Meet Mariah, “No Boundaries” 2016 Participant
By Carolyn VanBrocklin, Communications Specialist, Disability.gov Team
When Mariah rolls into the office, she exudes bubbly confidence. Born with cerebral palsy, she wanted to participate in “No Boundaries” because she “thought it would be an amazing experience to show what people with disabilities can do. When barriers are broken down, people with disabilities are able to be active participants in their communities and nationwide.”
Mariah didn’t know a lot of people with disabilities when she was younger. She grew up in an Air Force family, which meant frequent moves, and she was often the only person in her school who used a wheelchair. After her family moved to Texas, she joined Kinetic Kids, an accessible sports and recreation program for young people with disabilities. For the first time, she met other kids her age who also used walkers or wheelchairs to get around. Mariah says the program provides a very positive experience for young people with disabilities. “[Participants] realize they can dream big and know not to limit themselves.”
Mariah says that her disability has impacted her life in a positive light through the extraordinary experiences it has made possible – like participating in “No Boundaries.” Though she doesn’t drive, she’s visited more than 15 states and Washington, D.C., and made close friends along the way. She has a strong support system of family, friends, co-workers and community to help her fulfill her dreams, which she says have enriched her life and helped shape her positive outlook and sense of determination.
Now a young professional, Mariah works for the University of Texas at San Antonio Small Business Development Center(SBDC). She’s been employed there for a year, and was recently promoted from marketing associate to training coordinator. She likes the variety in her job, which focuses on training and advising. The Center has small business advisors that provide one-on-one support to anyone interested in opening or growing a small business, and Mariah coordinates the training workshops. This includes more than 200 workshops a year for business owners and entrepreneurs on a variety of topics, like business essentials, marketing, social media and more. Mariah puts together the workshop calendars and makes sure the trainings run smoothly. She’s also tech-savvy and uses social media to get the word out about the SBDC’s upcoming workshops. The Center focuses on values-based leadership, and her team focuses on innovation, excellence, service and integrity.
At work, Mariah doesn’t use any particular accommodations. She just makes sure things are in reach and, she says, her team is so tight-knit that if there’s anything she needs, there’s always someone there to help. The Center is located at a university, which means accessibility is built-in. In comparison to previous places of employment, she no longer has to deal with issues such as heavy doors or long commutes on public transportation.
Mariah has always been an advocate for accessible, inclusive communities – you might even say she’s “inclined for inclusion.” This was the message she incorporated into her platform as Ms. Wheelchair Texas in 2012 and Ms. Wheelchair America in 2013. In this role, Mariah traveled across the U.S. to spread her message of inclusion. She originally focused on historical districts, but ended up going further and speaking to kids, schools and community groups. She even created her own logo to promote her message and gave out stickers with the logo on them to those she met in the states she visited.
Mariah loves adaptive sports and still participates with Kinetic Kids as an ambassador. As an ambassador, Mariah has been part of “Discovering Disabilities Days,” where she serves as a speaker for area schools. The students learn about disabilities in a hands-on and meaningful way. With the opportunity to ask questions and interact, the students learn about inclusion. She also has a robust social life and spends time with friends at places such as Morgan’s Wonderland in San Antonio, an accessible amusement park. She says she particularly enjoys their “more delightful than frightful” Halloween celebration.
Mariah’s words of wisdom? “Stay open to the possibilities and know that you can do everything you set your mind to. You might have to do it differently, but don’t limit yourself.”