Episode 1 with Jovan Ruvalcaba Transcript


Keith: Welcome to Disability Empowerment Now. I’m your host Keith MurfeeDeConcini. Today I’m talking to Jovan Juvalcaba, an attorney with cerebral palsy who graduated from the law college at the University of Arizona. Jovan welcome to the show!

Jovan: Hi Keith, thank you so much for having me.

Keith: We are very good friends. We met years ago… ah, I was at your graduation presentation. As we kick off this interview, tell me and my listeners, what inspired you to become a lawyer?

Jovan: Yes, what I think inspired me. Well, first of all, my dad was a police officer so I always had an inclination for the law. But I think what really inspired me, as clique as it sounds, is about justice. You know representing people who aren’t as well represented. Just growing up as a kid, wanting to do the right thing. I started very early volunteering with Pima County teen courts, so I always, since about 12 knew that I wanted to be a lawyer and just, you know, bringing justice. Righting the wrongs of the world. That was my motivation.

The idea of public service and doing the right thing.

Keith: That’s very powerful and must be motivating for your career, and what keeps you going. It sounds like-well we will get into later in the interview to some of the challenges you’ve had in gaining employment as a lawyer, unfortunately. But-so what would be your ideal client as an attorney with cerebral palsy. Would you like to just focus on clients with disabilities or would you go broader than just clients with disabilities?

Jovan: Well, I would say that one thing that’s so appealing and so powerful about being an attorney is the responsibility to help others so- and we’ll talk maybe down the interview about the areas of law that I’m interested in but as far as clients its a privilege to serve everyone and anyone. So that’s to say whatever, and I’ve done I do different types of law. I do business law, intellectual property law, but there’s always there will always be the disability rights advocate in me.

I’m also Mexican-American. My parents are immigrants. So I’m always trying to help, especially in Tucson, Arizona, the immigrant community. Just going back to saying the privilege and the power that comes with being an attorney. Even if I am working in business or intellectual property, um I always get to do pro bono work and I will always do advocacy for disability rights and diversity inclusion, in general. I mentioned working with immigrant communities with, um, so I’ve done some work in representing immigrant workers who aren’t paid by their employers so it’s much broader.

Disability rights is a big part of it and who I am but it goes broader than that.

Keith: So I know for, at least for a time, you worked quite closely with the Arizona Center for Disability Law that I had no knowledge of-until I met you. Because when we met you did a presentation at the law college with the executive director of the Center for Disability Law. Tell us how you first became aware of the Arizona Center for Disability Law and then how did you become involved with them in a professional sense?

Jovan: So the Arizona Center for Disability Law came into my life, actually when I was applying to law school. I was seeking accommodations for testing as part of my disability and the organization that runs the test, the LSAT, ugh kept denying, despite all the documentation that I had presented. So through a vocational rehab counselor, I found ACDL, Arizona Center for Disability Law. So their purpose as part of the protection and advocacy program, ACDL represented me against the company that runs the LSAT and we went through mediation. And they protected that legal service and it was just, you know, by coincidence that I wanted to be a lawyer. Eventually, even the Justice Department in a separate event, the Justice Department got involved in a discrimination case against the company that runs the LSAT because they were denying people with accommodations, with reasonable accommodations. But that’s a separate story.

Then years later I was a part of the internship program with the American Association of People with Disabilities, I was interning with Senator Schumer in DC. ACDL reached out, they were looking for new board members to participate in their board of directors and they thought I would be a good choice to represent, as a person with a disability, represent the community at large.

So JJ Rico, the Executive Director, was kind enough and reached out to me and asked me if I wanted to participate and I sat on their Board for three years. From 2016 to 2019 and the rest is history. I mean, I was a disability rights advocate before, but certainly, now I’m one as well.

Keith: That’s incredible, so tell us more about that experience because transitioning from law school, which is by no means an easy feat even without disabilities, to transitioning to being an intern for a Senator in DC to transitioning to the Board of Directors for the Arizona Center for Disability Law. How did you handle all of that very unique transition because they all connected but they all sound very much unique in their own, for the lack of a better term, bubble? Please correct me if I’m wrong in characterizing that.

Jovan: Well I mean a lot of it is just good fortune. A lot of it is mentors that I’ve encountered by happenstance. And their mentorship at where they recognized my interests… um… and just given me an opportunity. I mean, for example, for the American Association of People with Disabilities, which is a great organization that represents the interest of all people with disabilities across the Board I looked up for opportunities as a person with disabilities but I’ve just been very lucky, very lucky to have mentors and opportunities in my way. And it’s been a wonderful growing experience personally and then as a disability rights advocate and learning more about the obstacles that people with disabilities face. Again not just as someone with cerebral palsy but with our friends across the board, whether it’s the deaf community, hard of hearing community, or the blind, mental and cognitive impairments, so it’s just been a wonderful experience learning about the issues that come up. Whether it’s ableism or employment issues that I face in my own life and they continue to face. So you are right that it’s very different and obviously, for example, when I was on Capitol Hill working that summer there were other issues that I learned about and I was always interested in political science. I have my Bachelor’s in political science. So there are other topics that I worked on or other issues, but I always kind of gravitated toward disability issues just because it was so personal. Um yeah, but it’s been a wonderful experience that now it seems connected as you said. But at the time-its through the mentorship of one step at a time in a sense.

Keith: So after you got into law school, talk about what that experience was like because, again, law school is particularly rigorous by design with or without disabilities. And so were your teachers very accommodating, was there a struggle there, how was the socialization of law college or law school? Talk about that because that’s all very fascinating and I use that word a lot when I talk to my guests because they are often coming from areas that I have next to no knowledge of. So yeah I have never gone to law school and I don’t have any plans whatsoever, but meeting you and seeing how you interacted with your classmates shows that in law and in policy, that is an area where more people with disabilities need to be represented. So talk about your experience after you got through the LSAT, what was it like going to law school?

Jovan: Right as you mentioned that’s a great question because it’s a difficult question…. It is, it consumes so much of your life…. Law school does… And there are a lot of barriers, not just the LSAT. I can say, you know, my classmates were great it was a very collegiate environment generally speaking. It is difficult and it’s discouraged to disclose your difficulties you have with your professors it’s all in the name of fairness, for example, all the exams and the accommodations the professor shouldn’t know who has a disability and who needs accommodations in order to make the testing blind-and the grades to prevent any favoritism or special treatment. So in that sense, it was all conducted through the Dean of Students in the law school who is a wonderful person, Dean Curtis. But in the interaction day-to-day, I always had that extra step and I was very respectful not to disclose not to talk about my disability just because I wanted to respect that sense of fairness you know blind grading, etcetera.

But that does make it difficult at times. Whether it’s note-taking or you might need a slower pace, I would put myself in the shoes of other persons with disabilities who might or might not be in the class. Where participation is such a big deal for a lot of the professors but I would imagine other people following up and not being able to express themselves because of their disability in the same way law students might be or just the reading being very rigorous. And I agree with you completely there should be-that’s something I saw when I went into law school. There are all types of clubs, all types of special interests in the school, but I didn’t see (at least visibly) people with disabilities. When I was there I couldn’t identify myself with others and then about a year or two later I saw someone with a visible physical disability and I, of course, made friends with him. But you are right, more people should be going to law school and encouraged.
I think a big problem is, again, as you mentioned not seeing enough mentors or role models. It’s not an issue but it is something to pay attention to. Usually, when you have a disability, even though I’m interested in disability rights, the idea is if you have a disability you should be a disability rights advocate and that’s all you should do. I know for myself I have other interests as well and so disability will always be a priority, disability rights, disability inclusion, but that’s not necessarily what I want to do as the principal focus of my legal practice.

Keith: That’s, ugh, so what are some of the other areas? Because I agree with you totally about that assumption that if you’re a disability rights advocate or activist-that’s just what you do, period. But there are other areas that expand beyond disability issues and so what are those other issues for you and how did you discover that you were passionate about them? Maybe not at the same level you are with disability rights or maybe the same level I don’t know, please talk about that more.

Jovan: So as part of the legal training, you study as many different areas of the law as you can and one thing that I was surprised to be passionate about was international trade. Which is, you know, the World Trade Organization law. So it’s international law business law. I’m also very passionate about constitutional law and um another issue within the legal profession is that it sometimes is a barrier for people with disabilities is the environment within law firms particularly, corporate law firms. Where there is a demand for billable hours. And so when persons with disabilities like myself need additional time to complete tasks, there is this focus on charging as many hours as you can to be productive and to be valuable to a business.

And you know I’m interested in international law, international business law. And speaking to my background and why that is, I speak four languages. But I think an obstacle that I’m facing now is knowing that that environment, the business environment, doesn’t necessarily take you as a whole person but as someone that can produce turnaround work really fast and charge billable hours. That’s an obstacle I think that’s a barrier for people with disabilities who….I do excellent work, rigorous work, but are faced with this expectation of always working 60 hours a week or more.

International law is a big one for me, both public and private. But I do want to reiterate or point out that policy, policy is a big one for me. So it’s not necessarily related to law although I do think it’s helpful when you are an attorney and that just goes back to the idea for the American Association of People with Disabilities says, “Nothing about us, without us” and I just wanted to mention policy generally, which it might involve law but doesn’t necessarily, is a big interest of mine and more people with disabilities should be involved. Just because disability does not discriminate, it comes to you at any point in your life and I believe around 20 percent of people, the population of the world, have reported a disability or have obtained one in life.

I just mentioned policy is a big one and we should have a seat at the table and that encapsulates disability rights and other perspectives. Technology, for example, is an industry that benefits greatly from having a disability-focused perspective.

Keith: So how was the socialization in law school and are you still in touch with any of your classmates?

Jovan: Certainly, the University of Arizona, particularly the College of Law has a very collegial environment so we are all friends. It wasn’t as competitive as maybe other law schools. And that’s a very good thing. So I stayed in touch um I have stayed in touch with-I’ve gone on to even study in Isreal this last year… In Intellectual property and I made more friends, international friends there and I’ve tried, with the pandemic it’s hard, but I’ve tried to keep in touch with as many of my colleagues as I can.

Generally speaking, I think, besides the LSAT, now law schools across the country are accepting the GRE, which is a positive step because maybe the things that are tested on the LSAT I believe tend to test against disability in a way, even though they try to make it fair, they are very abstract concepts. So maybe it’s a good thing and I always encourage people with disabilities or people in general that have a passion for law, have a passion for policy, to apply and to put disability aside. You will get the accommodations that you need, the support is there, it’s just a matter of advocating for yourself and not being discouraged by rejection and negative feedback. The only way we are going to see more people with disabilities in law and policy is with people in law school and being mentors to others.

Keith: So you mentioned early on that you were on the Board of Directors for the Arizona Center for Disability Law and then you went off the board and studied in Isreal for a whole year. That’s incredible to just move to another location outside the country for an entire year, usually, people do it for a semester or two. Now you’re trying to market yourself as self-employed if I may use that term, I don’t think freelancer is the correct term, what are you trying to market and present yourself as? What would be some dream possibilities, professionally speaking, that you would hope to attract?

Jovan: Thank you for the question, I first want to address you’re right that people, being abroad can seem daunting for many but I always say there is always people with disabilities in every part of the world. I’ve been very lucky to be a guest and seek out those opportunities and so what I want to say about studying abroad: I am very passionate about it, I encourage everyone to do it if possible within their means, to not be afraid of it because it’s such an enriching personal experience. And the United States is very, one sense advanced and accessible, but people with disabilities live in Isreal or in South America, so never be discouraged. One of the reasons I mention it was to encourage people to do it, to find a way to study abroad.

As far as the question about marketing myself I am self-employed and I’ll be honest as fascinating as my life has been I’m having difficulty now of finding employment. So in a way, being employed is the default. I’m having difficulty finding employment personally and other people with disabilities are too because I don’t drive and a lot of the government jobs whether state, federal, or even private jobs require driver’s licenses as part of the hiring criteria. We can argue about whether that is discrimination and in many ways it is, but do you want to fight with every future employer and then say, “hire me!”. Hire me even though I’ve just made a big deal about you discriminating for requiring a driver’s license. And I’m thinking about the visually impaired for example cant drive, I can’t drive with my physical disabilities and there are socio-economic reasons or preferences why you can’t drive. So that’s just an example where we might not, people without disabilities, might not be able to tell but that’s not in the posting, you know? You are required a law license, which is very reasonable since you will be a lawyer, but then the driver’s license with three years of driving experience and your own car.

Keith: Even if the particulars of the job in question don’t really specify that you as an attorney would be driving to other locations other than the office.

Jovan: Right, so there are some jobs where they will say that you are required to drive, but even the ones that don’t specify that you will be driving. Because again, from my point of view, yes, I might have to go to court but then that’s-whether it’s public transportation or an uber-I’ll get to the court. My responsibility is to be somewhere at a certain time, so I’ll be there. That’s my perspective and with the pandemic, in a way, it’s been a blessing for people with disabilities and for mothers, for example, in that a lot of what we do is through Zoom now. So as before it was an obstacle to say I want to telework, I want to work from home, because of this issue. Now though the pandemic has shown that it’s not just a reasonable accommodation but a very practical one. Maybe I’m going a little off topic but I am seeing those postings where you would be working in an office or close enough to a court setting and they are still requiring a driver’s license. And just to mention, I don’t think it’s intentional I think a lot of it is not thinking through and not having someone with a disability perhaps-maybe they just copy and pasted from a previous application.

Keith: Yeah I mean that’s very important to realize, that job postings may not be as specific and unique to that job as one would hope. There’s a lot of copy and paste over from other job listings. So what would be some dream professional opportunities that you would like to tackle in your profession over the next 40 years? You have been on capital hill, you’ve been on a board of directors, you’ve been to law school, if you could choose what would be some areas, professionally, that you would like to part of and work on?

Jovan: Thank you for the question because it’s not a question that’s asked often. I think I am very geared toward public service, towards giving back because so many opportunities have been given to me. You mentioned capitol hill, I would love to go back to capitol hill and work as a professional staff member in policy issues. I would love to work in DC generally in the federal government doing… So my LLM is in intellectual property and technology. But just to be working in policy where decisions are made. The State Department would be the dream. Working for foreign service, for example, where I could connect legal experience but also from personal perspectives I have as a person with disabilities, as a son of immigrants myself. So I think generally speaking it’s the opportunity to learn and grow and be useful. I always found, at least with the people I have talked to with disabilities and without, we are looking for a purpose to feel useful and to contribute to society. I think that is certainly true for people with disabilities because now the discourse has changed where we are proud of our disability. I was happy to disclose but I don’t want any employer or any person honestly to focus on my disability and the things I can’t do. So maybe I can’t drive but I can do so much other stuff and contribute intellectually and culturally. So that’s a long-winded answer. But generally just to contribute to my country, and to society.

I think it’s Emmerson that has the quote, “To leave it better off than you received it”. Whether it’s by planting a tree or just easing some type of burden from people would be the dream, the goal.

Keith: Thank you for that long-winded answer. It’s, everything you said is so important, to keep in mind. Just a few more questions before I let you go Jovan. We’ve been friends for years. I don’t know how long it’s been but I feel like with you I can get rather personal. I know you have a girlfriend, a partner, from another country.

Jovan: Yes I do!

Keith: And I’ve met her I believe once or twice and I mean, socialization in law school or in school, in general, is one thing. But dating is quite different and so how was approaching that at the beginning of the relationship and were there anxieties around telling your partner something so personal but something so integral to you as a person? I mean I know you two travel a lot together and to see each other in your respective country. That is where, at least in part, the love of travel comes from. If you would be comfortable talking about that.

Jovan: What’s it like to be in a relationship traveling? I guess I could talk about how we met and as far as I’m an open book. You can ask away. As a person with a disability, do you mean how have we met and how we have navigated my condition?

Keith: Yeah and I mean you’ve been together for a number of years so you guys have obviously made it work, not everyone has, and I mean so that’s why I am curious. It’s also that long-distance it’s not like you’re in Arizona and she’s in Maine. She in another country, you guys go to each other’s countries, you meet in the middle, you’ve done that for years that’s also very unusual. I don’t know many couples that make that work for a number of years so that’s another area of you two must be really compatible to make this all work. When I first saw you two together I picked up on that right away but yeah so I appreciate you being an open book and I cleared it with you beforehand but it touches on so much interpersonal dynamics because not every couple or partner can handle the long-distance or the partner with a disability, regardless of what that disability is. I want to know as much as you are willing to talk about on this episode about navigating that angle that is so critical to our lives regardless of whether or not we want to admit that.

Jovan: I’m happy to talk about it and I recognize with dating…. As a person with a disability, I tend to say that a lot for our community because it is part of our identity and my hope is some of us, most of us, are proud and accept our disabilities. There’s an emphasis on it because it’s such a big part of who we are. And that’s why I’m willing to answer all the questions.

So I guess the first question is not just how we met but how does it work that someone with a physical disability, a visible physical disability in a sense, is dating someone without one? And how does that work? I think, and again I will get into more depth, but I think I am very lucky to have found someone who…. It’s not that they don’t care that I have one, its that they accept me having one. And I think they see value in it. As far as our relationship, how it started is like how all I think relationships should start and that’s through a friendship first. You know not pursuing-and that’s fine if you pursue a love interest- but I think when you get to know the person for who they are, and she got to know me, then you accept the disability just like any other characteristic traits. And that could be my height or that could be my personal character traits; my mood, for example. So I think I was very lucky to have found her and we chose each other and that just speaks to her…… um…… But I think its-as far as disability-its…I don’t…I’ve shown that the disability is part of me but it’s not the only thing that I am. And I have shown that to her as well.

So just generally we take care of each other, she might help me with.. Actually when we met for example, and we met in Brazil, some of the streets, some of the sidewalks are not all level. They are not all very accessible, and as a friend, she would help me get on or off. She would see me lose my balance and she would just kind of be there in case I needed it if would I fall over. But in a way, I want to say that I am there for her too. Maybe they are not physical barriers, although sometimes I am, I guess just because of my size, I am stronger. There are things where I can help her lift something. Even though she helps me with my balance I can help her lift something. And I do that happily. But it can be emotional, it can be something academic. She’s very smart, but maybe she has a legal question or a politics question she doesn’t understand from just being from a different culture or a language question. I speak Portuguese as well and she speaks English. You know we always have questions regardless of each other’s languages or she can teach something about English that I did intuitively and she knows why you know the rule.

Anyways the point is we are compatible, as far as long-distance, I think when long-distance is hard its very difficult because you need to spend quality time with each other and communication is such an important part of a relationship, as is physical touch… Um so you know thank god for technology where we can talk to each other, we don’t have to write letters to each other. But I think when life is so good when the time you do spend together is so good, you can bare the long distance. Because when we are together-its perfect. So the hardship that comes when we are apart, as long as there is the expectation that we will see each other again, then it’s more than bearable.

Keith: Wow, you’re very lucky as you know and so I know that traveling has partly been inspired by the relationship you have been in but I want to think that it goes beyond that. You talk very highly of being able to travel and explore the world around you and how you want to encourage other people with disabilities to do that because it’s been very enriching for you. So what inspired that passion of traveling long-distance?

Jovan: It is such a big part of my life and my motivation. I want to say first when I travel it’s not because I come from a modest humble background but I’ve always sought opportunities to study abroad in advancing my own education. Maybe I wasn’t able to get scholarships in the US but then there was this scholarship abroad or do a semester abroad or a year abroad. I have two Fulbright scholarships which I was very lucky to get. The reason I’m passionate about it and when I say it’s enriching, it’s actually difficult. It’s not what you would imagine where I’m on a beach somewhere having a good time. It’s enriching in the sense that it’s hard. I’ve been stronger physically when I have to run up the stairs to catch the next metro train or find a way to a sidewalk that’s not the most accessible. And it’s been enriching physically, it’s been enriching culturally, meeting different people from different backgrounds. But again, going back to being a person with a disability it’s been enriching because I’ve been to some places where I’ve wondered, how come I don’t see enough wheelchairs around or people with disabilities in general? It seems like I’m the only one. In the same sense of when I went to law school and I wouldn’t see anyone. At first, you dismiss it. And then you think-no! Of course they exist, of course, they are somewhere but most likely they are at home because I’m struggling with this cobblestone street in Brazil or Paris. Well yeah if you are not very mobile and it’s a struggle to get around your own streets then you are not going to be outside. So it’s given me perspective that way to where I’ve advocated that it’s not just about seeing those things its about being vocal about these things with my classmates. So I’m currently serving within the equity and inclusion committee, alumni committee with the Fulbright Isreal commission for the US/Isreal Fulbright commission. I’ve been very lucky to have been given that opportunity from the commission leadership. But to be vocal about those perspectives. The reason I’m advocating for people in the US and elsewhere is because people with disability live everywhere. I always say if people live there and have to encounter these obstacles every day of their lives I want an opportunity to know how they live and then come back and have an enriched perspective.

I talk about, for example, about sidewalks not being great or stairs not being great in other parts of the world whether it’s Europe or South America, or here in North America. But there’s also a lot that I’ve learned about the attitude of people in those countries that are more accepting like Brazil, I’ve never once had a problem of discrimination or you can’t do this. They kind of accepted me for who I was and they were helpful. It’s enriching in every sense and I encourage everyone when you can to not be afraid to travel. Because it helps you adapt, it helps you find a way. As long as you are with good people, they will help you navigate.

Just lastly, traveling and being in a different environment helps you advocate for yourself. So as a kid I might have been very shy because I wanted to be integrated. I didn’t want my classmates to I didn’t want to feel like I was getting special treatment, I wanted to be as “normal” as my classmates. Whatever activity-I would do it. Carrying my 20 lb backpack or jump or whatever it was, I would do it just like them because I wanted to be a part of the group. Then traveling and growing older taught me, it’s okay I’m still “normal” but I need to advocate for myself and by advocating for myself there will be others like me who can advocate for themselves. So it’s the same thing with law school.

I helped form a club, a disability rights-oriented club in law school with the same idea. Make it more accessible, include it as part of the recruitment, reach out to people with disabilities because we bring a different perspective. And people within the community might know this, but the idea of texting. Everybody uses texting but it’s fundamental for people who are hard of hearing or deaf, the deaf community. Now, um, when I was part of ACDL there was a case that has been published, there was a case against or for rather police departments to include texting, you know 911 texting. Why? Because it’s useful for everyone. If you are in a situation where you cant talk on the phone but you need police assistance then you should be able to text.

Again the hard of hearing community, the deaf community, has known this all along that that’s a resource that they need. That makes it better for everyone and that’s just one example of how enriching having people with disabilities integrated into the world that we live in is.

Keith: So, you mentioned before that you speak four languages. What are those languages? And how early did you learn them? And do you use them regularly? Or do they clash with each other?

Jovan: So the four languages I speak is English, Spanish, French, and Portuguese. And then I’m currently learning Hebrew, but that one I wouldn’t say I speak it just yet. But in the way, they’re related because they’re all Romance languages. So I grew up in my parents are from Mexico originally. So I grew up speaking Spanish at home and that’s my native language, English I learned in school, you know, obviously, growing up here, you know, being born here and growing up here, then English is like my native language. French I, when I studied in abroad, like the first time I studied in Paris. Anyway, I was pursuing my interest in political science when I studied and I loved it. And I came back and I minored in French in undergrad. And I’ve kept using it I have French friends, you know, watch French news and movies, etc., music. And then Portuguese I learned in Brazil. So I taught for a year at a University in Brazil, and I picked it up, it’s very similar to Spanish. So in a way that’s helpful. And then Hebrew, which I’m learning now, again, it’s two Fulbright scholarships. I went to study law in Israel and I had a passion for it already for, you know, Jewish culture.

I don’t think I’ve been careful to keep it separate, you know, to not mix languages, at least in the same line of conversation, because I want to keep my mind organized. But I do use it regularly. I speak Portuguese regularly with my girlfriend, as I mentioned, I speak Spanish at home and then English, you know, English just everywhere else for now. And then, you know, I go to a French-speaking clubs when I can.

Keith: So, this may surprise you but my native language was not English at all-

Jovan: That does surprise me what was it?

Keith: So, yeah. My native when language for the first seven years of my life was an abbreviated version of American Sign Language, ASL, because for the first seven years, I could not speak I could make sounds, but they were so illegible that my own mother had problems understanding me it was only until after my seventh year and extensive speech therapy that I began learning English. And the only phrase I fully remember, in American Sign Language is I love you, which is pretty handy for a romantic to have. But beyond that, I don’t know much of my native language that I didn’t use my mangled tongue, so to speak. But I’ve always wanted to relearn ASL personally. Because I’ve always been fascinated by it as a language.

Jovan: Me too, I do want to learn sign language as well and you should pick it up again.

Keith: Yes I definitely will, so wrapping up I have two last questions. They’re very broad questions. I ask them to everyone I interview on the podcast.

One, for any aspiring advocates, self-advocates listening what are five action steps, pieces of advice, you could give self-advocates listening to this interview.

Jovan: Okay, I’m writing, I can think of five concrete steps, I think the first one, and we’re talking about self-advocates, so people that have disabilities. I would say first, you know, accept the obstacles that you have the difficulties that you have as your own, and see the beauty in them in the sense of the perspective that they give you the resourcefulness they give you. So you’re gonna be an effective advocate at first, if you accept them, if you own them, knowing that they’re not all might not all be positive, but they’re a part of who you are. The second piece of advice, I would say, get involved would be the same, you know, get involved in the community get involved with the issues you care about whether their disability rights issues or not, maybe you know, something else, the environment get involved. The third is obviously speak up and do frame it, if it’s hard for you to speak up, and sometimes it is hard for some of us, myself included believe it or not, frame it as you’re helping not just yourself when you have an issue when you encounter an issue, but you’re helping others that come after you or that are having the same difficulty. If you want to frame it that way, if that helps, you’re not being selfish or, you know, just egocentric by advocating for yourself, you’re helping others as well. The third piece of advice would be accept help, accept help, get comfortable with asking for help, and accept it. Everybody, we all need help in some form. Disabled or not and there is some grace and humility and being able to ask for help as well. And then the fourth piece of advice is, be a mentor to others. Reach out to others. The knowledge, knowledge grows when you share it. Don’t keep it to yourself. So if you’ve been in similar circumstances that will make you better advocate because when you’re an advocate for yourself, you’re a better advocate for others. When you’re advocate for others, you’re an advocate for yourself. Confidence grows.

The fifth piece of advice would be again, with a sense of humility don’t take and I mean, as someone that’s an attorney as someone who sometimes takes himself too seriously and so and that’s something I work on is not take yourself too seriously. In the sense of have fun there is joy in the adverse situations when you’re struggling, you know, laugh, laugh if you can make a joke. Because I don’t want to sound too cliche, but the experience of living, you know, the good times because you’ve been through the bad and just enjoy life. Don’t take yourself too seriously. And that would be the five pieces of advice.

Keith: Thank you, so the next question or the final question has two parts to it. We’ve talked about a lot of interesting and important topics over this interview. Why do you think listeners with disabilities should care about what we’ve discussed? What do you hope that listeners with disabilities take away from this episode?

Jovan: I hope I helped and encouraged them encouraging anyone listening to be, you know, to be an advocate to, as we mentioned, discussed in length to travel abroad, and I hope I can help in I don’t like using myself as an example but we’ve discussed so much of, of my experiences, and my life. I want to mention, and reiterate something I said in the beginning, it seems like it’s all working out for me, but it didn’t seem that at the time, and something that has helped me, again, looking, finding mentors and being lucky being proactive, has helped me.

I hope everyone can learn to really pursue their goals, as I mentioned, there are some obstacles that I face still today with employment and to just pursue what you love, get involved.

Live life.

Just live life. Focus, you know, if you have strengths, if, if there are strengths within you, and they meet your passion, then pursue those. Life can be difficult, it can be particularly difficult for people with disabilities not just because of the disabilities, but because, you know, in this ableist world where we might not be as we might not be a priority, you know, the world wasn’t designed with us in mind, particularly. You know, be that change in the world. Be out there, be vocal about it, unafraid, and enjoy your life.

Keith: Thank you and so we’ve talked a lot about disability-centric issues and passions, disability rights, accessibility, and the like. Why do you think that those listeners who do not yet have a disability themselves should care about the issues we’ve talked about in that episode?

Jovan: That’s good, that’s a good question. My first response is something I mentioned earlier, which is, that disability doesn’t discriminate. So some of it, some of us were born with it, others will acquire in their lifetime through accident or old age, for example. Making sure the world is prepared for you and you’re prepared for the world. That it’s a welcoming environment that you have should be something you care about before it happens. So accessibility is a big one. The second issue obviously, we have the people with, we have a support system. There are people that not do not have disabilities, but they know someone who does their neighbor or within their own family. So obviously, you care about those people. You want to make sure that they’re living their best lives, you know, fulfilling life. And then thirdly, there is so much that the disability community in all their shapes and sizes and colors can contribute and do contribute already to the life we live in, I mentioned the technology part about texting, but so much of what facilitates our lives was thought of for a person with a disability or by a person with a disability as far as accessibility and infrastructure that makes our life easier.
And then fourthly, I mean, it’s the right thing to do. It’s a part of a large portion, as I said before, maybe 20% of the world population. It’s the right thing to do to include you want to be inclusive, you want to be you know, equal with your neighbors and your fellow human beings, then you should care about those issues.

Keith: Thank you Jovan for being so thorough and so open book about your life and the passions you hold, the struggles you face, and the determination it takes to not be cynical. When the world so often gives you every reason to be cynical in nature because definitely aren’t and that is something I extremely admire about you. Thank you for taking the time to come on Disability Empowerment Now and share your wisdom with me and the listeners.

Jovan: Thank you so much for having me and for having this podcast and giving voices to our community. So thank you very much. Thanks a pleasure.

Keith: You have been listening to Disability Empowerment Now. I would like to thank my guest today and you, the listener. More information about the podcast can be found on disabilityempowermentnow.com The podcast is available wherever you listen to podcasts or on the official website. This episode of Disability Empowerment Now is copyrighted 2022.