by Jennifer Longdon
Ability360 again hosted the Latino Disability Summit and Resource Fair. This was the second year for the event sponsored by Chicanos Por La Causa and AARP Arizona featuring more than 80 exhibitors, 11 workshops and a well-attended noontime panel ‘What it means to be a Latino with Disabilities.’
Panelist George García became paralyzed at the age of 12. Now the executive director of Southwest Institute for Families and Children, he summed up the panelists’ experience about people making assumptions about what people with disabilities can do.
“Everyone is an individual; we have good moods and bad moods. We’re just like everyone else. I’m not special. I’m not here to inspire you. I’m not here to make you think everything is good in the world and that people with disability have a higher purpose. We don’t. I am a good person and sometimes I’m not. Just treat me like a person; like everyone else.”
Chicanos Por La Causa, AARP and Ability360 created this partnership leveraging the individual expertise of the organizing agencies to create a culturally-relevant experience that teaches skills to advocate, access resources and reach maximum potential in the community. The event works to remove societal barriers that limit the life choices of PWD in the Latino community.
“The Latino community in the U.S. has not yet fully learned how to use the services and resources available to people with disability,” co-chair Rebeca Cavazos said. “The Latino community is still working to change an old mindset that disability is a punishment, a curse on a family, and we tend to keep our family members with disability hidden away. When I came to the U.S. five years after my own injury, it took me two years to come out of my house and learn about the resources available to allow me to be independent.”
Exhibitors included the American Heart Association which offered CPR demonstrations and also presented the “Movement and Nutrition for Heart Health” workshop. Participants learned about healthy snacks and participated in interactive physical activity.
“I learned new ways to think about movement and staying healthy,” Marcos Castillo said. Castillo was an attendee last year and served on this year’s planning committee.
People kept that movement going, singing and dancing throughout the day in the exhibition hall as Gustavo Angeles played covers from the Beatles, Carlos Santana, Los Lobos among others. Mariachi Los Caballeros performed at day’s end.
PBS sponsored the Accessible Kids Zone with sensory games where therapy dogs Darla and Mollie waited for pets and snuggles. Children played board games and sported their temporary tattoos.
Maricopa County Recorder Adrian Fontes visited with attendees and exhibitors while demonstrating the county’s new accessible voting equipment. “I had a great time getting to know Maricopa County voters with disabilities and demonstrating our accessible voting machines,” Fontes said. “Getting to know voters and community advocates is what makes my job so rewarding.” The Recorder’s office registered several new voters at the event.
The offices of Senator John McCain, Congressman Ruben Gallego and Phoenix Councilwoman Laura Pastor were also represented.
Some attendees, like first-time attendee Hilda Valverde found much more than they expected at the summit.
“Initially I was only looking for information about caregiver resources for my mom; she is having problems with a bulging disc and she is in a lot of pain. My dad is currently taking care of her and it is becoming increasingly difficult for him,” Valverde said. “Not only did I get the information I needed but the event opened up my eyes to all the help that is available for our community. We were able to have my mom’s memory screened, get information about caregiver support groups for my dad and even my 16-year- old daughter is now interested in becoming a volunteer because of the people that she met.”
“All people with disabilities benefit from learning that they can have goals, get an education, work and become independent. But, it takes a personal commitment to start,” Cavazos said.
To accommodate those who could not attend in person, selected workshops were livestreamed and the recordings are archived on the Ability360 YouTube channel.
Plans are already underway for the Third Annual Latino Summit in September 2018.
Photos by Latino Paparazzi