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Interview with Sonia Rivera-García: Persistence and Resilience are the Keys


By Tajauna Dunning, ILRU, Disability Law Resource Center (tdunning@ilru.org)

Sonia Rivera-García was only 19 years old when she was involved in a car accident that resulted in paraplegia. Originally from Elsa, Texas, she now lives in Edinburg, Texas. Rivera-García met her husband, Ray, in college. Both majored in rehabilitative services and graduated at the same time. Together they have a one-year-old son, Aaron Ray García.

"I will teach my son to be sensitive to people with disabilities," said Rivera-García. "I will also teach him not to judge people based on their physical appearance, but to look at who they are inside as individuals."

Adjusting to a New Disability

Rivera-García's life may seem "picture-perfect" today, but this has not always been the case. "The hardest time in my life was when I first became disabled," said Rivera-García. "I was still in the process of developing as a person when my life changed completely from one minute to the next. I was in college when I became disabled and I was very determined to go back to school after my accident."

Rivera-García returned to college eight months after her accident and faced numerous physical obstacles at the university. Her priority at the time became adapting to doing things differently.

"I lost my independence," Rivera-García said. "Before my accident, I was working and going to school and was used to going and coming as I pleased. After I became disabled, I had to rely on others to drive me where I needed to go and I sometimes had to ask for help when I was not able to do something which I used to be able to do."

Becoming Independent, with Support

After being injured, she had to face people she knew prior to her injury. This was difficult because Rivera-García thought people felt sorry for her, or that they pitied her. With the help of her parents and her husband, Rivera-García was encouraged to become more independent and reach the goals she set for herself. Rivera-García's parents, especially her mother, were very supportive of her efforts.

"My mother was a very strong woman and taught me to be persistent and resilient. She went through a great deal in her life and always kept the faith and never gave up," said Rivera-García.

Helping Others like Herself

Today Rivera-García is an ADA Counselor at South Texas Community College in McAllen, Texas. "My employer is very accommodating to my needs," said Rivera-García.

Rivera-García also said that it took a lot of hard work to get where she is today. "I earned a bachelor of science degree with a major in rehabilitative services in 1993, a masters of education degree with a major in counseling and guidance in 1998, and I became a licensed professional counselor last year."

This allows Rivera-García to help other people with disabilities. She counsels students who have emotional disabilities or who are having trouble coping with their problems, advises students with disabilities about which classes they should take, helps them with registration, and makes sure students with disabilities receive needed accommodations in the classroom.

Rivera-García's position also allows her the opportunity to help plan and coordinate Americans with Disabilities events throughout the college. "Students, staff members, and administrators participate in an 'obstacle course,' which requires they move around the campus to experience some of the barriers students with disabilities face every day."