Second Acts: Tabi Haly

This is New York City and this is Tribeca and we all know quite a few driven people. But I am not sure I have met anyone quite as driven as Tabi Haly, who was born with muscular dystrophy, is in a wheel chair full time and always has been, and can barely move her hands. She is a software engineer at JP Morgan, a summa cum laude grad from Pace, an advocate for people with disabilities and now a singer-songwriter who is producing her own albums.

It would be a lot for the able bodied, but her day also requires hours of preparation to complete the simplest tasks. Her focus and energy are remarkable. And now she has fixed her gaze on singing and is just about to release her second album. It all started as a way to keep her lungs healthy — a form of physical therapy — but it has turned into something much more.

“My music is definitely my outlet, not just physically but also emotionally,” she said. “A common phrase you hear in my household is ‘I have to sing right now.’ Singing really makes me take deep breaths. But a lot of what I write is about my life and love from my perspective of being disabled.”

Tabi was born in Houston and raised as a child among a huge Filipino extended family until her father took a job at Pepsi and she finished high school in Putnam County. She realized then that she was a city girl and came to Pace in 2006 for computer science. She’s worked here ever since, and at each step since she’s left her parents’ home, she has had to fight — sometimes nudge, sometimes pressure — to make her world, and ours, more accessible.

“Along the way, I tried to make changes to make the way easier for others after me,” she said.

But there were a lot of battles along the way: she required housing for her aides, but the college required them to pay full freight; after a semester rehearsing with the choir, she learned at dress rehearsal that the stage was not accessible; the microscopes in class were too tall to use from a wheelchair; she had to access some buildings through another entrance, but sometimes those closed at different hours. It’s one challenge after another just to show up.

“I am so grateful to Pace — people were so friendly and that is the culture there. But it wasn’t always easy. I was crying the night before my choir concert knowing I wouldn’t be able to perform. My letter to the university was one page: ‘I really wish I could perform and I hope we can do something to make that happen for next year.'”

Eventually, she joined the student government and got a lift installed. And now she’s on the other side of things at Pace, as a panelist and performer at the university’s Disability Film Festival organized by Professor James Lawler, who teaches information systems and disabilities studies. “Tabi’s an important part of what we do,” Lawler said. “We want to show that these are people who can do as much as people without disabilities – they are accomplished, they are talented. Others can look at her as a model — they can relate.”

Even as a professional, Tabi has had to problem solve for the simplest issues, such as needing a wider cubicle to accommodate her wheelchair. “I eventually had to dig into the cost of cubicle space to learn what I was dealing with.” And in Tribeca, there are plenty of street corners she knows she has to avoid — Duane and West Broadway for one. The new expanded sidewalk cafes make it impossible, in some cases, to round the corner into some of her favorite restaurants. She chooses her battles.

“Someone would have had to make those changes and I’m glad when I can be a part of the change,” Tabi said.

She has to look at the bright side, otherwise she might not be able to keep going. “If I don’t stay positive about advocating then I’m not going to be happy. It’s going to be the same everywhere I go.”

Tabi wrote poems as a child, then started writing songs at 17, when she first moved to Westchester. “Since I was new to the area and did not have all of my friends with me, I had more time and solitude that let me dig deep into my creativity.”

She uses a mouse and track pad and music software to compose (the disease is progressive, so while she could write in college, she can no longer even put on eyeliner), and she sings into a microphone. Once she is happy with her demo, she presents it to one of the musicians she works with to create the instrumentation. They collaborate on the structure until the song is ready.

There are 12 tracks on this next album — it was recorded at Dubway Studios in Fidi — which is called Stance, and as Tabi says, it’s about standing up for yourself. (She’s a bit sassy with the title — and almost took the photo in front of the stairs at Brookfield. “A lot of it is shot on cobblestones.”) She’s recording soon at NYU, and her next project, she hopes, will be a musical. She would love to eventually become a professional song writer.

And her other life goal is to find a partner. Dating isn’t easy — she was even in a Times story about it — but she hasn’t given up on it, if, for no other reason, to let her family know they don’t have to be the first call. “I used to be so desperate that I used to say I didn’t care if they were homeless — but then I ended up with someone who really was homeless,” she said. “I just want someone who can love me for who I am and what I have to give — a lot of love and affection.”

Till then she continues to be positive — and it really is back to what I said in the beginning: pure drive. She’s always in pain, needs constant adjusting, and finding the care she needs is getting harder and harder — and more expensive. But that seems almost like an aside when she mentions it in conversation.

“My goal is to keep working hard with the resources we have and be patient. Blessings will come. I have had a lot of good things come my way.”



  1. What a gorgeous song and person. Well done Tabi!

  2. Wonderful story on an amazing person!

  3. You are awesome and we are so proud of you Tabi. We love you very much.

  4. What a fantastic story, thank you for sharing this!

  5. Starlight, Starbright … You are a Rockstar Baby! We love you Tabi ⭐✨⭐✨⭐✨⭐