A voice so good Disney has kept her hired for over 10 years, Jennifer Kumiyama is the legendary first and only singer to use a wheelchair at Disneyland. She’s also up to much more – both a big and small screen actress, an advocate for Arthrogryposis and State Coordinator of Ms. Wheelchair California, Jennifer is a non-stop creative force.
While her disability isn’t spinal cord injury-related, she is so compelling had to share her with our community. Jennifer has been a full-time powerchair-user for almost her entire life, and has minimal use of her arms. She is one tough Cali girl cookie. To learn the backstory of this phenomenal woman, check out Jennifer Kumiyama’s story below.
Why she’s fearless
When Jennifer was born she was diagnosed with Arthrogryposis, a condition that causes contractures of the limbs. At the age of eight years old, she was able to however have several surgeries that allowed her some use of use her arms, which undoubtedly helped her in multiple areas of life.
Professionally however, arm movement is just gravy in Jennifer’s world, being that her voice is one for the ages. By the time she was in kindergarten, she knew what she wanted to be when she grew up – a professional singer and actress. It was a dream that many in her life didn’t think would come through for fruition, and she proved all of them wrong.
After graduating from high school in Long Beach, California, she went on her first audition – Warner Brother’s reality show, “PopStars2.” The casting agents loved her, and she was cast in the first two episodes, creating a buzz as “the girl in a wheelchair” and getting awesome reviews in publications like TV Guide and Variety Magazine.
And it was in 2002 when Jennifer got the chance of a lifetime and was cast in Disneyland’s “Aladdin: The Musical Spectacular,” and was included in the group chorus. She’s still working and singing at Disney till this day. While video of her daily performance at Disney cannot be released for copyright reasons, here’s a great still shot of her on stage.
During each day of performances, Jennifer performs to around 8,000 people, and considers this an amazing opportunity to represent people with disabilities. We here at SPINALpedia have loved Jennifer’s voice for awhile now, such as our post earlier this year featuring Jennifer shows.
And in 2010, Jennifer was crowned Ms. Wheelchair California. After winning, she became the State Coordinator and has helped revitalize the pageant. She also serves as Vice President of Ms. Wheelchair America and was the first runner-up in Ms. Wheelchair America 2010.
Most recently, Jennifer had her first big screen role in The Sessions starring Helen Hunt, that re-tells the real-life story of a 37 year old virgin with significant polio who is finally trying to have sex, and ends up hiring a sex therapist/ The film is deep, and Jennifer plays “Carmen,” a person with a disability and active sex life, who the lead guy/virgin interviews to learn more on the issue.
Jennifer too has starred in “Forever Beautiful and “MTV’s “Awkward” recently, and she’s has had the amazing opportunity to sing at hundreds of exciting events over the years, such as the opening ceremonies at the Special Olympics in 2007 and a reoccurring gig at the annual “Night By the Ocean” for Life Rolls On and at The House of Blues in San Diego (to raise money for the Japan tsunami a few years ago). Oh, and Jen loves to surf too.
Jennifer Kumiyama has definitely got her disabled life figured out. And I envy her some days, being that we won’t have to go through the rough transition that she had to. She is strong, fearless and determined to make the most out of her life in spite of a severe disability. It’s hard not to love her for it.
– Visit her site: JenniferKumiyama.com
Have you heard Jennifer perform?
Watch the videos!