Tonya Gilchrist
Age 42, Juvenile Rheumatoid Arthritis
Photographed by Barbara Glaeser


I have lived with juvenile rheumatoid arthritis since the age of three and consider myself to have a disability. It took me years to accept I had a disability but now know that it’s a part of me that I wouldn’t change. My disability helped shape me and taught me to be persistent and find other ways to accomplish tasks. I’ve also learned that it’s ok to ask for help. Growing up, I struggled socially and had fears men wouldn’t want to date a women with a disability or someone out of the ordinary.

My motto is that disability should not be pitied or inspiring. Disability is just one aspect of me. I’m learning that life presents challenges and opportunities. I’ve experienced infertility, miscarriages, surgeries, and jumped over hurdles to adopt my children. Blessings have come my way from a supportive family and a community of advocates for equality. I wanted my Bold Beauty photo to show that every person has value and our world should embrace diversity and inner and outer beauty, women with disabilities included. A stranger walked by and said to my husband “she’s beautiful” as my photo shoot was happening. My husband said “she’s taken.” This occasion made me chuckle and think to myself- I am beautiful and remember times when I thought I wasn’t beautiful.

I am living a blessed life as a wife, mom, and social worker/interior designer. I’m a lifelong DC area native and live with my caring husband, dancing five year old daughter, and silly two year old son. Our multicultural family celebrates both disability and the African American culture of our children.