by Cathy Bennett-Santos
My name is Cathy Bennett-Santos, and I am a service-connected disabled veteran of the US Armed Services; presently enrolled in Human and Social Science PhD Program focused on researching military culture and families. I advocate for women veterans since 1993, after I was discharged from military service and returned to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
The World Institute Disability provided an opportunity for me to unite with my peers for support and camaraderie, which is infrequent across the multi-dimensional platform of women of the armed forces. The sponsorship was significant for allowing me to experience many of the workshops and venues previously unaffordable to me. WID accommodated a personal care assistant that added confidence and another layer of comfort knowing that I was not alone. Service Disabled Veterans often experience “invisible” wounds when trauma is not physical, but as in my case, caused from sexual trauma and related conditions. Having trusted and relatable peers and networks relieves a great deal of anxiety and diminishes potential triggers for me, especially when I can talk to women veterans familiar with the issues we face.
Policy provides the necessary protections from people who are insensitive and lack tolerance for the disability community. To recognize disability is to respect those with limited ability, who may be considered “abnormal” and experience insults and abuses associated with their disability. Policy is the necessary guard that speaks to the world when disabled people are restricted or limited in being a voice for change. Many people need accessibility accommodations, and policy can ensure that these considerations are made in day-to-day as well as hazardous conditions.
It was a huge honor to be selected as a Disability Ambassador by WID and to meet the amazing team and other Disability Ambassadors. It was a welcoming and inviting opportunity to be a part of something great, where compassion, empathy, and tolerance were demonstrated by all. Professionally, I was able to network, meet many of my peers, and exchange valuable information and resources. Growing my network will enable me to build strong and lasting friendships for support and other collaborations.
Personally, the access was incredible for meeting new people who shared amazing stories of accomplishments and success which otherwise would be unaffordable, despite a desire to attend such a wonderful and resource-filled venue.
The Conference Accessibility Initiative will make a difference for people with disabilities by allowing those with far-reaching desires to have a real experience that is not otherwise possible. The growing disability community is empowered and shown through this initiative that they are cared for in social and professional interactions. This is vital for instilling confidence and support.
This conference made a difference for me, as a disabled veteran, in connecting me to other professionals who can support and encourage each other. I also learned from other Disability Ambassadors the impact of their experiences. The hope and help provided by WID at this conference impressed upon me that one can do anything even with a disability, and that nothing is impossible for those who reach higher to achieve in life.
Would you like to be a Disability Ambassador with WID and JP Morgan & Chase? Keep an eye out for applications for 2020, coming soon!
To read more about our Disability Ambassadors’ experiences at the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation 2019 Annual Leadership Conference, follow either link below:
For more Disability Ambassador blogs, check out our Conference Accessibility Initiative 2019 page.
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