Making Life Accessible in South Texas

Words by Juan Lopez
Edited by Abigail Vela

As a person with a disability, I have seen how people with disabilities have bonded with VAIL (Valley Association for Independent Living) because they see that they really care about them and their needs. In their classes, they’ve taught me about being able to take care of myself, being self aware of surroundings, legal rights, money management, and more. The RGV disability community appreciates them and their leadership team, including Lidia Fonseca. Thanks to Lidia’s leadership, I have risen to the position of serving as a council member of Texas Council for Developmental Disabilities (TCDD). I also serve as a board member of VAIL. I interviewed Lidia to learn more about what she does and her inspiration in helping others.

What is your official position at VAIL?

My name is Lidia Fonseca. My official title is director of programs, and my position entails overseeing and developing programs at VAIL, at our center, and supervising staff.

Who or what motivates you to work with people with disabilities, and can you tell me a little bit about your life story?

Ever since I was in high school, a lot of my good friends were people with disabilities. I did see how much of a vulnerable population they were at that time, and how there was not a lot of equality in the different services they got in school, or even amongst social groups and friends there. That’s what led me to the type of degree I wanted to get in college, which was in rehab services and disability studies, [and] what motivated me to have a career in working with people with disabilities. I do have family members with disabilities as well, both from my mom’s and my dad’s side, and a couple of second cousins as well. For the majority of my life, I was in Houston, and had more of a multicultural, diverse, experience, in terms of persons with disabilities, it wasn’t just one specific culture, it was many different ones. [During] the latter part of my life as an adult, I’ve been in the Rio Grande Valley and experienced working with persons predominantly in the Hispanic culture.

When you go out there in the public as a public citizen, how can you help people with disabilities?

Everytime I go to a restaurant or a store, I’m always measuring it for accessibility – physical accessibility. What that means is that if I go into a clothing store and I see that the racks are too close, that there’s no access ramp, there’s not an accessible bathroom, I make note of all of that and I ask to speak to a manager and give them a recommendation. When I go to a restaurant, same thing. And now, I’m looking more at communicative accessibility. If somebody only speaks sign language, how do they address someone, or how do they help them at a restaurant or at a store? I’m always thinking in the back of my mind – if my staff, friends, or family who have disabilities cannot be here with me eating or shopping, then I don’t want to be here.

Photo Courtesy of Vail RGV Facebook
Photo Courtesy of Vail RGV Facebook

What about specifically the Latino community that have disabilities?

Even though we live in a predominantly Hispanic area and there are a lot of people and businesses who are bilingual, not everything that is provided or services that are provided are in the first language of the Latinos who are here. We are very big on Mexican-American culture because of the influx of immigrants. A lot of those immigrants are people with disabilities. There’s [also] an influx of people who are coming from Central America, which is where we have to diversify – there are different accents and cultures. To specifically address Latinos with disabilities is to make sure, not only to address people with disabilities in general encounter in terms of barriers (physical access) but how accessible and inclusive communication is.

If a consumer of VAIL has a suggestion to improve your services, what are the mechanisms you employ to actually make that change?

So if there’s a consumer who is already using our services and is reaching out, as program director, I have an open door policy, open phone policy, and I can hear them out to listen to their suggestions. When you’re looking at a group setting, a lot of the time, [we] hold public events and seminars where we want people’s feedback. For example, The State Plan for Independent Living is the independent living plan that all the centers for independent living across the state have to follow. 

 

Could you give me two names of partners you have for the community?

Westbrook Clinic with Valley AIDS Council and Texas Workforce Solutions.

[Other partners include] disability organizations [such as]:

RGVDSACapable KidsBebo’s AngelsDown By The Border.

 

How do you help consumers if they don’t know how to register to vote?

We’ve partnered up with what’s called REV UP Texas (Register, Educate, Vote, and Use your Power), and it’s specifically for voting disability rights. We provide trainings on how to register to vote, how to make sure you know important voting dates, and different voting deadlines on registration. VAIL also serves as a polling site.

 

How can the people within the community help advocate for VAIL? How can people within the community apply for your services?

I can think of two ways – one is spreading the word. [Refer] family members, people that they know, or somebody who might benefit from our services. Secondly, financial – [if you] know anyone or a business that could sponsor us, because we are a nonprofit, all the funds that we [receive] go right back to the programs. To apply for our services, all you have to do is either call our office (956)668-8245, email us at info@vailrgv.org, or send us a Facebook message and we’re going to respond asking general intake information, and [align a] program that’s specific to [your] needs. 

 


Note: This article was transcribed for Juan by the editor. Trucha encourages people with disabilities to write for us! We will work with you in any capacity to make it happen.

 

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