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Catarina Rivera | Unapologetically Embracing Disability Identity

The header contains a cropped photo of the Beyond Sight Magazine cover of Catarina a light-skinned Latine woman with dark brown wavy hair wearing a cream faux leather jacket and a brown mock turtleneck top with yellow squiggly lines across it as a pattern. She’s smiling widely.

Catarina Rivera | Unapologetically Embracing Disability Identity

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The more that I used the cane and saw the benefit, including the way it helped me to be visibly disabled, I felt better. When I was using the cane I received more assistance. I navigated the world with more confidence and felt less stress. I felt more independent.

~Catarina Rivera

Editor’s Note

She’s a goal-getter who’s confident, engaging, passionate, and authentic. She is Catarina Rivera a brilliant disability change maker and beautiful role model within the disability community.

Many of us look at people like Catarina and think wow, “I wish I could be like her,” but we don’t consider what Catarina went through to get to where she is now. Like anything in life her evolution is a journey which you’ll learn more about in this post. Enjoy! ~Steph

Beyond Sight Magazine Cover

Beyond Sight Magazine cover has a photo of Catarina a light-skinned Latine woman with dark brown wavy hair wearing a cream faux leather jacket and a brown mock turtleneck top with yellow squiggly lines across it as a pattern. She’s smiling widely. Text on the cover reads “Beyond Sight March 2022 | Women On The Move | Catarina Rivera.”

YouTube Video

Introducing Catarina Rivera

Hi, I’m Catarina Rivera, also known as Blindish Latina. And I’m so excited to make this video for Bold Blind Beauty.

I’m a light skinned Latina woman with dark brown wavy hair swept to one side, I have on glasses with a dark brown frame. I am wearing lipstick and my face is very expressive. I have on silver dangly earrings and a brown shirt with a white trim that has a collar. Let’s get started.

Question 1: Can you tell us a little bit about your journey dealing with both hearing and vision disabilities?

I was born hard of hearing. Once my parents found out I was fitted with hearing aids and received speech therapy. I was only exposed to the hearing world and did not have any connections or exposure to deaf culture or the deaf community.

When I was older, I felt comfortable with my hearing disability and had gotten very used to it. At 17, I was diagnosed with Usher syndrome type two, a combination of hearing and vision loss due to retinitis pigmentosa. This was very challenging for me as a person headed off to college and very excited about my future at the time.

I was not ready for the prospect of going blind. I felt it was a tragedy. And I would get very upset and emotional anytime I spoke about it when I was in college. After college, I moved to New York City because I always wanted to be independent and didn’t want to have to stop driving.

So I made the decision to stop driving and moved to New York. There I got connected with the Foundation Fighting Blindness and started to meet other blind people for the first time they were in their 30s, 40s, and 50s. And I started to understand that there were many tools and ways to adapt to blindness. I saw them living good lives. I also received services and tools from New York State and Helen Keller National, I started to accept my disability.

Five years ago, I started using a white cane and that was a pivotal decision in my life. It helped me to develop strong self advocacy skills. And my view of my disability identity has really evolved throughout my journey. So remember at the beginning, I thought it was a tragedy. Now, I’m proud of my disability. And it’s a very important part of my identity and who I am.

Question 2: How has your journey led you to what you are currently doing?

Becoming a strong self advocate led me to public advocacy. I saw the impact self advocacy was having on my life and how much better it made things. For example, I remember I used to go to a lot of fitness classes. And I would always talk to the instructor beforehand about my disability and let them know how to help me. Then instead of feeling nervous during the class, I felt empowered, I could actually focus on fitness.

It wasn’t enough for me at this point to make an impact on my life only. I wanted to use my voice to make a greater impact on society. This is why I started Blindish Latina and my business as a public speaker and DEI Consultant. My mission as a public speaker and DEI Consultant is to advance disability awareness, inclusion and accessibility in the workplace.

I work with companies and clients, offering them talks, workshops, and consulting. I’m also a content creator on Instagram and LinkedIn. And I’ve been able to do some brand partnerships on these platforms.

I want to make disability real for people, to get more non disabled people to care about disability inclusion. Sharing my story is one way that I reach people.

Question 3: What have been some of your professional or personal struggles? What did you do to overcome them?

Catarina is posing with both her arms outstretch in front of her holding her white cane in front of her body. She is smiling widely and is wearing a mock turtleneck top with a graphic wave pattern, faux leather leggings, and shiny black boots with a chunky heel. She is standing on a concrete surface with a cream-colored wall behind her and an ornamental spiral green bush behind her in the corner.

Using a white cane was a big struggle. Because I had always wanted to hide my disability before. Using a white cane meant confronting internalized ableism which is the idea that you are less worthy because you are disabled. As disabled people we internalize a lot of society’s negative views on disability and mobility aids.

I overcame the struggle by pushing myself to use the cane and to practice not caring about what other people thought. The more that I used the cane and saw the benefit, including the way it helped me to be visibly disabled, I felt better. When I was using the cane I received more assistance. I navigated the world with more confidence and felt less stress. I felt more independent. It just took me time and intention to build my comfort level with using the cane all the time.

Question 4: Can you tell us more about the advocacy initiatives that you have been involved in?

Becoming a content creator has been my biggest advocacy outlet. Whether that’s been speaking up about inaccessibility with meeting platforms like Zoom, which didn’t have closed captions available on all accounts for a very long time. Or creating awareness among non disabled people who don’t understand that blindness is a spectrum.

I have loved using social media for advocacy. Starting Blindish Latina has enabled me to reach millions of people, which I’m very proud of and grateful for.

I previously have also been involved in advocacy within the workplace, leading a disability inclusion affinity group, and sharing my experience with reasonable accommodations.

Question 5: Were there any difficulties you faced when receiving your education as a Latinx woman with a disability?

Catarina, a light-skinned Latine woman with dark brown hair pulled back in a bun, wearing a dark mock turtleneck top with yellow squiggly stripes. She has red lipstick on and is lying down on a modern bright red sculptural chair in an outdoor courtyard. She has her hand extended in an inviting fashion to a photographer. She’s smiling directly at the camera.

Hearing an understanding were my biggest challenges in the classroom. I also had trouble understanding people with accents. And sometimes some of my teachers did have accents.

It was always challenging to understand what my classmates were saying, and also understand the professors or teachers, because they would all be at different places within the room. I would try to sit strategically but sometimes I would just miss something. There was no way to catch everything. It was very frustrating.

I started including my disability and my introductions in classes when you introduce yourself on the first day, and I would ask people to speak loudly and clearly. But I couldn’t guarantee that everyone would remember that for the rest of the semester. It’s a long time.

In the workplace, I felt really challenged by speaking up, and how that could be viewed negatively because of my intersectional identities. Women who have strong opinions and ideas are often viewed as too aggressive, or as troublemakers. While men who do the exact same thing are viewed as leaders, they’re viewed positively.

Because I’m Latina, I can encounter bias if I’m too loud or vocal. And then layering my disability identity on top of that, if I’m speaking up about an access need, or a disability related issue, I might be the only person speaking up about that.

So all of that intersectionality and oppression comes together to create obstacles to my voice being heard. And to me being viewed positively by my co workers, and perhaps even promoted. It can create barriers for advancement.

In my work as a public speaker and DEI Consultant, I show up authentically, I am fully myself with all of my identities. I’m not making myself smaller or quieter for anyone. And that feels amazing.

Catarina Rivera Bio:

Disability Public Speaker + DEI Consultant
Catarina is a public speaker and consultant with 14+ years of experience in the public sector. She is the founder of Blindish Latina, a platform smashing disability stigmas through storytelling, advocacy, and training. Catarina has worn hearing aids from a young age and was diagnosed with progressive vision loss at 17 years old. She has a BA from Duke University, an MSEd from Bank Street College of Education, and an MPH from Hunter College. She is a member of RespectAbility’s National Disability Speakers Bureau.

Connecting With Catarina

Image Descriptions

  • The header contains a cropped photo of the Beyond Sight Magazine cover of Catarina a light-skinned Latine woman with dark brown wavy hair wearing a cream faux leather jacket and a brown mock turtleneck top with yellow squiggly lines across it as a pattern. She’s smiling widely.
  • Beyond Sight Magazine cover has the same photo as in the header. Text on the cover reads “Beyond Sight March 2022 | Women On The Move | Catarina Rivera.”
  • YouTube thumbnail and video description: In the thumbnail, is a photo of Catarina, a light-skinned Latine woman with dark brown hair pulled back in a bun, wearing a dark mock turtleneck top with yellow squiggly stripes. She has red lipstick on and is lying down on a modern bright red sculptural chair in an outdoor courtyard. She has her hand extended in an inviting fashion to a photographer. She’s smiling directly at the camera. In the video Catarina provided the following description “a light skinned Latina woman with dark brown wavy hair swept to one side, I have on glasses with a dark brown frame. I am wearing lipstick and my face is very expressive. I have on silver dangly earrings and a brown shirt with a white trim that has a collar. “
  • Catarina is posing with both her arms outstretch in front of her holding her white cane in front of her body. She is smiling widely and is wearing a mock turtleneck top with a graphic wave pattern, faux leather leggings, and shiny black boots with a chunky heel. She is standing on a concrete surface with a cream-colored wall behind her and an ornamental spiral green bush behind her in the corner.
  • The last photo is identical to the one in the YouTube thumbnail.
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