Guest blog by: Tucker Salovaara
My name is Tucker Salovaara and I was born and raised in New York City. I’m 27 years old and I have been a patient at the Weinberg Family CP Center since it opened in 2013. I work for a great organization called Theater Breaking Through Barriers (TBTB) as a social media manager. They put on really interesting plays and it is a great group of people dedicated to making sure that we in the disabled community are included in the theatre. Throughout my life I have learned to advocate for myself. Because of my disabilities, I have had to work extra hard to prove to people that I can do anything that I put my mind to.
I was fortunate to be an intern at the Mayor’s Office for People with Disabilities after I graduated from college. That was a great introduction to people and organizations that can make a difference. I have greatly enjoyed getting to know more of the disabled community through my work with the MTA Access-A-Ride Committee, which works on improving services in public transportation. We have made some good progress but obviously have a lot more room for improvement before those of us in wheelchairs can get around as easily as our able-bodied peers. I also volunteer my time to work for an organization called AXS Lab/Map as a web accessibility consultant. They provide information to help people get around town by rating accessibility of businesses and public places. I try to stay “plugged in” with the greater disability community through Google groups, listservs, and participate in protests and attend hearings on important topics relevant to our community. I also participate in the Weinberg Center’s support group for young adults with CP, which has been a nice way to meet new friends who face similar challenges.
Why Being Active in the Disability Community Matters:
- You Are Not Alone. We are all in this together! One of the most important lessons about advocacy is that together we are stronger than if we go it alone. Even if you don’t think you initially have a lot in common with others, you will share similar experiences and find common goals.
- Your Voice Matters. What you have to say is important. Your experiences may shed light on additional issues that others have not thought about. Change only happens when people make the effort to speak up about their concerns!
- You Can Make a Difference. In order to promote change, you need to want to change something. What is it that would improve your life?
- Put Your Ideas Into Action. The other critical piece is acting on your beliefs—As Gandhi said, “Be the change that you want to see in the world.”
- Be Open to Trying New Things. Always have an open mind and an open heart. You might just be surprised by your own ABILITIES!
I think that many people in the disabled community are afraid to get involved because they are afraid of being adversely judged or being rejected. It’s corny but never forget—nothing ventured, nothing gained!
My advice to those who feel afraid/judged or don’t know how to get involved would be:
- Don’t be afraid to share your opinion, because your voice matters
- Think outside of the box, try different things and find something with a group atmosphere, like a support group to get started, so that you can feel more comfortable getting involved
- Be confident. Every story matters and no one can argue with your experience!
- Don’t be passive. Be bold in spite of what you think people expect of you or how they may judge you
- Push yourself to try something new--even if you feel vulnerable, try it–you might like it! That is what happened to me with the WFCPC support group, which I really enjoy.
For me, getting involved with the MTA Access a Ride Committee helped me put my frustrations with transportation in NYC into action. I was fed up with the system and wanted to do something about it. People had to listen and I was no longer being passive. Now, I help the MTA by testing and reviewing new products and initiatives like the Access A Ride app which helps riders track their rides. We also have a pilot program through Curb for wheelchairs which is much quicker than AAR vans.
Having grown up on the Upper East Side, I was constantly aware of visitors’ challenges with accessibility issues in Central Park. I had an idea to create a map of accessible pathways and worked with the NYC Parks Department and the Mayor’s Office for People with Disabilities on such a project. I tried to come up with a solution to a problem that I saw shared by many others.
If I could empower anyone by saying something, it would be “Don’t be afraid to share your ideas and fight for your rights.” We need more people advocating for and in the disability community because improvements are needed and our lives matter.
Tucker is a patient of the Weinberg Family CP Center and an active member of the adult support group. To learn more about Tucker, check out his patient spotlight here.