SAN DIEGO (KGTV) -- When they met, all she saw was his wheelchair and all she heard was his speech impediment, Elizabeth Wampler recalled about her first impressions of the man she has now been married to for 27 years. The couple is raising two children and started a nonprofit, the Stephen J. Wampler Foundation, that's redefining what it means to live with a disability.
ABC 10News sat down with this Positively San Diego couple as they're about to take another big step on their mission of building understanding.
"He's wonderful. He's easy and he's wonderful. And he's funny," said Elizabeth when asked about what she loves about her husband."
"And she is smart," replied Stephen to the same question, "Very, very witty. And I just fell in love with her."
Their expressions of love not unlike what many couples might say about one another. But the Wamplers know upon first impression, they'd likely stand out.
Stephen in his wheelchair and subject to the involuntary spasms and contortions of cerebral palsy. A fact which the Wampler family is happy to talk about.
"Get the elephant out of the room," said Stephen.
Elizabeth continued, "Get the elephant out of the room. When you talk clearly you can help people with their curiosity around disability."
The Wamplers want understanding to replace unease. During their conversation with ABC 10News, Steven began to have pronounced spasms.
He cleared the air, "When I get nervous it exacerbates the C.P."
"Or even if you feel you're on the spot," Elizabeth added, "and need to say something."
"Exactly," said Stephen, "But really, I'm fine."
"Yea, he's fine," agreed Elizabeth, "Now that it's out in the open. Right?" She looked at Stephen and they both laughed.
In late December of 2020, the Wampler's appeared on Good Morning America to talk about their work with disabled children. What they didn't know, was a surprise was in store from their son and daughter -- both young adults -- who announced on-air that they had established a TikTok account for their parents to promote Camp Wamp, the family's nonprofit summer camp at Deer Lake in the Sierra Nevada range of Northern California.
The camp gives kids, coping with various disabilities, a week of adventure to have fun and broaden their sense of what they can do. Stephen says he benefited from a similar camp when he was a kid. And 10 years ago, he set a remarkable bar for what's possible when he scaled the face of El Capitan in Yosemite National Park, becoming the first person with cerebral palsy to do so.
Now, the Wamplers are scaling the internet.
"Because our son started us off on TikTok," said Elizabeth, "We have had to learn how to be a presence on TikTok. Which isn't easy when you're in your 50s!" She laughed. "And we don't dance!"
Their TikTok post are honest and often use humor to get to understanding. They talk about their relationship and personal experience with disability and call on their millions of online followers to ask whatever they'd like.
"We get questions from all over the world," said Stephen.
Elizabeth adding, "We open it up to say we're begging you to be bold with us. Go for it."
And now, thanks to their key corporate sponsor, ESET -- a global cybersecurity company -- the Wamplers have opened a new office and multi-media production facility in a modest two-room craftsman on 9th Street in Coronado. And they'll soon be taking their message on the road.
"We're calling it the disability and optimism tour," said Elizabeth.
Their 20-year-old son, Joe, will lead the tour, with plans to visit 18 cities around the country as part of the Wamplers' other continuing effort to, as they say, to take the sadness out of disability and look at it with joy.
"I remember not being able to understand you at all," said Elizabeth looking at her husband. "And then one time you called me on the phone and I'm like, 'Oh, that's its own animal. I really can't understand you now."
The two of them burst out laughing.
"I have no idea what you just said!" Elizabeth then calms and with love in her eyes, said, "But now I have no idea he has a speech impediment. None."