The Bright Side of My Disability
Most of the time, once a person is diagnosed with a disability, regardless of their age, the stigma of being unable to be fully active in the community emerges. However, as a person with a disability myself, I am proud to say I can show how wrong that stigma tends to be. I am 45 years old and I was born in the Dominican Republic. A few months after I was born, I was diagnosed with cerebral palsy. Based on the medical predictions, there was no hope for me to walk, eat on my own, and talk. In other words, I would be unable to take care myself. Despite the dire predictions and with the support of my extended family, my parents decided to carry on by trying to do what they thought was best for me, which was to ignore the nay-sayers.
Even though I have to deal with some challenges due to CP, for the most part I am able to take care of myself. Back in the DR, because of the country’s lack of awareness about and resources for people with disabilities, I wasn’t able to attend school. But in 1988, after my family and I moved to Paterson, New Jersey, my life changed. For the first time, at age 16, I started school. For five years I was enrolled in special education. At the same time, I was exceeding all expectations despite not having attended school in the past. I learned the basics of using the computer and gained work experience by helping the school receptionist.
My mother and I became members of an advocacy group for parents of kids with disabilíties. One day during my IEP (Individualized Education Plan), an idea about high school emerged. The same year, for the first time, I was enrolled in a traditional school environment. But since I was 20 years old and the age limit for a student to receive special education was 21, I could stay only for one year. My mother and I requested permission from the Paterson Board of Education. Months later, the request was approved. After I graduated from high school, I started attending college. Since I wasn’t succeeding, I dropped out. But I refused to give up and went back to college after two years.
Some of my biggest accomplishments are those simple things many people take for granted. I prepare my own meals, eat on my own, walk, talk, get dressed, and use the bathroom. I received my high school diploma before my 24th birthday. I earned an Associate’s degree, then a Bachelor’s degree in communication with a concentration in print journalism. I learned English, my new language, and wrote a memoir entitled “I Made It,” which has led to speaking engagements at local colleges and universities. Sometimes I wonder what would’ve happened to me had my parents listened to the dire predictions, rather than to their hearts.
Juana Ortiz’s book “I Made It” is available at www.juanamortiz.com and on Amazon.