By Matt Longdon
Photos by Delbert Vega, 12 News
After growing up watching the X-Files, Gabe Trujillo thought he would work for the FBI. Today, he may not be at odd crime scenes hunting the same truths as Mulder and Scully, but he’s still looking for the truth as a journalist for 12 News.
Trujillo, 32, became the social media producer for 12 News in December. He spends the day creating and sharing content for 12 News’ social media pages like Facebook, talking to followers and preparing content for the 12 News website.
“It’s really neat to see a story you wrote and posted online, see people react to and say how cool it is,” Trujillo said. “It’s rewarding when you put effort and energy into stories and people share positive comments that you’ve done a good job.”
Trujillo has severe asthma and one night in September of 1997, he was rushed to the hospital during an intense asthma attack. While in the emergency room, he slipped into a coma and when he woke up four days later, he couldn’t move his arms or legs. After a few different diagnoses, doctors in 2001 diagnosed him with Hopkins Syndrome, a rare form of polio that can be found in people with asthma and cause paralysis after severe attacks. There are fewer than 30 reported cases, and he is the only documented person with all four limbs affected.
While he can still move his hands, he’s not able to move his arms, so typing with a standard keyboard is possible, but a slow process. Instead, he uses the on-screen keyboard built into most computers, which allows him to type with the mouse. He can type about 65 words a minute using the on-screen keyboard; the average typing speed is around 40 words per minute.
“I don’t know if I would be able to be as effective or even be able to do the job if it weren’t for the new technology that’s come out. Definitely, the on-screen keyboard has been a lifesaver. Without that, I’d be hunting and pecking forever. Before that, I just used a normal physical keyboard and drove my wheelchair back and forth and maneuvered my arm just so it went over the keys to type.”
The on-screen keyboard is the only adaptive technology he’s ever asked for at his jobs. Voice recognition software is another tool he’s used, but Trujillo said he hasn’t had the best experience with it and he needs to be in a silent room for it to work optimally. Newsrooms are rarely quiet.
His love for social media came when he began using Facebook while attending Arizona State University to connect with friends, and then he realized it was also a platform to share messages with the world. His first job out of college was teaching English for an online high school, but he soon moved to the marketing department to help grow their presence online. He worked for another marketing company after that, helping car dealers share their messaging on social media.
Trujillo graduated from ASU with a journalism degree, so a position announcement at 12 News presented a perfect fit. As a social media producer for a large media company, he’s in a position to share messages with people he may not have reached before.
“One thing I’ve noticed is the way people with disabilities are portrayed in the media. A lot of times they’re portrayed as the victim or as someone who isn’t on the same level as able-bodied people. I think my position gives me a unique ability to showcase that people with disabilities have more depth and have very different perspectives and stories that need to be told.“
While he only needed the on screen keyboard for day-today work, the new job has come with its own challenges.
The biggest challenge, he says, is the elevator. He works on the seventh floor of the 12 News building located in downtown Phoenix. His dad drives him to work in the morning for his 4:00am start time and helps him get to his desk. Leaving, however, is where the challenge rises, because he’s not able to hit the buttons well. He said he can sometimes hit the call button with his head, but once he’s in the elevator, he can’t press the floor button.
“More often than not, I’ve gotten inside, I haven’t been able to touch a button so I’m essentially stuck in the elevator. Luckily, it’s a busy building so I don’t have to wait too long until someone comes in and I ask them to hit the button for me, and I just have to wait a little longer to get to the ground floor. “
That 4:00am start time can also be a challenge–besides meaning he has to wake up around 2:00am–because when he gets off at 1:00pm, the friends and family who can pick him up in his van are working. He uses Uber WAV (Uber’s wheelchair accessible vehicles) several days a week to get home, but he needs to schedule the ride a few hours in advance. If he needs to work late, he has to cancel the ride and schedule another way to get home. While taxis are an option, he says they’re usually more expensive than Uber WAV.
One of the other challenges he faces is lunch. Because he can’t move his arms, he needs help eating. He tries to plan for a friend or family member to join him for lunch, but if it doesn’t work out, he doesn’t eat until he gets home.
Trujillo faces the challenges with a positive attitude and open mind. Now, he can share stories from his unique perspective to bring to light a community that is often overlooked.
“We’re as much a part of the community as everyone else and these issues need to be given the same emphasis and respect like any mainstream news story would.”
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Matt Longdon is a recovering journalist who is much better at writing about other people than writing his own biography (especially if it’s in the third person). He spends his free time cooking, playing board games and binge watching TV shows.