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Episode 5 Transcript

Published: Thursday July 20, 2023

Disability, Inclusion & Healthcare | Nurse and Social Media Influencer, Ryann Mason

Ryann Mason shares her unique perspective on navigating disability in the healthcare industry

Episode Transcript:

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 another episode of pushing forward with Alycia. I am Alycia, and I am super excited to have some time and space with you again. Today we have a very exciting guest. I am so excited to introduce you to, her name is Ryann Mason. She is an amazing powerhouse woman. She is a disability advocate. She is a multi-specialty registered nurse. We want to definitely hear all about that, Ryann. She is a proud member of the LGBTQIA+ community. She is a keynote speaker, a model and adaptive athlete, a sexuality educator, and a self-proclaimed loudmouth southern bell. I love that. Can you paint the beautiful picture to our listeners about who you are and maybe a little bit about your disability? Whatever you are comfortable with?

Ryann Mason: Yes, well first of all, thank you for having me, it is absolutely just a pleasure, and like you said, my name is Ryann. I go by “Ry” sometimes. I had undiagnosed ADHD until I was 30. So, I have a lot of interest. As you can tell. I am a wheelchair user. I was diagnosed with my disability Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome or EDS for short when I was 16 years old, and for those of you who don’t know, EDS is a genetic condition that causes all of the collagen in my body that my body creates to be too stretchy or too lax and your collagen makes up pretty much everything your muscles, your skin, your joint capsules, your organs, and with my specific type of EDS, the classical type, my organs are also affected by this. I began to lose my mobility, I guess in college, I started kind of walking with the cane sometimes. One of my hips, that use to be a party trick, where I could dislocate on command, started dislocating every time I would take a step. Just because, that joint capsule had stretched out over time. I transitioned over to forearm crutches and then eventually a wheelchair about five or six years ago now. I was concurrently working as a registered nurse during all of that goodness. So, it was definitely a giant change in my life and I had already kind of made the platform Chronically Ry. I actually created it back in 2017, because it was not an advocacy platform at all, I started it because I knew. They told me when I was diagnosed when I was 16, that I would eventually end up in a wheelchair, and so I knew that was coming down the pipes, but I had, you know, family that I did not see very often that I wanted it not to be such a shock, when they saw me like at Christmas or something in the chair. So, I was like well, I will start an Instagram and just kind of like talk about what is going on as I was slowly kind of losing my mobility, and it just blew up into what it is today and I just could have never really in a million years guessed… I mean when I was diagnosed, I did not know a single other person in the universe with Ehlers-Danlos syndrome, and I think I knew one wheelchair user at all in my 6,000-person small town. So, getting to be the person that I needed when I was newly diagnosed is kind of what drives me to continue keeping the social media platform up, and continue doing all these things outside of my full-time job because… It just… that is my passion, and I just love it.


Alycia Anderson: I love it and your platform is just so positive and I think it is really interesting. What you just said about? You were diagnosed and it was your way of easing other people into it. And I kind of have that same inclination in my life to try to make it easier on other people or ease them into it. So, I think that is really… that was an interesting outlet for you. 

What has been more difficult? Has it been the internal pieces of your disability or the external?

Ryann Mason: I think it… It depends on the day. I started working in healthcare when I was 16, around the same time I was diagnosed, as a volunteer EMT and I continued doing that and working in emergency medicine all the way through nursing school. And then, when I graduated from nursing school, I started in the ER.

I loved the ER. I loved trauma. I loved getting to be that kind of calm presence for somebody who is…, you know, it is just another day at work for me, but for them, it is very possibly the worst day of their lives.

And so, I was actually training to become a flight nurse when I started to become more reliant on mobility aids, and so I was at kind of like the height of my career, and so I said, well, I am just going to kind of ease myself into it.

I got a job that was still in the hospital as a case manager, hilarious enough it is what I do now, and I kind of, I said, “Well, I’ll just keep a part time spot in the ER.” So, I did not have to rip that Band-Aid off all at once, but then due to red tape there were reasons that I was not able to return to that job and so it was kind of all ripped away at once.

And, this was the second time in my life where what I was seeing as my career goal or my dream was what I thought taken away from me by my disability.

Growing up, I. Wanted to be a dancer. I had no desire to do anything medical at all. I was like a singer, actor, dancer, theater kid, and about the time I was diagnosed, that is when they were kind of saying, you know… this… that is not something that you can do long term.

And, I had to start my whole life over at you know what 18 after having all of these dreams for so long, and so for that to kind of be like the second time that it had happened to me, in my life.

That was really, really, difficult to cope with, and I did not cope well.

And so, I started talking about, you know, grief reactions and how nobody really tells you that that loss of body autonomy and that loss of whatever it may be due to, your disability, it is a grieving process.

It is something that you lose and that you will have grief reactions to, and this was again, you know. Something… another time in my life where I could kind of go, wait a minute!

Nobody told me this. I am going to talk about it on the Internet, and I bet somebody else needs to hear about that.

Alycia Anderson: That’s awesome. You had this video a few weeks ago where you were talking about your nursing position, and I do not know where you were in your path there, but it was right after I think you became a wheelchair user. And, it was thought that you would have been a liability in the position that you were in and you had to advocate for… to continue that position, or something along those lines.

Ryann Mason: So, I was working as a case manager and so it was a really, really, good place for me, as somebody who was a newer wheelchair user, because, I was not coping well with my own disability, but my presence in the hospital made such an impact on my patients.

And, I was just so caught up in my own world, I was not even thinking how poignant it would be to have a nurse roll into your room to be the one setting up your medical equipment.

Obviously, someone that knows, what it is like to be in that bed, knows what it is like to go through this whole process.

And, when you are laying there, in that bed, you do not understand any of it.

So, knowing that it is someone who has gone through it really made a difference to my patients and therefore made a huge difference to me and how I was kind of seeing myself at that time in my life as a brand-new chair user.

But I did this all right before COVID, maybe two years before COVID hit, and then COVID hit and I was working as a case manager on the COVID floor.

I mean it is the stuff that I will never forget was working on the floor through COVID, but at that time we were so short staff, all of the hospitals were so overrun, and the doctors that I worked with had always joked, you know, Ryann, why don’t you go back to bedside nursing? Like, you would be a such a great bedside nurse? You would be such an advocate, like, why don’t you go back?

And, I am looking at them like they are crazy, and like, how many bedside nurses in chairs do you know?

First of all, no one is going to hire me. Like in the world of nursing and healthcare in general, it is a known stigma that like, if you hurt your foot or something and you require like a short term, a crutch, or a cane, they will not allow you to work on the floor, it is a liability for them. And so, I remember going through this while I was ambulatory and I was like, I do not know if I know how to do this, but I was like, alright, let us see.

They had a call for help on the floor one day, and it was just… they just needed extra hands to help turn patients, take vital signs, little kind of like nursing assistant tasks and I said, OK let me do one of these shifts just to see what I am still capable of, because, with my disability I can stand for short periods of time.

I just cannot ambulate long distances. I need my chair to get me around the hospital if I need to stand up in a patient’s room for a short period of time, I can do that. So, I took this shift, and I was actually way more capable than I thought I was.

So, I went to the completely other side of the spectrum, and I interviewed for a job on a postpartum unit. They were willing to give me a shot and one of the infamous lines was the boss that I had at that time was just like, “I mean if you have been a nurse for a long time. You know how to do this stuff. If you say you can do this job, then I believe you, and you are the perfect height to catch babies.”

The rest was history. I worked that job as a bedside postpartum nurse, and I am a nursery nurse for a year, and by the time I left that hospital, I was the charge nurse of the floor.

Alycia Anderson: That’s the story of advocating for yourself to push people to try. That is like one of the biggest challenges, I think, in the workplace right now, is we are just, like stuck in this box of, no you cannot have a crutch, that is a liability… to like, adapting and allowing people to be who they are, in the way that they are. So, wow! And, that is translated to where you are today. 

Ryann Mason: I moved to San Diego last summer a year ago this month. Had some struggles getting my license transferred. So, the first job that I got was an elementary school nurse. So, I did that for about six or seven months when I first moved here, and that was incredible because it was so much more accessible than working in the hospitals, which is hilarious to me.

After kind of a year straight of having to [prove myself] not as much to my old hospital, but having to defend myself and my abilities to my patients every single day and constantly having to, you know, kind of calm everyone around me. It was a really nice reprieve to just kind of do my job, and no one really batted an eye at the chair.

But then I was offered another case management position and I… the money was too good. I said OK, alright, I will go back to it. But I did not really think about the difference between case managing at home.

I was in a smaller hospital. I was not getting trauma patients, things like that, and my first day in my new hospital in San Diego. I rolled onto the unit and realized that the unit that they put me on gets a lot of brand-new amputees, brand new spinal cord injuries, brand new strokes. This was their first introduction to mobility AIDS… way more than I did back east, and it has been like, the coolest kind of like full circle moment for me, because now you know I have been doing this in a chair working at different hospitals for long enough that I am comfortable in my abilities.

I know how to adapt to my surroundings, so that is cool for me, and then I remember just last week I had a patient he was pushing around with physical therapy and he is a new amputee and I pushed over next to him and I was like, hey, nice wheels you know… do you want to race? Like… what is going on?

He starts talking to me and opens up a little bit, and he says, you know, I just… it is just… this sucks so much. Like I always wanted to be a police officer. I said so why? Why can’t you be a police officer?

And he is like, what are you talking about?

And so, well, I am a nurse, so I got a friend that is an amputee who is a firefighter and I know quite a few police officers that are amputees. Like, that is not out of the realm of possibility at all. But these people are brand new to the disability community. They could not possibly know everything that is out there for them.

And so, for me to be able to go in there and you know, tell them about adaptive athletics or tell them about just what my life is like as well as being able to use my background, my nursing degree in my career to get them the appropriate equipment that they need.

Because of life experience, not just the crappy stuff that they give you right out of the hospital, the more years I do this the less pushback I seem to get, and I like to think that, that is the trend for disability employment. I hope that, that is the trend for disability employment.


Alycia Anderson: And I think. The more and more voices of change are starting to come out, and we are starting to see it more.

Let us take a quick break you are listening to, Pushing forward with Alycia.


Welcome back to Pushing Forward with Alycia. We have got Ryann Mason. She is an amazing powerhouse woman. She is a keynote speaker, a model, and an adaptive athlete. Do you do advocacy work? 

Ryann Mason: Back in Virginia, I was a Miss Wheelchair Virginia for two years during COVID. And so, I traveled all over the state and my main platform was advocating for disabled employment in healthcare. So, I did a lot of public speaking back then. I got to be… one of the coolest things I ever got to do was the keynote speaker for the National Institute of Health for their disability employment month.

Alycia Anderson: I love that you just led into you being the Miss Wheelchair… I ran for Miss Wheelchair California. I won Miss Congeniality.  I did not win. I won Miss Congeniality. That is OK, but I did. I ran for literally… my… I was like, if I get this, like, I really want to be… it was maybe 5 years ago that I ran and I was like that would be a great platform to start to leverage speaking.

I will have something that I can, you know…, So, I love it that you used that platform to leverage what you are doing, and can we talk about advocacy?

Ryann Mason: Absolutely. I um…

Alycia Anderson: You are like, yeah, this is my jam.

Ryann Mason: When I first became a case manager after leaving bedside nursing, I was so just like this is not what I want to do. I do not want to work with insurance companies. I do not want to have to deal with this all the time. The longer that I did it the more I was like, wait a minute, this education and learning this side and learning what things are covered and not covered and kind of figuring out the why behind the 4,000,000 denials you get every time you’re trying to apply for any kind of medical equipment has helped me so much, because then I’m able to kind of break it down and present it in a way that is easier for me to understand and therefore easier for my followers to understand.

One of the examples was, I helped place patients in skilled nursing facilities, in nursing homes and rehabilitation units. And, finding out that if you were a patient in a skilled nursing facility, whether it was a long-term bed or short-short term or in any kind of an in-patient facility that was not a rehab center. Medicare was denying your ability to get a personalized wheelchair.

They are saying, oh, you are in a facility, you do not need that. You will use the facilities, equipment.

And so, I got to advocate alongside United’s Spinal and actually go to the court systems and speak about, you know, and getting to kind of talk from those two sides of my life and getting to speak not only as a wheelchair user, but also as somebody who is providing these wheelchairs and seeing these patients on a daily basis and seeing them come back as readmissions into the hospital with horrible wounds, because they are not in appropriate medical equipment.

And, it was just incredibly, eye opening for me and it is allowed me to kind of grow up a little bit, and get over the, oh, I am not a trauma nurse anymore.

And realize like how much we need people kind of on the backside of these things, learning these insurance tips and tricks and being able to kind of work your way through the system, saving the most money and getting the most care for my patients.

Alycia Anderson: Well, and I think. That speaks to kind of like how disabled people get put into. A one lump sum, right? Like it is A one fit size, fits all for all of us, and the facts are is that disability is so diverse that it is really very individual on every case on the needs of what we need.  And it absolutely has to be custom to fit each one of our bodies, whether it is a wheelchair or any other device or any other accessibility tool. And so, I think there is some disparities from a consumer buying insurance. It does not say, oh, if you are a wheelchair user, make sure you are checking this box and getting this in. 

I mean, the insurance that I have right now… It does not even cover durable medical and I am afraid, right now, like under the Affordable Care Act, there is no pre-existing, but I do not trust that there will not be again, you know.

And so, when you are in a position like we are and you need these things, I am always thinking, I mean this, like literally could affect independence, mobility, health, medicine, all of it.

And so, I think. This topic that you are advocating for is so important. How do we… How do things get better? What do we need? 

Ryann Mason: Continued advocacy. We need more people who are kind of willing to be just like us to push through barriers and to be the first person and be there to show up, and to show that this. community is not going anywhere.

We are employable. We are are not just going to sit in a corner anymore? We are not just going to sit in our homes, you know, unless we want to.

There are so many possibilities, and the more of us that are kind of out there doing this and fighting this fight, that I think the more normalized it becomes. And, I hope.

But the joke, I always make is, you know… I am going to blaze a freaking rainbow path filled with glitter all the way through this so that the people behind me, you do not have to do that, and do not have to be this crazy like bright target kind of thing.

You know, I want to be the one that. You guys remember. When you have two or three wheelchair users coming to apply for jobs and you can think back and say, oh, no, wait a minute. Ryann did it, so why can’t we give this one a shot?

And then I hope that like down the line, it just becomes so much more normalized to see people with visible disabilities working in whatever field they do so choose because there are so few fields that are adaptable. It is just the people in them do not always know how to adapt the field.

My number one thing I would get asked when I was working bedside was, well, one, don’t your coworkers hate having to pick up all your slack for me?

Because I said, you know, no, I was very selective about the type of nursing that I went into so that no one would have to pick up any slack at all.

The only thing that I would not do was ambulate. I would not walk new C-section patients if they seemed fairly unstable and every single time, I have one, someone else on my unit would do that for me and I would do something else for them.

Other than that, the only other adaptation that I ended up needing was an office chair that could be pumped up high because I had trouble seeing over into the bassinets to draw blood on the babies. That was it, and now every single NICU bed is staffed with a raising office chair for the nurses to be able to work on the NICU babies.

It was just this huge rigamarole to hire a wheelchair user, but the actual like employment and the time that I spent there. I was just like anybody else.

Alycia Anderson: I love what you just said about the collaboration. Sometimes I would need help doing X and on the flip side somebody else would need help doing other things and that is absolutely how inclusion in the workplace works is it is collaborative and collective and ongoing and it is always an opportunity to practice and find a path forward.

So, I mean, I think you are breaking down barriers and I am really inspired by your story. It is so good.

We are just now starting to see women in the workforce that have disabilities that are leading. So, when I get to meet somebody like you, it makes me feel like I have got my peers and my people that get the fight, you know, understand, like what?

And then… and then, have the opportunity to see the impact, which is so freaking cool, like, I love it. 

Tell us about your platform. How do? We find you. 

Ryann Mason: Yes, absolutely. I am very easy to find out on the interwebs if you Google chronically, R-Y, chronically ry.

I am on Instagram, Facebook, TikTok, LinkedIn, lots of videos about advocacy. We do car ride conversations. We have a video series called dildos and dislocations that is all about sexuality and the disability community.

Anything and everything could possibly imagine, and also just a really cool place. If you want to come. Get some advice, my inbox is always open and I am always responding to my followers because that is what it is all about. That is what I am here for. Y’all are my people, and I would not be in this place or have anything to advocate for if it was not for our community.

Alycia Anderson: I love to wrap up the show with a pushing forward little inspiration motto, something you live by, something that is going to inspire our audience to be better allies for diversity and disability and inclusion and all of that, like give a little nugget?

Ryann Mason: Absolutely. So, something that people never ever guessed about me is when I was growing up, I was actually like, very shy in school and everything. I was very, very shy, and quiet.

And so that at a younger age as a middle schooler, I saw this quote and the quote was just, “Fear is temporary. Regret is forever.”

I said, you know, I want to stop being so scared. I want to stop being so shy, like this little kid, and I was like, alright, I am gonna. I am just gonna start saying yes to everything that scares me, and as my life has progressed, I kind of always just kept that motto in the back of my head.

It is just life is really, really short and I refuse to not milk every single last drop out of it. I am not [going to stop], no matter what, even if I have to shove my way right in there with all four wheels.

Alycia Anderson: I love it. Thank you so much. Thanks for everybody out there. We are going to share all of Ryann’s information in the show notes. This is Pushing Forward with Alycia, and that is how we roll!