Share this article on:

Advocacy: Reveca Torres of BACKBONES Is “Reinventing the Wheel”

Smolinsky, Michael

doi: 10.1097/01.NNN.0000453347.94530.a9
Departments: The Waiting Room

Advocacy: Reveca Torres of BACKBONES Is “Reinventing the Wheel” for people with spinal cord injury.



The first thing you notice when you view “Reinventing the Wheel”—a collection of 21 photographs of people with spinal cord injuries—is that they don't look staged or stereotypical.

“I came up with the idea for the collection while looking for images online of people in wheelchairs,” explains curator Reveca Torres, founder and executive director of BACKBONES, which advocates for people with spinal cord injuries.

“Almost all the images were either depressing or triumphant,” Torres says. “There was almost nothing in between showing people living their lives, interacting with family and friends, or going to work or school.”

Initially, Torres hired a photographer in the hopes of doing a book. Then, a friend introduced her to Michael D. Doyle, PhD, founder of the National Museum of Health and Medicine in Chicago, IL. From there, the project grew into a museum installation of 21 photographs. (Currently the collection contains more than 250 images.)

People from all over the United States signed on to participate. “We looked for a diverse group of participants and photographic styles,” Torres says. When funding fell through, no one backed out. All of the photographers agreed to do the work pro bono.

Torres, who sustained a spinal cord injury at the age of 13, came to advocacy gradually. “Being open about my disability changed my life for the better. I began to feel less alone. I even learned tricks from other people for getting around and managing the disability that you don't learn in rehab.”

In college, Torres met Jonny Imerman, a cancer survivor who founded Imerman Angels, a patient advocacy organization that pairs newly diagnosed cancer patients with long-term survivors. “When I saw how powerful that model was, I decided to start an organization along the same lines,” Torres recalls. BACKBONES was born.

“Reinventing the Wheel” is currently being shown at the Laurie M. Tisch Gallery in the Jewish Community Center in New York, NY, as part of the ReelAbilities Film Festival. (Go to for more information.)

Check for event dates and for more information. —Michael Smolinsky

© 2014 American Academy of Neurology