Niki Swann is a woman who knows how to turn words into action. An adjunct professor at a community college in Richmond, VA, Niki teaches English composition to students seeking to improve their writing skills as they prepare for future careers. As Ms. Wheelchair Virginia 2010, she spreads messages about the abilities and needs of people with disabilities in order to promote positive change — both architectural and attitudinal — in her home state.
Niki obtained her teaching position through a fellowship program with the Virginia Community College system. What she likes best about it is getting to know her students and seeing their progress over the course of a semester. She especially enjoys seeing the look on students' faces when they finally master something that previously perplexed them — the "aha!" moments.
Educating is also at the heart of Niki's advocacy work as Ms. Wheelchair Virginia 2010. Her title brings her to all corners of the state as well as Washington, D.C., for speaking engagements and meetings with policymakers to discuss the need for better access and opportunities for Virginians with disabilities. Niki's disability is a result of a spinal cord injury from a car accident when she was 16.
When not advocating or teaching, Niki focuses on her own studies — she is in the final stage of her master's degree in English literature at Virginia Commonwealth University. Combining her love of literature and advocacy work, her thesis examines 18th century gothic novels and their perception of disability. When she completes her master's degree, Niki hopes to pursue her doctorate and continue teaching and researching at the college level.
In all her work, Niki puts her own experience into words to encourage others with disabilities, especially young people with disabilities, to set their sights high. "Never let anyone, or society in general, tell you that your dreams aren't within your reach," she says. "What we can accomplish is all a matter of our own perceived boundaries."