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RespectAbility’s National Disability Speakers Bureau

Catarina Rivera smiling headshot

Catarina Rivera

Catarina Rivera has earned a BA in Psychology from Duke University with a scholarship from the Robertson Scholars Leadership Program; a Master of Science in Education (MSEd) degree from the Bank Street College of Education with a focus on Dual Language/Bilingual Education; as well as a Master of Public Health (MPH) degree from Hunter College.

Rivera is an entrepreneur committed to social justice. She is the founder of the Washington Heights/Inwood Food Council, a food justice organization. She is the co-founder of ExplorEquity, a sustainable travel company committed to supporting locals and amplifying social justice issues. Rivera is also the founder of Blindish Latina, a platform smashing disability stigmas through storytelling, advocacy, and education. In addition to her entrepreneurial endeavors, she has over 14+ years of experience working in educational institutions and at nonprofit organizations. She has experience in program development/management, managing teams, capacity building, community organizing, community engagement, and diversity, equity, inclusion (DEI) initiatives as part of employee groups.

As a Latinx woman who has lived with disability all her life, Rivera brings a deep understanding of intersectionality to conversations surrounding disability. She wore hearing aids from a young age but did not know why she had hearing loss. At 17, she was diagnosed with Usher Syndrome type 2, a combination of progressive vision loss due to Retinitis Pigmentosa and moderate-to-severe hearing loss. Learning that she was losing her vision was very difficult for 17-year-old Rivera. As her disability journey progressed over the years, she describes her progression as moving through the following four stages: “From Denial to Acceptance to Self-Advocacy to Public Advocacy.” In her journey, Rivera has learned what it is like to have an invisible disability that one can make visible or choose not to disclose. She began using a white cane several years ago and noticed changes in how society viewed her. She now feels disability pride and is empowered by sharing her story.

Rivera is bilingual in English and Spanish. Her family is Cuban and Puerto Rican, and she is a first generation American on one side and second generation on the other.

Rivera looks forward to sharing her academic and career expertise, lived experience with disability, and passion on topics related to disability awareness, inclusion, digital inclusion, accessibility, allyship, and advocacy.

Spanish version

Catarina Rivera obtuvo una licenciatura de la Universidad de Duke con una beca del Programa de Liderazgo Robertson Scholars. Obtuvo una Maestría en Ciencias en Educación (MSEd) del Bank Street College of Education con un enfoque en Educación de Lenguaje Dual/Bilingüe. Obtuvo un título adicional de Maestría en Salud Pública (MPH) de Hunter College.

Rivera es una emprendedora comprometida con la justicia social. Es la fundadora del Washington Heights/Inwood Food Council, una organización de justicia alimentaria. Es cofundadora de ExplorEquity, una empresa de viajes sostenibles comprometida con el apoyo a la población local y la ampliación de los problemas de justicia social. Rivera es también la fundadora de Blindish Latina, una plataforma que destruye los estigmas de la discapacidad a través de la narración y la educación. Además de sus esfuerzos empresariales, tiene más de 14 años de experiencia trabajando en instituciones educativas y organizaciones sin fines de lucro. Tiene experiencia en desarrollo de programas, desarrollo de capacidades, organización comunitaria, e iniciativas de diversidad (DEI) como parte de grupos de empleados.

Como mujer latina que ha vivido con discapacidad toda su vida, Rivera aporta un profundo conocimiento de la interseccionalidad a las conversaciones sobre la discapacidad. Usó audífonos desde una edad temprana, pero no sabía por qué tenía pérdida auditiva. A los 17 años, a Rivera le diagnosticaron el síndrome de Usher tipo 2, una combinación de pérdida progresiva de la visión debido a la retinitis pigmentosa y pérdida auditiva. Descubrir que estaba perdiendo la vista fue muy difícil para Rivera. Describe su progresión con discapacidad como pasar por las siguientes 4 etapas: “Denegación a la aceptación a la auto advocación a la advocación pública”. Rivera ha aprendido lo que es tener una discapacidad invisible que uno puede hacer visible o elegir no revelar. Comenzó a usar un bastón blanco hace varios años y notó cambios en cómo la veía la sociedad. Ahora se siente orgullosa de la discapacidad y se siente empoderada al compartir su historia.

Rivera es bilingüe en inglés y español. Su familia es cubana y puertorriqueña, y ella es una estadounidense de primera generación por un lado y de segunda generación por el otro.

Rivera espera poder compartir su experiencia académica y profesional, su experiencia vivida con la discapacidad y su pasión por temas relacionados con la concienciación sobre la discapacidad, la inclusión, la inclusión digital, la accesibilidad, la alianza y la advocación.

About RespectAbility’s National Disability Speakers Bureau

RespectAbility’s National Disability Speakers Bureau offers diverse speakers with disabilities to teach about disability inclusion; and/or to offer their expertise in an array of topics, ranging from Art and Entertainment to Entrepreneurship, Education, Finance, Law, Psychology, Religion (of many faiths) and every vocation in between. Our Speakers Bureau and its divisions are expanding. If this is of interest to you or you know a professional with a visible or nonvisible disability who might be interested, you (or she/he/they) can email Speakers@RespectAbility.org.

Meet the Author

Eric Ascher

Eric Ascher is the Communications Associate for RespectAbility. He is responsible for supporting RespectAbility’s Vice President, Communications in developing and implementing advocacy efforts and communications of various types. Ascher manages RespectAbility’s social media channels, website and emails; organizes and develops webinars; and supervises Communications Fellows.

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