by Amber Travis
Rebecca Cokley has dedicated her life to advocating for people with disabilities both professionally and personally.
She was born with achondroplasia, or dwarfism, and has used what she’s learned from living with a disability to propel her to success in her career and family life. In fact, she has worked with some of the most influential figures in the nation’s capital for more than 10 years.
Rebecca, 37, has been serving as an advocate for people with disabilities since her late-teens/early 20's when she served on the National Council on Disability's Youth Advisory Committee and as the National Youth Leadership Network's Policy Chair. Since then, she has continued to build a career focused on empowering the next generation of leaders with disabilities, including two years in the White House where she led President Obama’s diversity recruitment efforts.
But even with all of the impressive titles, none of them compare to her favorite title—Mommy.
Today, Rebecca is the executive director of the National Council on Disability (NCD), but at home none of that matters and she relishes her roles as wife to her husband of seven years, Patrick, and mother of 4-year-old Jackson and 1-year-old Kaya.
The Cokleys were really excited when they learned they were expecting their first child. “We knew we wanted kids, we knew we wanted more than one and we knew we wanted them relatively close in age,” Rebecca says.
However, because of her disability, she and Patrick were well-aware of the risks of having a baby with dwarfism. In fact, because Patrick is average height, there was a 50 percent chance that their future children would be born with the disability.
By the end of her first trimester, Rebecca’s ultrasound confirmed that their new baby boy would, in fact, have dwarfism. And a few years later, the couple would go on to have Kaya who would also have the disability.
However, Rebecca says she and her family are no different than any other family, and there is rarely a dull moment in their household. In fact, one of their favorite pastimes is dancing to music on their old record player.
“The kids are really into dance parties, so we’ll have dance parties and play everything from Otis Redding to Bruno Mars,” Rebecca says.
Although she enjoys every minute with her family, Rebecca is still conscientious of the fact that she and her children have a disability and she wants to expose Jackson and Kaya to other little people, or LP’s, as often as possible. Four-year-old Jackson is well aware that he is a little person, and he sees other little people besides his mom regularly.
In addition to being very active in their local Little People of America chapter, the Cokleys are also one of six local families headed by people with dwarfism that refer to themselves as “The Compound.” The families do almost everything together from baby showers to potluck family dinners and playdates.
“I think for families that have people with disabilities you tend to have to be more flexible and have more of a ‘village’ approach when it comes to child-rearing,” Rebecca says.
She also thinks it’s important for Jackson and Kaya to have older little people to look up to, especially those who have gone on to have thriving careers.
“[Jackson] knows LP doctors and LP lawyers and little people who are teachers,” she says. “There’s really nothing [besides joining the military] where he hasn’t been exposed to someone [with dwarfism] doing that level of work.”
In addition to educating her children about their rights and abilities to go on and have full lives, Rebecca is also really passionate about informing other mothers with disabilities of their rights.
“I think the women before my generation and the Disabilities Rights Movement really felt like they had to fight to get out of nursing homes, go to college and get a job, so many of those women didn’t have families,” she says. “I was lucky in seeing a lot of women with disabilities who were parents and having a lot of that in my life which was really positive. It’s definitely possible [for women with disabilities to have and raise children.] You have the right to be a mom!”
Are you a mom with small children? See why the first five years are so important here.