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Disability Rights Advocate Visits to Speak
At an age where most people are getting settled into their first years at university, Anastasia Somoza was already an internationally-known disability rights advocate. Now 35, the NYC has embarked upon a variety of missions and projects, but still finds time to travel and speak to young people across the globe.
Earlier this year, Somoza was brought to the Drake University campus by the Drake Best Buddies organization, a group that works to create friendships for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. Somoza spoke about a variety of topics during her 2-hour speech, beginning with her own personal story. She explained that growing up with a disability in the late 80’s and early 90’s was a very different experience than life today, and is excited by the amount of increased inclusion and disability in today’s world. She recalled fondly her memories of growing up alongside her twin sister Alba Somoza who, like her sister, is also diagnosed with cerebral palsy and spastic quadriplegia.
Somoza is in possession of an absolutely contagious beaming smile, but speaks in a way that seemed to make each and every individual in the audience ready to step out into the world and become an advocate. She bestows upon her audience lessons, wisdom, and advice, specifically about how individuals can personally advocate for those specifically with disabilities, but also just those marginalized by society in general. She continually talked about opening your minds to the experiences of others is a positive change in the community, saying “Not everyone advocates in the same way, and that’s okay.” Somoza also encouraged getting involved in politics and legislature, and stressed the importance of, especially as college students, using privilege and opportunities in education to further impactful legislature to improve the lives as others.
Terminology and Respect
Perhaps the most important thing she explained was about some of the politically correct terminology. Even the simple things, like referring to non-disabled individuals as the “normal” ones can be harmful to those with intellectual and disabilities. Or how you shouldn’t say someone “suffers from cerebral palsy” but simply “has cerebral palsy,” as it is their choice to explain how their disability makes them feel and impacts their life. A stirring occurred as Somoza spoke of how she’s often treated. She spoke with great disappointment how she still hears herself described as the words “cripple” and “spastic” or even “victim”. Somoza’s advice is to ask people how they would like to be described, and if this isn’t possible, use person-first language. This is in accordance with the National Center on Disability and Journalism’s style guide. Somoza emphasized how easy it is to implement these small changes in language into your life.
Somoza is incredibly politically involved. In 2016, she spoke at the Democratic National Convention while endorsing Hillary Clinton. She spoke openly about her belief that Donald Trump doesn’t hold those with disabilities in high regard. She stressed the importance of political involvement, and said that above all else, “Stay devoted to what you believe and you can really make a change.”