By Tonia-lee Haughton
Dr. Truett Vaigneur is a Psychology 102 adjunct professor at York College who works in the Counseling Center for people with disabilities. He is a LEADS specialist (Linking Employment Academics and Disability Services), a children’s book author, and a talk show host of his very own show. While I interviewed Dr. Vaigneur, I learned quite a lot about him as a creative person and a pillar of his community. He’s very open about his passion in what he does right now, which is helping people, especially the disabled population, and educating students on social sciences. It’s no lie that Dr. Vaigneur leads an excellent career balancing being a professor, a writer, a talk show host, and a disability activist all together successfully, but there’s more to him than what meets the eyes.
Vaigneur was born and raised in South Carolina before living in England as a teenager. Later on, he started off his career as an actor in New York City during his 20s, as well as a fashion model. As an actor, he performed background acting on Sex and the City and Law and Order SVU, along with a few independent films, and he’s currently an active member of the Screen Actors Guild. Though he enjoyed his time being an actor and model, Vaigneur admitted to not being a trained actor, and also not being as passionate about acting as he is working with disabled individuals and teaching Psychology. On his acting past, Vaigneur stated, “I love it, it was fun. It was not like, you know, a need for me to act. You know, I’m not a true artist that way. My true passion comes from helping other people.”
And so, he moved on from acting and modeling to pursuing both his undergraduate and graduate studies at Hunter College, double majoring in Education and English Creative Writing before earning a Master’s in Psychology, then a Doctorate at Long Island University. From there, Vaigneur began a counseling career for rehabilitating addicts before starting his teaching career at York College, leading to his journey in advocacy for disabled people, and it doesn’t stop there.
Vaigneur continues to spread awareness for disabilities in creative ways. He wrote two children’s books, each titled, Aqua Blue Visions of a Summer and Flowers, Ballet, Horses, and a Kitten. The first book is about a young girl, Vivian, who learns to swim at the age of 2, then later on becomes paralyzed when she’s older from an operation. After becoming paralyzed, she discovers that she still has the ability to swim, rediscovering her childhood skill and hobby. The second book is about a boy named Wesley, who is wheelchair bound, realizes he’s allergic to flowers, but loves them anyway and uses artificial versions to make hats, which helps him to explore his interests and creativity throughout the book. What these books have in common is that they focus on the characters having unique identities that don’t focus solely on their disabilities, but also on their skills and personalities. From these children’s books, Vaigneur wants people to know that, “Everyone got their unique talents and skills and abilities, and we are not all the same and that needs to be celebrated. Difference should be celebrated, and that’s what is celebrated in my books.” His books also express the importance of disability representation in the media.
Other creative outlets of Vaigneur’s work and activism includes his Manhattan based talk show, “Disabilities Redefined with Dr. Vaigneur”, where he discusses the experiences and accomplishments of disabled people, focusing mainly on their interests and works. This talk show airs on Saturdays at 5 p.m. He was also a judge for a pageant show, “Miss Wheelchair USA”, which he enjoys being a part of, and hopes to release as a documentary on Netflix in the coming Spring.
Both these projects reignited his modeling past as both shows include people dressing up in glamorous attire for fun and involving contestants being fashionable and competing for their home states. Another project was his documentary Nothing is Missing, in which he highlights disabled people with creative talents and interests, and also being a part of a selection committee of a film festival titled “ReelAbilities.” These projects, alongside his children’s story books, sprouts the conversation of disability representation in media and arts. When Vaigneur was asked how abled artists can create more positive and proper disability representation in their work, he said, “Representation comes from the disabled population, so I do a lot of research into the topics and the subjects that I do. But more often than that I’m still inspired by actual real people, and I love working with the population that I work with, and I think getting to know the people inspire you, and through that if your representation is sincere you will have, hopefully, a positive representation.” Disability representation is very important, and Vaigneur’s words emphasize the importance of making an effort to create more of it. As a guest on a talk show, “The Spotlight”, he discussed how disability representation has improved over the years and wishes for it to continue. Clearly, his creative drive and artistry is one of his biggest inspirations in being an ally for the disabled community. But his creativity wasn’t his only inspiration.
His childhood experiences were also the starting point to his passion in helping others and working with disabled individuals. He explained stories about growing up with disabled family members, such as having a blind cousin he was close to before she passed away as a teen and his grandfather who was an amputee. He said, “I’ve never known a life without disabilities,” therefore making his family an inspiration to doing what he does, and he explained how “that kinda has guided my career with helping other people, whether they’re disabled or not.” Vaigneur’s past experiences in childhood, in past careers, and people he has interacted with are contributors to fueling his love and passion for helping people and giving something back to the world he’s living in.
Vaigneur’s artistry combined with his drive to help others has made up so much of his identity, as a model, an actor, a talk show host, an author, an activist, and a professor. While he has emphasized his love for helping people and interacting with the disabled community, he is also passionate about his job as a psychology professor at York College. When I asked how he felt about teaching at York, his answer was, “I love working at York College. York is a great place to work. I like the students here, I like the campus culture. I’m excited about things coming back after the pandemic.” Among all the important things on his plate, York College has a special place in his heart, as he describes the campus as having a “hometown feel.” In the end, he is content with everything he does, and though it makes him into a big success, he does these all out of love to help the people around him.