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How Scholar and Activist Victor Pineda Is Creating Change for Latinx People With Disabilities

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Julia Wood is a Communications Fellow at RespectAbility and a senior at Emerson College.

The country just finished celebrating National Hispanic Heritage Month, which began on Sept. 15, 2017 and ended Oct. 15, 2017. National Hispanic Heritage Month recognizes Hispanic and Latino-American heritage and culture.

For more than 20 years, scholar Dr. Victor Pineda has been an advocate for the disability community. Pineda himself is a wheelchair user and originally was diagnosed with spinal muscular atrophy, a disease that causes the muscles to deteriorate; however, after being examined later in life, doctors concluded that the specific cause of his disability is unknown but has similar effects.

Dr. Pineda was born in Caracas, Venezuela. He and his mother moved to California after Pineda faced discrimination in Venezuelan grade schools. But it was not until college that his colloquy for disability rights and inclusion budded.

“In the late 90s, at the University of California, Berkeley, I was introduced to the rich and dynamic history of the disability rights and independent living movement,” said Dr. Pineda. “As an undergraduate rolling freely down Telegraph Avenue (a street in California), I realized I was the beneficiary of a long line of scholars and advocates who fought for disability justice.”

Upon completion of his undergraduate degree, Dr. Pineda felt it was his duty to follow in the steps of his disability champion predecessors and continued his education to ultimately obtain a B.A. in Political Economy, a B.S. in Business Administration, a master’s degree in City Regional Planning and a doctoral degree in Urban Planning. It was during his time in graduate school that Pineda became the youngest government delegate to participate in the drafting of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

“My engagement with the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) fundamentally altered the way I thought about human rights, justice and inclusion, said Pineda. “I saw that the struggle for recognition, more specifically for inclusion taking place in similar ways, simultaneously all over the world.”In 2015, Pineda was appointed by former President Obama to the United States Access Board, a federal agency that provides guidance and leadership for ADA compliant designs, also known as the Architectural and Transportation Barriers Compliance Access Board.

“I am honored that these talented individuals have decided to serve our country,” said President Obama of Pineda and others appointed to the board. “They bring their years of experience and expertise to this Administration, and I look forward to working with them.”

Now, Dr. Pineda is collecting funds to create his film “Unbound @12 Bends – Express Your Highest Self,” which currently is in production. He also is working as a senior research fellow and visiting scholar at the Haas Institute, UC Berkley’s Institute for Inclusion, Equality and Diversity. He is studying the history of disability in city planning but particularly enjoys the teaching aspect of his profession.

“I believe that whether you’re a student, a researcher, a community advocate, or a policymaker, you will need to cultivate collaborative relationships and critical analysis skills that are built on a fundamental and comprehensive understanding of equity and inclusion,” said Pineda.

It is because of Dr. Pineda’s knowledge, achievements and advocacy work that RespectAbility is highlighting him as a part of the #RespectTheAbility campaign, which recognizes individuals with disabilities who are extremely successful in their chosen career. Fully one-in-five Americans have a disability and polls show that most of them want to work. Yet 70 percent of working-age Americans with disabilities are outside of the workforce. There are 4,869,400 Latinos living with a disability in the U.S. Only 37 percent of working-age Latinos with disabilities are employed in the U.S. compared to 73.9 percent of working-age Latinos without disabilities. Dr. Pineda is proof this does not have to be the norm. Our nation’s economy is strongest when it is inclusive of the value diverse talent brings to the workplace. Dr. Pineda is defying statistics, utilizing his career and personal experiences to educate others, thereby effecting change.

Learn more at RespectAbility.

Originally published: October 25, 2017
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