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Tennessee photographer helps launch career of aspiring model with disability

Kaylee Arrowood
Photo: JP Photography/Facebook

A Franklin, Tennessee, photographer and an aspiring model with a disability have joined forces to encourage people of all abilities to reach for their goals.

Kaylee Arrowood wants her modeling career to inspire others to pursue their dreams, regardless of how they or others view their abilities.

“Everybody would always tell her, ‘You have such a gorgeous smile. You should be a model,’” Kaylee Arrowood’s mom, Sarah, told the Williamson Herald. “And I think she just kind of got that ingrained in her head that that’s what she wanted to do.”

Kaylee, 24, from Johnson City, Tennessee, is nonverbal with cerebral palsy — she uses a Tobii Dynavox device to type and speak electronically using eye gaze.

Sarah Arrowood said that they received her daughter’s diagnosis when she was just an infant, and while that was a “tough diagnosis to hear,” she has tried to give Kaylee the best life possible. Kaylee participated in Girl Scouts until she was 18, played on a baseball team and performed with a traveling competitive cheer team.  Her next goal after school was modeling.

At age 22, Kaylee got involved with Health Connect America, a Franklin-based national organization that provides job training and placement services to adults with disabilities. Most recently, the Arrowood family connected with Dave Krikac, the organization’s vice president of operations, who got Kaylee in contact with Franklin photographer, David Bean.

“[Dave] has always had a heart for special needs, … and I have always thought it was such a great calling, because who wouldn’t want to help people with special needs?” Bean said. “When he came to me, he said, ‘Hey, I’ve got this girl — she wants to be a model and a voice for the disabled,’ and I was totally like, ‘I’m all in.’”

The Arrowoods traveled to Franklin to meet Bean and create a modeling portfolio for Kaylee. Bean said he was a bit taken aback, though, not realizing at first that Kaylee was nonverbal.

“As a photographer, your whole … way of operating is communicating with people and bringing things out of people,” he said. “You build a rapport with them, so I was like, OK, I need to figure this out. This is a slight challenge.”

Bean worked with the Arrowoods to decide what poses and angles would best highlight Kaylee and create a diverse portfolio of shots. Kaylee sits in a wheelchair and has limited range of motion in her arms.

“It was a challenge in a good way,” Bean said, adding that creativity is all about one’s reaction to challenges.

Bean’s specialty is commercial photography, but he has worked on more philanthropic jobs as well. He worked with Flashes of Hope to shoot portraits of children fighting cancer and other illnesses.  Bean traveled to Thailand with International Justice Mission and to the Philippines with Food for the Hungry. He’s also gone to Turkey, Lebanon, Colombia, and Brazil for other humanitarian efforts and even traveled to areas impacted by Hurricane Katrina, taking family portraits for those who lost photo albums and other memorabilia.

Sarah Arrowood shared that Kaylee has been signed to Knoxville-based Gage Models & Talent Agency.

“We just want to kind of show people that, just because you have a disability or special needs, that you can go out there and accomplish anything you set your mind to,” Sarah Arrowood said. “We hope we encourage other families to encourage their children that they can get out and do things and not have to kind of be stuck at home and not be scared to try new things.”

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