Everyone Has a Little Magic Inside Themselves


My journey to becoming a disability and policy professional has been unconventional, and growing up, I definitely did not think I would follow the career path I did.

I was taken away from my parents and put into the foster care system when I was 6 years old. From an early age, I focused on being self-sufficient and independent. I knew I had to depend on myself in order to accomplish my goals. The people in the foster care system simply saw me as a child with a significant disability (cerebral palsy) who needed others to do things for me. They also had no idea how to provide an accessible foster home and I ended up in a lot of group homes.

The system they call the “social safety net” can be, for some, a social safety trap. The system works to create a sense of security, yet when some people try to break away from it, a lingering negative voice in their head tells them they will never make it. I wanted more for myself, but I didn't know what that was at the time.

Fitting in was never easy for me; I don't know if it may have been because I was a kid who came from so many different families or whether it was because I was also LGBTQ. During this time, I remember praying to God from early on asking that He let me be just one thing or the other; I didn’t want to be gay and disabled. It was when I accepted both sides of myself that I started to realize I had a deeper purpose and message to share. I decided the best way to spread this message was through the media, so I ventured into the entertainment industry as an actor and stand-up comedian.

 

But Hollywood has not always portrayed LGBTQ characters or characters with disabilities in a positive light. It’s only in the very current television landscape that we see non-victimized characters with disabilities and non-comic LGBTQ narratives. I often found myself straddling identities as an actor: I was either told to play up my disability or play down my sexual orientation or vice versa.

Eventually, I decided I needed to do something more with my life. I established myself as an advocate working within the disability community to raise a voice for people like me. Working at the Independent Living Centers in California, I helped implement statewide systems change through legislation, along with creating pathways and intersections between disability and LGBTQ communities. I also worked for a Los Angeles law firm as a corporate Americans With Disabilities Act subject matter expert.

When people ask me how I have done so much, my answer is very simple: I made a choice, I never wanted to be a victim, and I never wanted to be seen as less than. It’s this motivation and passion that has moved me forward into the position that I hold now as a policy adviser in the federal government. I guess now some people call it “grit.”

I dislike preaching to people and would rather lead by example to positively influence those that I meet. I have learned from my troubling past to let as much good in as possible and to seek others’ strengths, not exploit their weaknesses. The only times I have truly felt disabled are when I have let negative emotions or mindset get in the way of  where I  wanted to be. There is no magic pill in life to fix problems, but I believe that everyone has a little bit of magic inside themselves and, if they learn how to use it, they can accomplish great things.

This opportunity to serve as a policy adviser for the Labor Department through ODEP gives me such a sense of accomplishment. I truly believe that everything happens for a reason, and no matter what happens to you in life everyone has a purpose. I hope through my work at ODEP to provide a diverse and dynamic perspective of persons with disabilities that face several intersections in life, and I also hope to become a memorable leader in the disability community.

Andy Arias is a policy adviser in the department’s Office of Disability Employment Policy, where one of his main responsibilities is Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act implementation and guidance. 

 


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Comments

Andy, you hit the nail on the head. It's when you accept all sides of yourself that you find your true purpose. Funny how that works, isn't it? Kudos to you! :)

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