In the kitchen, an Asian girl with glasses and a bob cut excitedly gestures with a spoon to the left, while a taller dark-skinned woman with long braids looks exasperated to the right.

Jennifer Kumiyama on representation and voice acting in ‘Wish’

Kumiyama's performance of Dahlia in Disney's "Wish" is a love letter to girls with canes and wheelchairs everywhere

From left, Dahlia and Asha.

Still frame from "Wish"

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Jennifer Kumiyama is a singer and actress who strongly advocates for people with disabilities, having been born with arthrogryposis herself. She’s been in a variety of shows and theater productions, ranging from the Warner Bros. reality TV show Popstars 2 to Disney’s Aladdin: A Musical Spectacular (in which she was the first wheelchair performer on the Disney stage world).

As an advocate for people with disabilities, Kumiyama has spoken at different schools, businesses, and social groups about her story. With her platform focusing on empowering children with disabilities, she got involved in pageantry and was crowned Ms. Wheelchair California and Ms. Wheelchair America 2011. During her reign, she used her title to promote her platform. Currently, she’s the Long Beach citywide accessibility coordinator.

I spoke with Kumiyama about her venture into voice acting as the character Dahlia in Disney’s new animated film, Wish, and she told me why it’s important for people—especially young children—to see representation of disabilities on screen.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Valerie Gregorio: How would you describe the movie Wish?
Jennifer Kumiyama: It’s a love letter to the last 100 years of Disney and animation. It’s a story about community, friendship, and self-empowerment. Many people will love it. It’s a tribute to how cartoons were made in the past and how technology used in animation has evolved.

VG: What did it feel like to be a voice actor in a Disney movie?
JK: I’m used to doing theater. This was my first voice-over job in my life, which I am fortunate to have. I was asked to audition for this process. It's fulfilling a lifelong dream of mine to voice act, ever since childhood, ever since seeing The Little Mermaid. I feel really humble and grateful to have this experience.

VG: What was it like to voice the character Dahlia in the movie Wish?
Voicing Dahlia was hard work, since she was the first character to voice. It took a lot of people to create Dahlia. Disability advocates shape how we see her today. Also, she is a character version of me. She is the unofficial leader of her friend group while I’m the oldest of six children. She’s really smart and a good, solid friend to all. She’s also quick on her feet.

In a recording booth, a mixed Asian-American woman with long curly dark hair sits in a wheelchair and looks at the viewer grinning. A man stands behind her gesturing at recording equipment to the left.

Jennifer Kumiyama at the recording studio for Disney's "Wish."

Courtesy of Jennifer Kumiyama

VG: In what ways do you relate to Dahlia? And how did it feel voicing someone with whom you could relate?
JK: It feels surreal. It's an honor to work on a special project. My favorite thing about her is her physical disability. I use a wheelchair and Dahlia has a cane. Usually, people would focus on the disability but it’s the opposite. Dahlia’s disability is not the main focus. She’s more. There’s a lot of how disabilities intersect. She’s also a baker, good friend, and leader. I hope kids know that the film has representation and that it matters.

VG: How would you describe Dahlia’s relationship with the main character Asha in Wish?
JK: They are best friends. Dahlia bakes and Asha is also trying to work in the castle. She is Asha’s support system in the movie. They are like puzzle pieces. Dahlia is very logical and will go to lengths to help her best friend. They are dedicated to each other.

VG: What is the biggest takeaway as a voice actor voicing someone who people don’t usually see on the big screen?
JK: Anytime that I approach performing work, whether live or recorded, I always have a sense of gratitude. A win for one is a win for all. I hope the media continues to pursue equity with the roles offered and representing disability in an honest way that is important.

VG: What message do you want to send to children when they see the movie Wish?
JK: Wish belongs to you and the characters live in your heart. It’s our own job to bring wishes to fruition through hard work and dedication. Regardless of what people might think or say.

Check out the new Disney Movie Wish in select movie theaters today.

Published on February 5, 2024

Words by Valerie Gregorio

Valerie Gregorio is a multipotentialite Filipina American from California, Maryland. She holds a master’s degree in business administration from the University of Maryland, Global Campus and a bachelor’s degree in public policy from St. Mary’s College of Maryland. She is a content creator for the @quotesforyouproject and @womenvotersproject, a freelance writer for several online publications, and a model/ambassador for CB Modeling Associates and VisualsDMVmodels. Valerie utilizes her voice to make the world a better place and wants to bring more representation to the table through her work. You can follow her on Instagram @vcg18, YouTube @valeriegregorio, and TikTok @dancerv19.