Posts Tagged ‘Deaf’

Smashing Disability Stigma with Blindish Latina, Catarina Rivera

Wednesday, April 28th, 2021

Catarina Rivera as a young girl with her hearing aids and a toothy grin.
Catarina Rivera grew up Deaf. By the time she was comfortable not only using hearing aids but with herself as well, she received a diagnosis; she was going Blind. She just so happened to be getting ready to leave home for college.

Today, she has a Master’s in Public Health and is using her platform, Blindish Latina, to advocate and spread awareness. Hear more about her journey and how you too can be a “Stigma Smasher!”

Listen

Resources

Catarina Rivera.com
Blindish Latina

Transcript

Show the transcript

TR:
Greetings Reid My Mind Radio Family!

It’s so very nice to be back here with you.
If this is your first time here allow me to welcome you and introduce myself.
My name is Thomas and I’m serving as the host and producer of this here podcast which features compelling people impacted by all degrees of blindness and disability.

Every now and then I bring you stories from my own experience as a man adjusting to becoming Blind as an adult.

In case I haven’t mentioned it for a while, my focus here is on those adjusting to becoming Blind. Honestly though, the more I learn and consider the adjustment process, I think the specific disability isn’t as important. Yes, of course, it matters, especially when trying to resolve specific challenges or learn technique, but there can be so much insight to gain no matter the disability.

I tend to highlight those things that I think are especially important for someone new to blindness, but we all hear differently – meaning you may resonate strongly with something said where I may not. I’d love to know if that is the case so, please remember you can always reach out and share that with me by emailing ReidMyMindRadio@gmail.com.

Now, let’s get this Poppin’!

Audio: Reid My Mind Theme Music

Catarina:
I’m Katerina Rivera, the founder of Blindish Latina. I am a light skinned Latina woman with long dark brown wavy hair. And I’m currently wearing blue glasses.

— Music Begins – A smooth chill Hip Hop beat…

When I was about three or four years old, that’s when my parents first started noticing that I had trouble hearing, I think I was walking away from them and then not responding when they would call me.

We found out that I had hearing loss and I was fitted with hearing aids, I went to one year of special education, and then I was mainstream. I still received speech therapy on a regular basis, I had an IEP continuously throughout my education. And for the most part, though, I was mainstreamed.

TR:

Catarina and her family had no explanation for her hearing loss until she was 17 years old.

Catarina:

I was diagnosed with Usher syndrome, which is a combination of progressive vision loss due to retinitis pigmentosa. And hearing loss depends on which type of Ushers you have

TR:

There are three major types of Usher syndrome, known as type 1, 2 and 3. They’re distinguished by the severity of hearing loss, the presence or absence of balance problems, and the age at which signs and symptoms appear.

By 17 years old, Catarina, adjusted to her hearing loss, fully accepted wearing hearing aids and was comfortable in her own skin.

She was on her way to Duke University on a scholarship when diagnosed with vision loss.

Catarina:

When I first got diagnosed, I felt like it was a huge tragedy in my life. It was upsetting, surprising. And it felt like a very big loss. I think that I had to go through the stages of grief in some way. When I was reacting to this, when my parents heard about it, they were very upset. And I felt pain for them. So, I felt like I had to be strong for them.

TR:

Presenting that strength doesn’t give much opportunity to deal with the emotions. Even sharing with friends who often don’t know how to respond doesn’t feel right.

Catarina:

I felt like I was dropping a bomb. I felt really heavy. I don’t tell people, hey, I’m going blind, I find that when I would do that, it would really evoke a sense of pity. People feel sorry for me. And I was feeling bad. At the time, I was feeling bad about it. But as I progressed, in my journey, that language doesn’t resonate with me anymore. It’s not the way that I tell my story. It’s not, it doesn’t feel like a tragedy anymore, but I can definitely empathize with myself at that time.

TR in Conversation with Catarina: 10:05
You never said anything about even exploring the idea of postponing school where I’ve heard from other people, and it would be sort of understandable where someone might, hey, I gotta take some time. It sounds like you still went straight to college.

— Music Ends…

Was there ever any sort of, thing about Oh, okay, maybe I should postpone this because of the vision loss?

Catarina:

That’s a very interesting question. I have not heard that before. And I mean, I get it, it makes sense, every person is going to have their own response to something like that.

I never felt like I needed time away from school.

TR:

Retinitis Pigmentosa is progressive so the early diagnosis didn’t impact her studies as much as the hearing loss.

With an accommodation allowing her to register early, Catarina avoided the large classes in auditoriums and opted instead for smaller classes making it easier for her to hear the lectures.

There was more of an impact on her social life.
And she wisely considered her vision loss in her decision-making process.

Catarina:

I decided not to drink alcohol, because I didn’t want to impair myself any further, I saw that people were really cutting loose, you know, and partying. And I remember thinking to myself is it’s every person for themselves here.

I would focus more on dancing, because I couldn’t hear people when the music was loud, and I love to dance. So, I never stopped myself from having a good time.

TR:

All of this considered, it’s not surprising, Catarina didn’t feel a part of the blind community. For a while she could still drive and wasn’t using a white cane.

It wasn’t until she moved to New York City after graduation and began seeking out community.

Catarina:
When I moved to New York, I didn’t have a job, I had decided to go into the field of education. And I was very motivated to make a difference for the Latino community, for my people. I had applied to a program called Teach for America, where you commit to working in a low-income classroom for two years. And I was very lucky, because not only could I move to New York, to access great public transit, I also was able to go even further than what I had hoped.

I basically got a job as an elementary school teacher teaching third grade, and bilingual education and I was working with students who had Spanish as their first language. It was exactly what I wanted to do, it felt meaningful. I taught at that school; it was in the Bronx.

— Music Begins, a strong, dramatic intro to a driving Hip Hop beat

TR in Conversation with Catarina:

(Laughing) I can just imagine the people who have their preconceived notions, not only about disability, whether it be the hearing loss and the blindness, but then you know, you threw in my beloved bx borrow, okay, you know. And so, then they’re like, oh my she’s, she’s, she’s deaf and blind and she teaching in the Bronx, you say?

Tell me a little bit about how you did your job.

Catarina:

Sure. Yeah. So, I was really happy to be in the Bronx, my fathers from the South Bronx, he’s Puerto Rican. I felt like, Okay, this is like a full circle moment, where I can kind of be in a space that my father grew up in and give back. So, it felt amazing to me.

Now, as far as just some of the logistics, I purposely chose where I was going to live based on the commute to work, I ended up living in Washington Heights, which was just across the river. And I took a bus every day, to my school, I basically only had to walk five to 10 minutes to catch the bus in Manhattan. And I, the bus stop was directly across from the school. So, the only issue that I would have is when I would fall asleep, because it was really early in the morning, and miss my stop in the Bronx and have to walk back. (Laughs)

I also had a really great teacher who also worked at the school who would drive in from Jersey. And so, if I was ready early enough, I would be able to meet her, and she would just pick me up from 100 81st Street and just take me to work as well.

I think people who have preconceived notions of any place need to check that and not make assumptions.

TR:

Word!

There were, however, real challenges of the job that she never actually considered.

Catarina:

One thing that was difficult was knowing who was bothering who, when you have a lot of children sitting there and I’m in the front. It’s very hard, like I don’t have that peripheral vision. So I’m not able to see like filano was poking filano.

Filano is a term for like anybody, like whoever. So that’s how we use it.

TR:

It’s not just behavioral. When young children have questions or want to participate, it’s important that they’re recognized.

Catarina:

That’s something I did do with them. I would let them know and it’s simple, hey I can’t see well. If you have your hand up, I might not see you. So, wave it around. I put it up high, I’m going to scan. I would feel so bad if the kid had their hand up and wanted to talk and I really didn’t see them. That’s demoralizing. So, I would try to make sure They were aware of what was going on with me and I’d give recommendations for what they could do.

TR:

In classroom is challenging enough, but what about field trips?

Catarina:

Generally, on a field trip, the teachers in the front, you got to lead the way, you got to set up the access to the subway present the form to the conductor. That was so stressful for me, because I do well in environments that I know.

TR:

And then there’s dealing with parents.

Catarina:

Phone calls were also hard to the parents being able to hear well, on the phone, I didn’t know about any of the programs that were out there and that I had been able to use now that has somebody transcribing the phone call while you’re on it or use AI for that. I didn’t have any of that. So anytime I called home, it would be maybe a different voice that I had never heard before. I would let them know that I don’t hear well, repeat yourself. And then a lot of times, you know, it’s like parents are speaking in Spanish. So, I really worked on my Spanish as well during that time.

TR:

After three years Catarina left that job and worked for a charter school in Harlem for about a year.

— Music Ends

Catarina:

I realized that in education the way to move up was to move out of the classroom, to become an administrator. And that wasn’t really the way that I wanted to go, I didn’t want my daily life to be about that. So, when I started to become interested in food, and seeing the food that my kids were eating in the classroom and starting to question why they are eating so many bags of chips and candy in the morning.

TR:

Actually, that’s a great question especially coming from the person responsible for educating these young minds.

— Music Ends…

And we should know, proper nutrition impacts your ability to focus and learn.

So, she began researching.

Catarina:

I remember going to Western beef, the supermarket and looking at all the products, the corner store and seeing, hey, the waters all the way at the bottom of the refrigerated case why?

The first part of my journey with food was approaching it from an education lens. I had this idea that people needed to be educated.

I started a community health program in my neighborhood where I started teaching families about health, including fitness and nutrition.

TR:

In addition to the research mentioned, Catarina also has a master’s degree in Public Health and certification in holistic health.

Catarina:

I realized that the system was also a huge force in people’s ability to eat well. And if I focus just on education, I was really missing the mark.

The great thing about working in the nonprofit space is that I did work with kids in the beginning, I was working on an after-school program. But once I transitioned into Program Administration, I realized how much less stress I had in my life, sitting at a desk and working in a different way. Working on partnerships.

TR in Conversation with Catarina:

So, is that the work that you do today?

Catarina:

So, I’m still in the nonprofit space working in food insecurity. And I’m so glad that I’ve had the opportunity to get training and public health, and learn about food justice, and food sovereignty, which are really important ways for approaching the issues with food and what we can do about it. And as part of that, I’ve been able to involve myself in community organizing. And I founded an organization in Washington Heights called the Washington Heights, Inwood food Council. So, it’s in both neighborhoods, Washington Heights, and Inwood. And this group is pursuing food justice in the community, they’re gardening, they’re working with people in the neighborhood of all backgrounds. And the group now exists without me that I’ve transitioned myself out there completely sustainable and continuing to do very good work.

— Transition
— Audio of Catarina from InstaGram:
“Heres a two minute inclusion tip from Blindish Latina. Caption all of your videos…”

Voice Over from IPhone: “Video by Blindish latina”
Catarina from video: “Happy International Women’s Day! I want to tell you about a women I really admite. And, it’s my mom!”

— Music Begins, A Latin influenced Hip Hop groove.

TR in Conversation with Catarina:

Talk to me about Blindish Latina. First of all, explain the name blind ish.

Catarina:

The name blindish Latina means a lot to me, I wanted to showcase my intersectionality the multiple identities that I have, especially because we don’t see a lot of representation of people of color, of Latinidad that within disability. So that’s why I chose a Latina. And the reason I put blindish is because I wanted to give a hint of the fact that blindness is a spectrum. And I know that so many people don’t know this. They think that when somebody is blind, they don’t see anything at all. They don’t have any space in their mind or any concept in their mind of someone like me, who can see really well in such a small window. But I still retain vision.

TR:

The mission of Blindish Latina?

Catarina:

To smash disability stigmas through storytelling, through training and through advocacy.

TR:

Right now, all of this takes place on Instagram.

Catarina:

I talk about my own disability journey. And frequently share stories even about things that might seem small to me. And like something that nobody else would be interested in, for example, I did a video about swimming with hearing aids. And just talking about the fact that I have to be concerned about where I put my hearing aids, when I go swimming, and that I get really scared about somebody stealing them off the beach. So, I might leave them at home, and then not here for hours. But I got so much response on this post that other people feel the same way.

TR:

It’s not always specific to the Deaf or Blind community.

Catarina:

I also share about disability awareness in general, for example, self-identification.

TR:

For example, the debate over using identity first language versus person first language. Identifying as a Blind person as compared to a person who is Blind.

If you gather the right people, this could be a full podcast episode, but Catarina’s point is that it’s up to that individual how they choose to identify.

In addition, she’s sharing best practices and awareness of all sorts of advocacy issues.

TR in Conversation with Catarina: 49:45
What is it that made you become more interested now, in sort of connecting with the cross-disability community?

Catarina:

One thing that made me interested was the documentary Crip camp on Netflix about the disability rights movement, and the story of this camp that brought people with all different kinds of disabilities together in the 70s.

People of all different kinds of disabilities coming together to take these actions. And it really occurred to me that I had not been in a space like that. It’s something that has been inspiring.

TR:

Catarina’s been involved in some of the digital communities, but it’s not as personal.

Right now, she’s focusing on taking Blindish Latina beyond IG.
Catarina:

So, one of the things that I’m doing with Blindish Latina, is public speaking, and offering workshops, and speeches. It’s very important to me to grow my impact and be able to talk to corporations and institutions about disability awareness, why they should care about disability and accessibility, and the actions they can take to create an inclusive workplace and implement best practices. So, this is a major component of Blindish Latina and where it’s headed.
— Music ends

TR:

Catarina is hopeful that corporations will be receptive to her message. Especially considering the attention being given to diversity equity and inclusion initiatives.

This is where that smashing comes in.

— audible smashing sound

Catarina:

I think for me smashing stigmas, or being a stigma smasher was exciting, because it was action oriented.

I’m all about actually creating change. I’m not on Instagram just to talk or post photos of myself or get likes, I’m on there to share best practices to activate allies to move people along this continuum, where they are now going to operate differently and make an impact on their sphere of influence wherever they live.

TR:

Check out some specific advice for allies or accomplices who want to work with the community in smashing stigmas, straight from Blindish Latina.

Catarina:

People have this idea that being an ally is a huge undertaking.

I’ve broken it down into three simple steps. One, you have to care. You have to believe that it is important to be aware of accessibility to do better.

Second educate yourself. You can learn without putting the burden on people with disabilities to teach you, there are so many people producing content, you can engage with them, follow them, this podcast is a perfect example. Books, websites and trainings and presentation. So, you can do a lot of self-education.

— Music Begins, a triumphant smooth Hip Hop groove
TR:

The final step doesn’t actually require a lot of expertise or going far beyond your comfort zone.

— Smash sound —
Catarina:

Wherever you exist. Whatever community you’re a part of you can take action. For example, if you’re part of a church community that’s going to have their masses on zoom, you can advocate for a platform that has closed captions, and speak up and say, Hey, we should consider this other option.

If you are managing your staff, and you’re going to have a meeting off site, you can create a registration form for people to RSVP. And you can have a question in there that says, what accommodations Do you need, and it can be anonymous. And you can create a space that is welcoming. That’s taking an action that’s being an ally.

4TR in Conversation with Catarina:
You see what you did there? You still teach Academy.

— Catarina and Thomas share in a laugh.

TR:

That’s the value of experience. The ability to apply what we learn throughout our lives in different areas. That’s wisdom.

Showing the world who you are. All aspects.

Catarina:

One of the reasons that I started Blindish Latina was to show that I am here, that I am a professional, disabled, Latina woman and I exist. I don’t think there’s a lot of representation of all of those dimensions of people who are disabled and are not white, of people that are disabled and are in the workforce, especially for people with blindness. I feel like there’s a lot of assumptions that blind people cannot work. And there are many of us in the workforce. So that’s why I use that term professional. Look, I’m here educated. I have two graduate degrees. I was Valedictorian of my mph, like, Come at me.

TR:

Better come correct!

You can check out all of the content including best practices, informative videos with captions, images with alt text and more on Insta Gram @BlindishLatina. You can also connect with her via Linked In by searching by name, that’s Catarina Rivera (spelled out)

Catarina:

And I have a website as well. CatarinaRivera.com

TR in Conversation with Catarina:

So, I don’t know if you know, but the fact that you are on the Reid My Mind Radio podcast. That means you are now officially part of the Reid My Mind Radio family.

You perfectly aligned with what we are doing. And so, if I could borrow your turn because we’re trying’ to smash it up too.

(Laughs…)
— Smashing sound…

Catarina:

Love it!

TR:

Some great take aways in this one y’all!

Like using our experience, talents and interests to create impact.

Shout out to Catarina! We’re rocking with you Sis!

Continue to follow what’s happening here on Reid My Mind Radio wherever you consume your favorite podcasts. I hope we can one day make your list.

In the meantime, tell somebody you love or at least like a lot or even if you have no real feelings for this individual, let them know you are part of the Reid My Mind Radio Family. Let them know we have transcripts and more at ReidMyMind.com. Now this can be a challenge for some so be patient and no matter how long it may take, explain that it’s R to the E I D…
(“D and that’s me in the place to be” Slick Rick)

Like my last name!

— Music ends into the outro

Audi o: Reid My Mind Radio outro

Peace

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