Episode 18 Transcript

Published: Thursday October 19, 2023

A mother’s unbreakable bond: The Dani Izzie Story

Discover the strength and love that transcend disabilities


Alycia Anderson: Welcome to Pushing Forward. With Alycia, a podcast that gives disability a voice. Each week we will explore topics like confidence, ambition, resilience and finding success against all odds. We are creating a collective community that believes that all things are possible for all people.

Open hearts. Clear paths. Let’s go.

Welcome back to Pushing Forward with Alycia. This is Alycia Anderson, and we are so excited to be advancing the conversation and disability inclusion. We have the most amazing guest today. Her name is Dani Izzie, she is a digital marketing professional uniquely positioned in the ever growing disability consumer marketplace. I love that, so needed.

She is the founder of Access Social, which we’re definitely going to dive into. Her mission is to help companies meet the third largest market segment in the U.S.

Living with a disability herself, she has immersed herself in the world of grassroots advocacy. She is a multinational, wheelchair user. I love that. You’re gonna have to explain that and define it, because this is a new term for me and I’m all about it.

She’s a mother of twin girls and she resides outside of the DC area, so Dani, thank you so much. I’m so happy to see you.

Dani Izzie: I am so happy to be here. Thank you for having me.

Alycia Anderson: Paint us a little beautiful picture of who you are if, that’s possible?

Dani Izzie: Yeah, sure. So my name is Daniela. Izzie, a lot of people see the last name they think Izzy, but it’s actually [I- Say] and you know, I go affectionately by the name Dani. And, I say that I’m multinational because I’m Italian-American. My mother is first generation. She’s an immigrant from Italy. And I grew up spending a lot of time overseas. So I’m a dual citizen and I really do feel that this kind of shaped me in my youth and kind of contributed to who I am today. And of course, I have a disability as well.

I’m a full-time wheelchair user. I acquired my disability in 2009. I had a spinal cord injury and I am a quadriplegic and as you said, I have kids. I have toddlers, 3 majors, as I call them.

Alycia Anderson: I watched your document documentary last night and every listener that is out there, we’re going to give you the information and how to find it. But this is a beautifully well done documentary called Dani’s Twins. She co-produced and starred in this documentary.

It’s spearheading this impact campaign that amplifies the issues faced by disabled parents.

Why did you? Why did you do this?

Dani Izzie: I had so many people that kind of approaching me when I came out with the fact that I was pregnant. I actually had a casting agent they found me in a support group on Facebook. And I had made an introduction in this private support group saying, you know, that I was pregnant and that I had a disability that I was quadriplegic.

So if there was anybody in the group that could relate, let’s be in touch.

And I guess there was a casting agent in there for this reality TV show about kind of unusual, unique pregnancies. And that was the first time somebody approached me and I had a call with her and I it was a great opportunity. They were gonna… they would have paid me a decent sum of money to be involved, and then I took a look at the contract and it terrified me.

They would have had complete ownership over my story and exclusive rights to my story, and of course I didn’t know how my pregnancy would turn out, you know? So this could potentially be a really kind of precarious situation to put myself in, and of course, a pregnancy journey is extremely personal.

And so I was just like… you know what… no way!

Plus the fact that you take the disability card and you don’t know what people are going to do with it. You don’t know how they’re going to portray the disability. What kind of lens they’re going to put on it, and honestly with what we see out there… I wasn’t so sure that they’d be able to portray my disability in this respectful, accurate way. Because I don’t see great representation out there.

It’s getting better, but historically it’s been pretty bad. So I turned that down, but then a month or two later a very close friend of mine at this point. I was in my second trimester, this close friend of mine who’s a documentary filmmaker approached me. He saw my… also, I think it was my Facebook pregnancy announcement post or whatever, and he said I want to make a film about you. Do you want to talk about it?

And that’s when I was like, you know what… I’m going to talk to him and see what he has to say because of all his documentaries are beautiful and they’re really focused on social impact, which I love.

So it’s like if I am involved with something like this, I want it to mean something. It’s my community.

Alycia Anderson: What did you see? Being a mother who was pregnant with twins. Who was really like you were really vulnerable and so authentic in this film. And were you like.. that work because I…

Dani Izzie: Like, no, I don’t like to show vulnerability and I had a big life lesson doing this film because I was… I had to be there was no way around it. I was vulnerable. That was just it, and the camera was on. The cameras were rolling.

And I’m glad I was because that was powerful. I think. I think some of my discomfort with the vulnerability almost came through as well and made it even more powerful because I really was.

That was just so authentic. Like I was.. as I was making this film, I was dealing with those emotions of like, Oh my gosh, I don’t know if I can have this camera on my face right now. For this… right so I think that made it relatable for people, but….

And you’re just imagined. I would have had twins, of all things that came out of nowhere, so that made it even more wild.

Alycia Anderson: That that does make it wild, and that journey of just even what you were going through physically to, you know, your blood pressure like elevating and then going low and you just like managing your health and all of it was… it’s…, it was just absolutely… It’s just brilliant how much you share.

Or to be honest with you, this is something that you and I talked about when we first met at Disability Leadership Conference. You were one of my favorite people that I met. We connected immediately. You had said a couple things to me and it’s in the movie as well where you talked about how it’s this whole… it’s not popular, it’s not popular in our culture to think that people with disabilities can be parents.

You’ve had people approach you with some pretty unbelievable comments.

Dani Izzie: Yeah, you know the… I think there’s some pretty deep-seated ableism which you talk a lot about Alycia. So, maybe you can give… I don’t know if you want to give a definition of that, but there’s some deep seated ableism that people harbor, especially when it comes around disabled parents.

I really do think that a lot of individuals, whether they want to admit it or not have a knee jerk… knee jerk reaction where they see our children and they feel sorry for them because they think what they’re seeing is a parent who is not competent and who cannot give the child what they could give what they think they could give the child.

Right. So they just see our limitations and they see those limitations being imposed upon our children. And this has generated a lot of hate and trolling online.

When I came public with my pregnancy, I would see people would make comments like: It’s so selfish of this woman to become a mother, How can she be a mother when she can’t even take care of herself, The burden will fall on her husband’s shoulders.

That was my favorite one. Jeez.

She shouldn’t be having these children. She needs to end this.

Alycia Anderson: How do parents with disabilities change this narrative? Like, what’s the work?

Dani Izzie: There’s some great organizations out there. Disabled parenting project and they’re affiliated with Brandeis, and they’ve got attorneys who specialize in and upholding the rights of parents with disabilities.

Alycia Anderson: Oh wow, that’s amazing.

Dani Izzie: So yeah, because it turns out that there’s several states in this country where parents with disabilities don’t have equal custody rights and can be discriminated against. Purely on the basis of disability.

Alycia Anderson: What are you doing in your space with your grassroots advocacy.

Dani Izzie: Grassroots perspective for me is all about with all the work I do, it’s all about personal relationships with people on a day-to-day basis.

So the connections that I make with individuals. Not governments, not corporations like people, everyday people.

So that’s what most that’s kind of what drives me with my grassroots work and in terms of what that has looked like the past three years since I did the film, it’s been, well, a lot of it was virtual cause of pandemic. Had a lot of kind of talks and podcasts like this and interviews and things like that that I would be involved in on a personal level.

I also founded a group. It’s a Facebook support group called Quad Squad for Women Living with Quadriplegia.

Mothers are not… I think there’s about 500 people in there. So again it’s creating the these networks where we can exchange information, empower each other by sharing our stories and our, you know, personal lives with each other. Having a safe space to do that, and then in terms of my local work with the community.

I’m not doing anything specific to parenting right now, but what I do is in in the numerous places where I’ve lived, I’ve always gone and found sort of City Council and see if they have a Commission on Disability Rights, and sometimes they’ll call it different things, but usually it’s something like that and I get involved with them.

And just get to know the people in the area, get to know the other advocates who are doing things for the local community.

And just getting well. That’s what I enjoy doing.

Alycia Anderson: You’re listening to Pushing Forward with Alycia, and we will be right back.


Alycia Anderson: Welcome back to Pushing Forward with Alycia. This is Alycia Anderson, and we are so excited to be advancing the conversation and disability inclusion.

We have the most amazing guest today. Her name is Dani Izzie.

I do think that’s where the real impact is…, is getting into the community… into where you can kind of make some real change in in some of the policies and things like that.

That’s awesome.

Dani Izzie: Yeah, well, right here in my, you know, tiny rural community in Virginia. You know, we’re working on a DI a Commission and it includes people with disabilities from the community and one of the things that we’re working on is helping small businesses in this Community learn about what inclusion, diversity and inclusion actually means and accessibility, of course.

Alycia Anderson: We connected on this when we met… was… you and I both took the lead from corporate positions and started businesses.

And can we talk a little bit about your company that you’ve recent recently launched called Access Social?

Dani Izzie: So it’s basically disability inclusive social media marketing.

What does that mean?

It means that any marketing I create for clients on social media is accessible. Not only in the way that it’s being accessed and used, but the messaging.

Messaging is really important, so not just… and not just accessible messaging… messaging that fits with where we are in this cultural moment as a community, as communities. With disabilities, right?

So my goal is to fuel my business with people with disabilities, creatives, and marketers who. Who get it? Who know how to talk to the other individuals in this community.

Alycia Anderson: So Dani, some of your business model talks about helping your clients kind of bridge that gap of return on investment on a market that isn’t tapped into which is one in four people that have a disability in our Country and over a billion people in the world.

So this exposure, this inclusivity in marketing helps bridge that gap?

Dani Izzie: Yes, exactly. So this market represents $490 billion in total disposable income. OK, I think it’s Nielsen Foundation, but you… you might want to fact check that I’m not… I don’t have it in front of me, but it’s not just about the money, right?

It’s not just about… and making a business deal and making more sales, but it’s also the fact that people with disabilities, we wanna… we wanna be catered to… we wanna be seen. We want…

There’s things that we need to buy too, you know, whether it’s something that is meant to help us with our disabilities, like a new wheelchair or other assistive device. Or maybe it’s just clothing. Right. And it’s maybe it’s just clothing that we want that we think will work for our unique body types or shapes.

Or, we also want to see ourselves represented in ads and marketing.

Yeah. So, yeah. And I think there, you know, some companies are starting to do that, but the momentum is building.

And I hope that we’re going to see more and more of it.

Alycia Anderson: Well, and I think the work with your company is very strategic and very much needed to really educate clients and guide them on how to do this properly.

Because there is a…, there’s a real mishit right now, even though it’s becoming a little bit more.

I would assume that like all of this work that you’re doing from being a mother to grassroots to your business, now where you’re amplifying the possibilities is going to have that impact of peeling away, eliminating those outdated theories about who we are and what we can do… make.

Dani Izzie: An element of it is kind of mainstreaming disability, right? And I know if you have used.., we’re in… you go normalizing, which I know is kind of a problematic term because there is no normal.

You know, what’s normal? But it’s… it’s really just about putting ourselves out there and being accepted as we are.

I think brands traditionally have been kind of intimidated by us, right? And we… that’s where Access Social kind of steps in and we’ll say… we’ll take the wheel.

We’ll help you with this huge demographic.

Alycia Anderson: Yeah, right, wrong or indifferent, it allows brands to start to get comfortable with things that they’ve traditionally been completely uncomfortable with for way, way too long at this point.

So I think you’re doing really good work. I can’t wait to see where your business goes. I think you’re hitting like just a beautiful sweet spot. Like, it’s really good.

So congratulations on being bold to take the leap… To be a female disabled entrepreneur!

Yes, thank you!

Dani Izzie: I love this club. It’s wonderful.

Alycia Anderson: I love it, OK? Did we miss anything?

Dani Izzie: Oh my goodness.

Alycia Anderson: Because I’m going to ask about a mantra or something to inspire our listeners with a pushing forward moment.

But did we miss anything that we needed to talk about that we want to share with the audience?

Dani Izzie: Now I think we hit on some really great things today… pushing forward mantra. I’ve got a good one.

Alycia Anderson: OK, good. Let’s give it to us.

Dani Izzie: You told me before, you know… How do you? How do you do these sorts of bold things? Like was it something you had seen in the film where I told my husband… well, he wasn’t my husband’ at that point…, we were on a first…

Alycia Anderson: OK, wait, you got to tell the whole story. Oh, I love this.

Dani Izzie: OK. You. Well you tell it…

Alycia Anderson: OK so this is one of my favorite moments in the documentary it was right when you and your husband started… you are on your very first date… you met online or on an app, went on a date.

And to clarify for the listeners this was post injury. So you were in a wheelchair user at that point. You go on this date. You have amazing. You have ice cream and whiskey. Love it and you give a hug or something, walk away.

And then, you were bold. You texted him and said come back and let’s give me a kiss.

And he walked back, you know. He walked back. He gave you a kiss and then he said he was hooked. From that point on. It was such a beautiful moment!

Dani Izzie: I think I do a lot of things like that where you know, I’m actually a pretty kind of more of an introvert and a reserved person, but I’ve gotten to the point where I just do these things where I’m like you know what… I’ve got to give it a shot.

I have to get this try. So I might be afraid. I might be afraid of rejection. Oh my gosh, I was rejected a lot while I was dating. But you know what? Those people aren’t for me. And I’m glad because I am where I’m supposed to be.

Now close your eyes and just take the leap. Dive in. You never know where it’s going to take you.

Alycia Anderson: Dani, you’re so amazing. You’re such a beautiful person. And mother and wife and all of it. I’m so glad that our life paths have crossed.

Thank you so much for sharing. Please share with our audience how to find you. Follow you, watch your documentary and find your business. All of it.

Dani Izzie: Yes, sure. So the business is Access Social, it’s going to be access-social.com.

I’m primarily on LinkedIn these days under DaniIzzie. I’m taking a little break from Instagram, but once I’m back it’s going to be DaniIzzie. That’s where. You can find me and come find me. I love talking to people and meeting new people.

Alycia Anderson: Thank you so much for everybody who chose to spend a little time with myself and Dani today.

This has been Pushing Forward with Alycia and that is how we roll on this podcast.