What it means to have a disability

Cuquis smiling, arms crossed with wall in background
Cuquis Robledo

Meet Cuquis Robledo, an undergraduate student majoring in psychology at Duke University. She joined Disability Rights Washington (DRW), the publisher of Rooted in Rights, as a summer intern this year through the DukeEngage program. Her work at DRW includes assisting with video productions, researching and writing Disability History posts for Rooted in Rights, and working with the legal team on developing civil rights cases.                   

Disability. That is a loaded word. What does it mean to have a disability?

At DRW, I am faced with this question every day through the work I do. First off, “disability” is an umbrella term that encompasses different aspects. For instance, there are the obvious, “physical disabilities”, such as when one uses a motorized scooter or wheelchair because walking may be difficult or painful. There are developmental disabilities, such as Down Syndrome; there are mental disabilities such as posttraumatic stress disorder; and learning disabilities like dyslexia. There are others such as deafness, blindness, and even traumatic brain injuries (TBI).

What’s important to understand is that there are people (myself included) who may not define themselves by their disability or think they have a disability. There are days when I do define myself by my disability (I am a Little Person and only stand at 3 ft. 4.5 inches tall), and days where I don’t. But whatever someone chooses to be defined as, it’s important to own who you are and be proud of who you are. Not only that, but I’ve learned that it is important to fight for your rights and have the ability to be an advocate for yourself.

I came into DukeEngage hoping that I would learn how to be a better advocate not just for others with disabilities, but myself included. All of my life, I have had my mom to look for to be my advocate. And now that I am halfway done through college, I am figuring out how I can better advocate and speak up for what I need.

Here is what I’ve learned thus far:

1)     Don’t pity yourself or others. There is a book called “No Pity” by Joseph Shapiro that really hits hard on this. I highly recommend it. I read the introduction and Chapter 1 during my first few days at DRW for orientation. And this not only applies for people with disabilities but also for those who don’t.

2)     People with disabilities are not meant to be your inspiration. While this may seem contradictory, I recently learned that people who find inspiration in those with disabilities often do because they think that people with disabilities cannot do everyday activities that those without disabilities can do. This creates a stigma that people who can’t walk or have difficulty talking have to go above and beyond to achieve the norm. And when they do, they are other people’s inspiration. The truth is, they are trying to live their life the way that works for them. I learned this idea through Stella Young’s TED talk, which my supervisor recommended me to watch. Stella Young was an Australian disability activist and speaker, who sadly died recently. However, while this idea is true, I feel it is okay to find inspiration in someone, as long as you feel you will gain knowledge and benefit from that person in the future. For instance, I admire and am inspired by Stella Young’s talk not because she got up in the morning and was able to get in front of an audience, on her scooter and give a big speech, as she says. I am inspired by her because she was an honest speaker, and she taught me ways on how to look at myself as a Little Person, and to be proud of what I do every day. You can still see Stella’s TED talk, which Rooted in Rights recently posted.

Young woman in scooter boarding a bus using a ramp
Cuquis Boarding an Accessible Seattle Metro Bus

3)     Don’t be afraid to ask for help. As I am still learning how to use the bus system in Seattle, one of my biggest fears is getting left behind. So, I ask one of the staff members to help accompany me to the bus stop until I get on. Through this, I have developed a great friendship with my supervisor and co-workers, and I feel as if I am becoming a part of their team.

4)     Don’t be afraid to pitch your opinion and to speak up. One of my roles this summer at DRW is working with the communications department and learning how to create awareness videos for the public. I recently came up with a topic for a potential video project, pitched it to my supervisor, and suddenly, there we were shooting the video. I am excited to see my perspective, opinions, and thoughts come to life in a video that could potentially raise awareness for those who are not aware of what people with physical disabilities need.

A big milestone that was important for our office is the 25th Anniversary of the American with Disabilities Act being signed (the ADA). This Act is what essentially helped anyone with any type of disability gain their rights for access and accommodation in the nation. And in reflecting back on how far we’ve come since the ADA, a lot has been done to make our country more accessible. But in retrospect, more things can definitely be improved. An ADA rally was held on July 22nd at Westlake Park in Seattle, and I am hoping that by the 50th Anniversary, we can officially say that the whole United States of America is one of the best countries for its accessibility.

To view ‘Cuquis’ video with captions, click the YouTube button located at the bottom right corner of the video and watch on YouTube. Rooted in Rights values videos that are fully accessible to all users, but due to a technical issue with embedding YouTube videos, the captioned version of this video is only available when watched on YouTube. We apologize for the inconvenience.


To see more of Cuquis’ video advocacy efforts, watch “Show us your #CrappyCurb,” an original Rooted in Rights Video:

For more information about disability awareness, follow Rooted in Rights on Facebook, and check out original videos on the Rooted in Rights YouTube channel, and subscribe to get new Rooted in Rights stories right in your email inbox.

Watch for more contributions to Rooted in Rights from Cuquis during October, Disability History month.

Disability Rights Washington, publisher of Rooted in Rights, is the designated protection and advocacy agency for Washington, and is a member of the National Disability Rights Network.

One response to “What it means to have a disability

  1. I’m so glad I got the opportunity to work on this video. You never realize how important curb cuts are and how unsafe they can be. There were moments when I thought my scooter would tip over from a poorly cared for ramp or times when a bus was almost going to hit me because the ramp directed me into oncoming traffic. Please share this video so we can go NATIONAL and lets hope our #crappycurbs get noticed and fixed.

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