featured a video of theirs before here), and Access Northern California makes travel *that* much easier for people that are chair users – so, between the dance company and travel company, she has me, whole-hog.
I love her, and so grateful that she’s joining us today so you get to know her too.
Getting to Know You
Your name: Bonnie Lewkowicz
What’s your connection with disability? I always say I was thrown into the world of disability because I was thrown from an all-terrain vehicle and sustained a C5-6 spinal injury when I was 15.
Prior to that I volunteered in a state institution for severely disabled children because a friend had a sister living there and found it both gratifying and horrifying. Now I’m an advocate for change.
Star Trek or Star Wars? Definitely Star Trek. I didn’t know my generation had a choice.
If you could live in any other country for 2 years, where would you go? Well without having a disability I’d say Brazil or Bali but given that I don’t have that option, at this point in my life I wouldn’t want to live in another country. I value my independence too much.
What dish would your bring to our community picnic potluck? That’s a tough one because I’m a moody eater but right now since tomatoes are in season, either gazpacho or tomato, basil, mozzarella salad
Now That We’ve Been Introduced…
What do you do: It depends on the day of the week. I’m the founder/director of Access Northern CA (ANC), an organization committed to making tourism and outdoor recreation more accessible to people with disabilities and as the sole employee I do all aspects of running a non-profit.
Primarily I write access guides and conduct disability awareness trainings for hotels. My current project is finishing up a website (WheelingCalifornia’s Coast) of accessible parks, trails, and other points of interest along the CA coast. This involves a lot of travel and hiking (tough job) but then comes the challenge of writing about it.
I’m also one of the founders of AXIS Dance Company and while I now only perform minimally I still teach dance and teach about physically integrated dance.
How did you come to doing what you do? How has your career trajectory flowed?
I studied Recreation Therapy in college after experiencing first hand the physical, mental and social benefits of participating in sports and recreation. I wanted to help other people discover their pathway to well-being so I chose a career, Recreation Therapy, that would enable me to do that.
My senior year I did an internship at BORP (Bay Area Outreach & Recreation Program) and it turned into an 8-year job of organizing outdoor adventures and sports programs. I found that I would get a lot of inquiries from people wanting to know where they could go camping, hiking and traveling on their own and not with an organized group.
I was also becoming increasingly frustrated with the difficulties that I and my friends with disabilities experienced while traveling in a wheelchair and trying to participate in outdoor recreational activities. One of the biggest problems we encountered when trying to plan a trip or outing was a severe lack of readily available and reliable access information that would give us a successful, rewarding experience. I then decided to become a travel agent that specialized in accessible travel (I now call it inclusive tourism).
My mission was also to educate and inform tourism and recreation personnel about how to best serve people with disabilities. After seven years of this work, and still being anxious about my clients having access problems on their trips, I started ANC so that I could work on a local level and personally inspect hotels, attractions, parks and trails and thereby verify access. I would then share this information in guides and on a website.
Simultaneously with my work at ANC, I performed, toured and taught with AXIS Dance Company. While ANC has given me great satisfaction professionally, AXIS has given me great joy personally––I feel blessed to have had both.
Where would you like to see yourself in 5 years? I don’t really plan much for the future, much to my husbands dismay, but I’d say at peace with the life I’ve lived and still healthy and physically active.
Not to be morbid, but what do you want people to remember about you when you’ve gone? That I was a good friend and that I had a generous heart
Who or what inspires you? Seeing other people doing good in the world inspires me to do the same
If you could say something to yourself in the past – that is, the you that was really struggling with something related to disability – what would you say?
Independence doesn’t mean you can do everything by yourself, it’s more about taking control over getting what you want.
What do you like about your particular disability? That it’s pretty stable and not progressive.
Any one thing that you wish people would *get* about disability? Hard to narrow it down to just one thing but I’d say it’s that we’re neither a tragedy or brave––we’re just people doing what we’ve got to do to make a life.
What single piece of technology makes your life easier? Hands down my wheelchair
Where else can we find you online?
Watch Bonnie being interviewed on Wheelchair Access to California Trails:
Meriah Nichols is a counselor. Solo mom to 3 (one with Down syndrome, one on the spectrum). Deaf, and neurodiverse herself, she’s a gardening nerd who loves cats, Star Trek, and takes her coffee hot and black.