Born and raised in Los Angeles, Candis Welch has seen all sides of life in Tinsel Town — from interning at red carpet events, to hustling as the personal assistant to an HBO star, to working with the city’s homeless residents. Whatever the job, Welch succeeds thanks to a strong work ethic and the confidence that she has the skills to succeed.
Welch was an undergrad at Cal State University Northridge, studying journalism but unsure whether the news business was right for her, when an advisor recommended she give public relations a try. “My first internship was with BET, and I got to work one of their very first award shows in Los Angeles,” she says. “I liked working the red carpet and being able to work with the press.” But as a wheelchair user — Welch has spinal muscular atrophy — getting started in Hollywood wasn’t easy. “The entertainment industry is a very vain industry. If you don’t walk and talk and look the same way, they pretty much don’t know how to accept you,” she says. “I knew very early on I was going to have to be the one who stayed late, overworked and did the things that nobody else wanted to do because I was going to have to prove to them that just because I was in a wheelchair didn’t mean I was incapable of doing the job.”
Welch’s work ethic helped her land plenty of internships while she was in school, but she graduated in the middle of the recession and struggled to find a job. She was eventually hired by the dating website eHarmony, but was laid off. In a stroke of good luck, a friend called as she was leaving the office building for the last time and told her about a friend who needed a personal assistant
That friend was Issa Rae, an actor who was just starting to make a name for herself with the YouTube series “Misadventures of an Awkward Black Girl.” Welch didn’t (and still doesn’t) have a car, so she took the Metro to interview with Rae. “I gave it my all, and basically told her, ‘I can make your life simplified if you’ll give me the opportunity.’” For her part, Rae gave Welch something she’d yet to experience in an interview: a fair shot. “She never mentioned my wheelchair, she never asked if I was going to be capable of doing it, it was just based on my skill set and how I performed.”
Welch got the job and she spent six years as Rae’s personal assistant. Welch was with her — scheduling interviews, arranging travel, responding to emails and just about anything else you can think of — as Rae went from up-and-coming to a well-known actor with a hit HBO show. The work ethic Welch had already developed kicked into overdrive. “Being a celebrity assistant, you’re on 24/7, 365, and it could be 366 on a leap year,” she says.
All the while, Welch had also started a day job and went back to school for a master’s degree in public administration, hoping to make a difference advocating for better disability inclusion from within government. She found a job with Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority. “Although it wasn’t based in disability advocacy, it gave me purpose,” she says. “Helping someone to get back on their feet is an honor —it’s not just a paycheck.” And through the intersection of homelessness and disability, Welch has found avenues to advocate for better accessibility within the shelter system and the services it provides. “Whether someone has motor, vision, hearing or any other impairment, services need to be accessible to everyone,” she says.
Be the Change
Creating a Platform
In addition to advocacy, Welch has a passion for writing. She’s able to satisfy both through her blog, “Can Can on Wheelz” (cacanonwheelz.comcacanonwheelz.com), which combines her personal experience with practical how-to tips and disability activism.
“Issa was a pivotal person who showed me if I want to see a change, I need to be the one that starts the creation of it. I just can’t keep sitting back and saying, ‘Oh, that’s not accessible, or there’s not any representation of disabled people in the media, oh well.’ Issa didn’t see what she wanted on the TV screen for people of color, so what’d she do? She created a platform for them to grow and network. I want to do the same thing for people with disabilities.
If I’m going to complain about something, I better come up with a solution. That’s what started me creating my blog and calling out businesses and corporations that aren’t accessible — because we aren’t going anywhere, and our money spends the same as anybody else’s.
I’m also obsessed with travel. I’m going to Spain soon — to Madrid and Barcelona and I’m going to be doing a whole series on those travels, from what I pack, to what suitcase I bring and why. I’m going down to the nitty gritty, from how you get help when you travel, to how you pay for your nurses. I’m really excited to show how you can travel on a budget in a wheelchair.”
Dream Adaptive Equipment:
A track system on my ceiling so I could be lifted from couch to kitchen to bathtub. That would be so dope.
I bring a Hoyer lift sling and put it under me as an easier way for people to help me transfer, whether getting onto the plane, onto a beach chair or anything else.
Leave extra time in your schedule, and get to know your drivers. Patience and kindness go a long way.
Why I Joined United Spinal:
I’m a long time NEW MOBILITY reader, but I didn’t know about United Spinal until a friend connected me with some NM staff. When I found out about the organization, joining was a no brainer.