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Living Independently with the Support of Friends, Family, Employer

By Alma Almanza, Salinas, CA

Alma Almanza of the Central Coast Center for Independent Living

Maria came to the United States from Guanajuato, Mexico at age 12 to be reunited with her parents who had been living in California since Maria was born. Maria's mom worked as a seamstress and her father was the manager of an assisted living center for seniors and people with disabilities.

In the United States, Maria had the opportunity to obtain an education and graduated from a junior college with an associates degree. After graduation, Maria began working in different jobs. She worked in a computer company as a switchboard operator and assistant of the security services supervisor. In her role as the supervisor assistant, Maria had the responsibility of scheduling security officers, receptionists and switchboard operators to cover all shifts. She also worked in the department of medical records in a family clinic. It was in the later job, early 1997, that Maria began noticing swelling and pain in her legs and hands as well as intense pain in her back; however, her doctors were not able to diagnose her.

In June of 1998 Maria was diagnosed with Rheumatoid Arthritis as well as other types of Arthritis. Having multiple disabilities forced Maria to make several adjustments in her life. For example when she wants to go visit her family or friends, she has to find out what the weather will be like. The heat causes swelling and the cold causes her much pain. In the many roles Maria has in life: mother of three, wife, friend, daughter and employee, she has to plan her activities to minimize her pain.

Maria has been working at the Central Coast Center for Independent Living (CCCIL) in Salinas, California since 1998. She began as an office assistant; 18 months later she was promoted to an Independent Living Specialist and four years later she became the Assistive Technology Coordinator. Those who know Maria respect her as a person and her consumers are grateful for the assistance she provides to them.

Maria would like people with disabilities, especially the Latinos, to remember that "Si se puede, uno tiene que echarle muchas ganas y seguir adelante (Yes, it can be done, one just has to try really hard to continue moving forward)." She continued, "Sometimes what we need is to get support from the people around us." Maria recognizes that she has found support in her family, friends, coworkers and her employer. This support has helped her be independent and successful in every aspect of her life.