Advocate for the disabled working for inclusive world
There's a saying in the disability community: "Nothing about us without us."
"It means I'm included in this picture," said Claudia Hollis, branch manager of the FREED Center for Independent Living in Marysville.
Hearing-impaired since she was born, Hollis, who was nominated for a Spirit of Freedom award in the One Nation category by Jackie Sillman, knows how it feels to be perceived as different and left out.
She was not diagnosed with her disability until she was in the second grade, and before that, no one could explain why she was unresponsive and had a lack of balance. She remembers the humiliation of being laughed at by classmates in the first grade because she could not jump rope.
"I can clearly relate to being excluded," said Hollis, who was born and raised in Idyllwild, a small town in Southern California.
That next year, she was given a hearing aid, which made all the difference in the world. She calls it her "defining moment" when she was finally able to hear the rope on the pavement and could play jump rope with her classmates.
She said her disability never deterred her from trying to do what others thought she couldn't do.
"My mother hated that I was always setting myself up for disappointment, but I never had any feelings that I couldn't do anything," Hollis said.
In the eighth grade, she wanted to play clarinet in the school band, and she did, even though she was told she'd be tone-deaf. In high school, she did drama and acted in plays even though she was challenged with a speech impediment. In college, she even got involved in speech competition.
"I guess I learned at an early age to advocate for myself," said Hollis. "It was all because of that pressure of trying to keep up, to do it and to say it could be done. The pressure was my best motivator."
Today, as an advocate for the disabled, Hollis, 55, wants to motivate others to see past the disabilities so that everyone can live in a more inclusive world.
"So much of what we do is often after the fact," she said. "When someone says 'I can't get through the door,' then we put in the wider doorway. Our services should be more inclusive. Everything we do in life, every building we build, we should take a step back and say, 'How can we make it more accessible?' "
When the world becomes accessible to the disabled, she said, not only are they less of a burden, but they can work, pay taxes and become an independent, responsible citizen.
"So everyone stands to benefit," she said.
Appeal-Democrat reporter Ching Lee can be reached at 749-4724. You may e-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Nominated by: Jackie Sillman
"She is a passionate advocate for the disabled in our community." in her letter nominating Claudia Hollis for a Spirit of Freedom award in the One Nation category