Washington, D.C., August 20 – At RespectAbility’s annual disability summit on Capitol Hill, Vincenzo Piscopo, community and stakeholder relations director for the Coca-Cola company, discussed how to transform society’s perceptions of people with disabilities. By changing the labels put on people with disabilities and giving them opportunities, people with disabilities can be just as, or even more, successful than people without disabilities.
Through his work with Coca-Cola, Piscopo has reshaped the meaning of disability by giving people with disabilities the opportunity to define themselves, instead of letting society define and stigmatize them.
Piscopo, who manages Coke’s relationships with disability, veteran and Hispanic organizations, is president and founder of This-ABILITY BRG for the Coca-Cola Company and the “Wheels of Happiness Foundation,” where he helps people with physical disabilities in disadvantaged areas around the world.
After Piscopo became paralyzed from a popped herniated disk in 2010, he said he fell in love with being part of the disability community and discussed the lessons he has learned from the community. First, he marveled at the individuals he has met – people who have become successful despite living in world that stigmatizes and is not made for people with disabilities.
Using himself as an example, Piscopo forced the audience to rethink disability. He explained what having a disability has done for him personally. “Disability has taught me to unleash the power of me, the power of what I can do, and the power of what I’m able to do,” he said.
Piscopo shared his personal experiences of being stigmatized as a wheelchair user. For example, he told a story about asking a group of women to help him get up a curb. After obliging, they offered him their leftovers from dinner. Mind you, he was wearing a suit and is extremely successful.
“That is the problem with stigmas. And that is the problem with labels. No matter how much the people within the disability community have accomplished, can accomplish when given the opportunity, we’re still seen as less than others,” he said. “We’re still seen as potential homeless people regardless of everything that we have accomplished. That is why I’m extremely proud of the work that RespectAbility does.”
In addition to being a proud RespectAbility Board Member, Piscopo is helping Coca-Cola create a new campaign that works to fight stigmas against people with disabilities. The Coca-Cola Company has removed the labels of the Diet Coke can to inspire a conversation about labels. The company hopes that this will allow marginalized and stigmatized groups of people, like people with disabilities, to make their own labels.
The Coca-Cola Company has pledged to take this campaign all over the country to encourage people to make their own labels. Piscopo ended his speech with his own pledges about labels and educating others about the disability community.
“I will take every opportunity to teach the world that we deserve this world as much as everybody else. That’s my pledge. And my second pledge is that I will peel the label off people to see what is really inside and act based on that, not about the label.”