If you’ve ever been to karaoke night at ICS Brooklyn (and if you haven’t, you ought to go!), you may have heard the beautiful singing voice of Stephanie Wallace, a member since 2013 who turns 47 in August. Stephanie’s karaoke performances are legendary, so it’s no wonder that her speaking voice is just as pleasing to listen to. Her strong, but mellow voice comes in handy when she co-hosts (with fellow ICS member Tyson Cherry, with Stephanie in the photo at left) the internet call-in radio show she started earlier this year called LAID: Love and Intimacy for the Disabled, which airs on Mondays at 6:00 p.m.
“It’s important subject matter,” Stephanie says. “It’s something I’ve felt we always needed to talk about as a community. We talk about questions I’ve wanted to ask and have never had people available to answer. We learn from each other. The call-in show is a perfect format. If people are shy or afraid to talk about these subjects in person, they can call in and be anonymous.
“Sometimes we get two or three callers” per half-hour show, Stephanie says. “I’m hoping it grows. I talk as though I’m reaching thousands of people!”
Born in Brooklyn, Stephanie has spent most of her life in New York City, except for a brief period in her teens when her family moved to St. Louis. She lost both parents early—her mother at 14 and her father three years later. Now she has five children of her own, and four grandchildren with whom she’s very close. “My family packed the ICS Art Show,” she says. “I always bring them out to events. Everyone knows my family!”
Formerly a secretary for the New York City Board of Education, Stephanie developed a rare blood disorder that affected her spine and vision after contracting human T-cell lymphotropic virus type 1 (HTLV-1). Diagnosed in 2009, Stephanie left her job as her mobility became more of a struggle.
In the summer of 2011, while walking on a Harlem street, she was given a flyer about ICS social programs. It was the first time she’d heard of the organization. “I thought it was a social day program,” she says. She wasn’t interested at first. “But then I thought, I wasn’t doing anything but sitting at home on my bed.”
She went to a movie night at the Brooklyn office. A Denzel Washington film was being shown. She was surprised by what she found there. “I had always thought of disability as something depressing,” she says. “These people in their wheelchairs were actually laughing and having a good time. They were enjoying each other. It opened my eyes!”
Stephanie has been a very active participant ever since. Through ICS, she got her first mobility device, which has enabled her to take part in the full range of what ICS has to offer. She’s a member of the ICS Women’s group as well as the Member Council/Participant Advisory Council. She has taken art classes and been a member of the Writers Circle. And, of course, she’s a regular fixture at Thursday night movies and Friday karaoke nights.
“I’m coming out of my shell!” she says. “It’s like starting a new life. Everything is new. This is where I belong!
“I’m amazed at the people at ICS—the members and the staff. It’s a different world from what I thought disability was. The staff are genuinely caring people. I was wondering, how do you get that in an organization? Then I met [ICS President] Rick Surpin and I realized—that’s how you get that! ICS has such a personal touch. They’ve given me so much since I’ve been here. Sometimes I think, ‘Really? All this for me?”
No longer depressed by disability, Stephanie wants to share what she’s learned with her grandchildren. She invented a character she performs, “Barbra Barbrason,” a five-year-old with a disability to play with them. “I don’t want them to feel uncomfortable with children who are disabled.” It turns out “Barbra” is very popular. “They always ask me, ‘Can you please go get Barbra, Nana?’ They tell Barbra things they won’t tell me!”
If you want to experience Stephanie’s voice and warm personality for yourself, listen to her show on Monday nights. For a full archive of past shows, visit www.facebook.com/LOVEANDINTIMACYFORTHEDISABLED.