Growing up in New York City, Jillian Mercado used to love being “a fly on the wall,” she says. “Me, outspoken? Never. Absolutely not. I rode the wave, always saying, ‘It is what it is.’ I didn’t want to stir anything up or cause any chaos.”
Today, the model, activist, and star of The L Word: Generation Q cherishes being seen. “There is a lot of work to be done and I benefit from having the privilege of being very outspoken,” says Mercado. A wheelchair user due to muscular dystrophy, Mercado is among the first wave of those to break the stigma that taints the fashion, beauty, and entertainment industries when it comes to those with disabilities. She’s appeared in a multitude of fashion campaigns, including for Diesel, Target, Nordstrom, and even Beyoncé’s merch. When she joined the cast of The L Word in 2019, Mercado also became one of few actors with a visible physical disability to land a role on mainstream television.
But joining the Hollywood scene wasn’t part of Mercado’s plan. In fact, while attending college at the Fashion Institute of Technology, her lifelong interest in beauty drove her to seek an internship at — where else? — Allure. Today, in a full-circle moment for Mercado, we’re recognizing her as one of our A List honorees for her commitment to making inclusivity a given, not the exception.
Allure: What could be better understood when it comes to ensuring an accessible work environment on TV and film sets?
Jillian Mercado: I feel that it’s unacceptable to hire someone who has a physical disability and not make sure the person feels safe or that things are accessible in every single corner. Even if I’m not meant to be in a scene, I want the set ready to go so that I can jump in at any point if the script changes without needing to go through hoops for accessibility. That’s something that I definitely spoke about when attending shows at New York Fashion Week. Some venues would require one-week’s prior notice to accommodate a wheelchair. But I should be able to show up two seconds before an event starts and it should be accessible, regardless. I was lucky to work on the set of The L Word: Generation Q because they were very attentive to my needs, building me ramps on the spot if needed, so I could do my job and deliver what I needed to.