Philadelphia's top representative takes pride in her disability

TaRhonda Thomas Image
Friday, July 22, 2022
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Shelia Hess serves as Philadelphia's City Representative. She was born with Spina Bifida. "I have no sensation from my knees down, and I have no movement in my feet at all," she said.

PHILADELPHIA (WPVI) -- If there's a significant event for the city of Philadelphia, there's a good chance Shelia Hess will be there.

From an announcement about the World Cup, to ribbon cuttings for new businesses and functions that bring out celebrities, Hess is present to represent the city she grew up in and loves so much.

"I love my job," she said while sitting in the Mayor's Reception Room on the second floor of City Hall.

Hess serves as Philadelphia's City Representative. She's held that role since 2016, and it involves attending multiple events many days, including weekends. She attends those events always wearing her signature smile and something else: crutches.

"I was born with Spina Bifida," she said, noting that her parents moved from California to Philadelphia when she was an infant so that she could receive treatment and surgeries at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia. "I have no sensation from my knees down, and I have no movement in my feet at all."

But if you're thinking mobility is an issue for her, think again.

"I drive myself to every single event. That's one of my biggest achievements," she said.

Her tenacity is one of the reasons that Mayor Jim Kenney asked her to be the face of Philadelphia as City Representative.

"I get to spread the good news of all the great things that are happening," she said. "I always see the good in Philadelphia, and I'm always the biggest cheerleader."

It's the kind of visibility that goes a long way in changing perceptions about disabilities.

"To be able to be visible as a person with a disability and to represent the city of Philadelphia," Hess said.

Seeing the city through her lens helps shed light on other issues ranging from accessible housing, following the law for handicapped parking spaces and reinforcing the need for a sign language interpreter at every city event.

Pointing to her Catholic faith, Hess is secure in her purpose.

"I believe everything happens for a reason," she said. "It's Disability Pride Month, and I feel pride to have a disability because I would love to say that I could be a role model."