Trailblazer doesn’t let cerebral palsy hold her back

Eighteen-year-old Tami Ferreira posted a YouTube video launch her modeling career. She now models for streetwear designer Nicholas Mayfield. Contributed photo.

In the not-so-distant past, people with disabilities were more often than not marginalized, not taken seriously, and therefore not able to realize their dreams. Now a former Our Lady of Malibu student is upending any notion of standing on the sidelines. 

Tami Ferreira is defying the odds by working to bust stereotypes. Although she has cerebral palsy (CP), the 18-year-old recently walked the runway at Los Angeles Fashion Week (LAFW). This is just the beginning for this up-and-comer whose dream is to model for glossy fashion and lifestyle magazines.

It wasn’t easy for Ferreira to get to LAFW. Speaking with The Malibu Times along with her mother, Ana-Paula Ferreira, who at times spoke on her daughter’s behalf, Tami Ferreira is a survivor, literally. Her twin sister died shortly after birth in South Africa. She developed CP “from shock brought upon by a stroke as a result of pining for her twin.” 

Ana-Paula recalled the horror she felt when her pediatrician diagnosed Tami with CP and dispassionately stated she would never sit, walk or talk. With emotions still raw, Ana-Paula remembered the doctor actually advised her to institutionalize Tami. Ana-Paula was so angry at that advice that she threw her daughter’s file at the doctor and vowed to return with Tami in two years to prove him wrong.

Although she will always have CP, which affects its sufferers differently with maintaining balance and motor control, Tami did prove the doctor wrong. 

Ana-Paula sought out every physical therapy she could for Tami. In 17 months, Tami started walking — despite her condition with cognitive developmental delay, paralysis of her right side and no sight in her right eye. The doctor conceded that “the only expert on a child is her mother.”

Tami’s youth was filled with never-ending challenges. She was turned away from nursery schools and mainstream schools. Her parents paid “an arm and a leg, taking out second mortgages” to be admitted to other schools only to be disappointed when they weren’t a good fit. Speech therapy helped Tami talk by age 5, but at 8 years old after transferring through so many schools, she heartbreakingly once asked Ana-Paula, “Mommy, what’s wrong with me? Nobody wants me.” 

Even through all her hardships, Tami has an unbreakable spirit and a “positive attitude.” After moving to California and briefly attending Our Lady of Malibu, Tami enrolled at Calabasas High School and thrived. She graduated in 2021. Now it’s her ambition to be a mainstream model. 

She’s been into fashion since she was 6, always picking out her own clothes. Ana-Paula is often asked if she dresses Tami because “she’s so put together.” At only 5 feet tall, Tami doesn’t meet the typical modeling agency requirement of a minimum 5-foot-10 height. As an inclusive model, she’s accepted.

Tami has released a YouTube video, “Tami Has Landed,” to launch her career. In it, she defies stereotypes of those with disabilities by practicing yoga, ballet and even driving a car (off-road and supervised). 

“She’s herself in a mainstream environment like everybody else,” her mother said. “She thinks everyone should be able to be glamorous. 

“People like me should be seen in couture labels and even Sports Illustrated,” Tami said.

During the last LAFW, designers were looking for inclusive models. Tami auditioned “and took it to a whole new level.” Although one of her legs is shorter than the other Tami donned “killer heels” for her audition, strutted down a runway and casually mentioned, “Oh yeah and I have CP.” 

The trailblazer was hired by trendy streetwear designer Nicholas Mayfield and against nearly insurmountable odds walked the runway at the Peterson Museum. Four other inclusive models walked the show, including two amputees and a model with Down’s syndrome, but according to Ana-Paula, Tami “brought the house down.” “She came out with such confidence,” Ana-Paula said. “She was limping and she’s tiny in comparison to all the 6-foot models. People flew off their chairs. They cheered and said, ‘Oh my god.’ When the dust settled, Tami told her dad she felt fantastic and said she’d do it again in a heartbeat. She’ll be modeling at Coachella for Mayfield again next month.” 

Tami wants to model, but not just as an inclusive model in an inclusive world.

“I want to be me and I don’t want them (mainstream modeling) to hide me,” Tami stated. “This is where I belong.”