From "Bidi Bidi Bom Bom" to Accessibility Advocate
A tribute to women who have inspired and supported me along my journey.
One of my fondest memories before permanently losing my hearing was the night before my seventh birthday, Iistening to Selena’s hit song "Bidi Bidi Bom Bom" on the radio. The sound of the drums, the riff, and Selena's voice reverberated through every corner of our house and left a lasting impression on me.
A few months later, we immigrated to New York City from the Dominican Republic and my life changed forever when I lost my hearing to bacterial meningitis. Losing my hearing was like losing a part of myself, whether it was the sound of water in a shower, the ticking of the kitchen clock, or my mother’s voice.
Thanks to the marvel that is technology, I was able to regain my hearing months later through a cochlear implant, a device that bypasses damaged hair cells in the inner ear to stimulate sound perception for people with profound hearing loss. Initially, the sounds were robotic. The world, which had once been full of vibrant sounds, became muted and inaccessible to me. My “Bidi Bidi Bom Boms” were replaced by the harsh, mechanical sounds of the implant and my childhood became countless hours of speech and hearing therapy as I adapted to a new reality as a girl with a hearing disability in a new country, learning a new language.
Lessons in Accessibility From My Mother
Despite the challenge of losing my hearing, the support and connection of my family has been a vital part of my journey. I learned early on from the women in my life about the importance of community. My mother often says “comienza en la casa,” which translates to "it starts in the home." Despite the overwhelming trauma we experienced, my mother was determined to help me reclaim my life and redefine what it meant to live fully with a disability.
I first learned about accessibility and inclusion from my mother. Part of my unofficial education in English was listening to new music on the radio and MTV. My Selena playlist quickly expanded to include the likes of Jay-Z, Mariah Carey, and NSYNC. My younger sister would listen to the songs and sing along, and my mother knew I was being excluded. In an act that I am only now, as an adult, able to appreciate for its power, my mother would take cassettes and record songs as they played on the radio. Then, she and my sister would spend hours rewinding and replaying the music, so they could write the lyrics by hand. Finally, they would play it and visually match the rhythm and beat of the song, so I could learn it and sing along with them.
Over time, my brain learned to interpret sounds as language and music. This level of community, accessibility, and inclusion started in my home — and set a precedent for the rest of my life.
I am forever grateful to the women in my family for their unwavering support in teaching me the importance of community, inclusion, and the power of representation. My journey was further influenced by women I learned about years later, as I came into my identity as an accessibility advocate.
Honoring the Mother of the Disability Rights Movement
My ability to navigate the world as a person with a disability — beyond the familiar confines of my family — was only possible because of other women who paved the way for my ability to exist in the world. Foremost among these women is a leader we lost this weekend: Judith “Judy” Heumann, a tireless advocate for disability rights and women's rights.
Judy contracted polio at the age of two, and her life’s work set into motion the stories of countless other advocates like myself. Judy’s activism is most prominently featured in the film “Crip Camp.” She was an active advocate in the protests in the 1970s that led to the implementation of Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973.
Her advocacy also played a crucial role in the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which helped integrate the first generation of children with disabilities like me into mainstream classrooms and put an end to “separate but equal” education practices. Judy’s role as a Special Advisor on International Disability Rights for the U.S. Department of State enabled her to work with the United Nations to promote disability rights worldwide.
Judy’s advocacy and activism centered on the idea that people with disabilities deserve to be included in all aspects of society and should not be limited by their disability. Her impact on my life — and the lives of others — cannot be overstated, and her memory will continue to be honored as we fight for a more accessible world.
In her Ted Talk, Judy talked about the birth of the Disability Rights Movement as being born of the intersection of the Civil Rights Movement and the Women's Rights Movement and “the need to come together, not only to discuss problems but to discuss solutions.” In 2020, for the 30th anniversary of the ADA and at the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic, I launched the Hearing Access and Inclusion Conference, a seven-day community-led movement celebrating the ADA’s 30th Anniversary through the lens of hearing disability.
This year the conference grew, and I partnered with my colleague Adriana Mallozzi, an entrepreneur and disability advocate, to hold the A11y Conference from April 25 to 27, celebrating the past, present, and future of disability. We were finalizing details with Judy just last week, hoping to have her speak in our first keynote panel conversation. We are heartbroken by the news of her passing, and are forever thankful for her tremendous contributions to the community and her unwavering commitment to advocating for disability rights and inclusion throughout her life. We honor Judy’s legacy by continuing to take action and strive toward a more accessible and inclusive world for all people with disabilities.
Amplifying Voices and Building Together
I am keenly aware of the privilege I occupy being at the intersection of technology, womanhood, and disability as AudioEye’s Advocacy and Social Media Manager. My heart swells with gratitude and purpose. I have been fortunate to work with members of AudioEye’s A11iance, a team of individuals with disabilities who use assistive technology to conduct user testing and raise awareness around digital accessibility. I’m working on initiatives focused on disability inclusion in the workplace, and have the tremendous honor of using and advocating for AudioEye’s technology that continues to push digital accessibility forward, with and for people with disabilities.
In addition to my work with AudioEye, I am also grateful for the incredible network of powerful and inspiring women I have connected with through my advocacy and social media work. My community is expansive and some of my closest friends include powerful women changing the narrative around disability, such as:
- Kay Shakespeare, a wellness-centered deaf advocate and the founder of Black Nerd Disabled who has been one of my best friends since high school.
- Catarina Rivera, a Latinx disability public speaker and consultant who founded Blindish Latina and works to bring attention to disability within DEI initiatives.
- Xian Horn, a half-Asian woman with Cerebral Palsy who serves as a beauty and disability advocate and continuously forces me to look at the most beautiful parts of myself as a woman with a disability.
The future is bright for our community as we continue to uplift and amplify the voices of each other. Together, we are breaking down barriers and shattering stereotypes, paving the way for a more inclusive and equitable world.
Despite the progress that we have made as a society for accessibility and inclusion, there is still so much work to be done. As a woman with a disability, I am committed to continuing to advocate for the rights of people with disabilities. I am proud to be a part of an organization that shares in this commitment and I look forward to working alongside my colleagues, peers, and the community at large to build a future that works for all of us.
I hope you will join us in this mission.
Want to know more about AudioEye's A11iance community? Read the latest posts from our A11iance Advocates or learn how they help AudioEye test websites.
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