Advocacy and education are two important topics in the disability community, for self-advocates and their families alike. The people who should have the most say in laws and regulations that affect the disability community, are the people that would be most affected. Unfortunately, this audience also has a lot of life challenges that impact their ability speak up, so Adelante wants to honor a few people with disabilities who are strong self-advocates in this and upcoming issues of our e-newsletter. The first person we’d like to recognize is Menard Martinez.
As tall as Menard Martinez is, just over 6’7”, the act of standing up for himself and his peers should come as no surprise. He was born with medical challenges that led to his disabilities, but he’s been a self-advocate, fighting for his rights and the rights of others with disabilities most of his adult life.
Menard explains, “I was born with ASD/VSD, which is basically two small holes in my heart.” Atrial septal defects (ASD) are holes in the heart’s upper chambers, which receive blood from the body. Ventricular septal defects (VSD) are located between the lower chambers (ventricles), which pump blood to the body. Menard had to have surgery as a child to close those holes. Menard says, “My first open heart surgery, I threw a clot and I had a stroke. So that caused the left side paralysis.”
Menard’s physical disabilities led to assumptions about his ability to work and even drive, both of which he handled and pushed for his own wants and needs.
When Menard first tried to get a driver’s license he was turned away by a team member at the Department of Motor Vehicles. They took one look at him and said he wasn’t allowed to get a license, because he might not be able to hold the steering wheel and shift a manual transmission at the same time. In Menard’s words, “They were kind of like ‘Really? He only has one hand. He’s gonna drive?’” However, Menard let them know he could be a good driver and wanted to know how to go about getting a license. He eventually got to take a driving test and prove himself, and Menard uses that freedom to get to and from work, as well as out to the movies or other activities he enjoys.
Menard says, “I speak out for myself. No one can do it for me, so I’ve got to speak for myself… make sure I have everything I need. And then try to advocate for everybody else.”
Menard has also advocated for himself and other people with disabilities through the legislative process, here in New Mexico and in Washington, DC. Menard attended the national SourceAmerica conference a few years ago, advocating for work opportunities for people with disabilities. He visited everyone in New Mexico’s congressional delegation, letting them know how much he valued working and the government contracts that made that work possible. Menard also let the congressmen and women know about his co-workers and why they needed the opportunity to work. While on Capitol Hill, Menard spoke on camera about why he was in DC and why his job is important to him. The video was viewed over 10,000 times on social media. Menard also has visited the New Mexico State legislature and served on a legislative committee discussing the full range of work opportunities for people with disabilities in New Mexico. Menard has held jobs in the community and found a lot of discrimination. People often assumed he couldn’t lift or do a physical job, like he wanted to have, because of his disability. Menard worked as a driver’s assistant at Adelante Document Destruction, picking up and distributing shred bins all over town. Today, Menard works at Adelante Bulk Printing and Mailing, helping to print and mail thousands of pieces of mail each month. It’s Adelante’s newest business location and over half the employees at BPM have a disability. Everyone earns over $11 an hour, including Menard.
Menard has some advice for people with disabilities and self-advocacy. “Just try to get out there and show them who you are. The problem is some people are nonverbal, so they need help in that area. Try to do the best you can to tell your story. Show them what you can do. Some people may have limitations, but ask for help when you need it.”
People with disabilities constitute the largest minority group in the United States, and the only one anyone can become a member of at any time. It’s important this audience has a chance to speak up. For the general public, Menard says it is important to treat and respect people with disabilities just like any other person. “Yeah, we may look different, but we’re still people,” says Menard. “Just remember we all bleed the same. We have feelings, too. We all are people.”
To support these efforts there is a national advocacy movement, started in Wisconsin, called A-Team. (https://ATeamUSA.net) Three A’s make up the tenets of the group’s philosophy – Advocacy, Advisement, and Awareness. The goals of the organization are to make sure people with disabilities and their families are aware of legislation and laws that affect their lives, have the opportunity to advocate on their own behalf, and get to advise both legislators and service providers on their needs and goals. Adelante helps to host an A-Team here in New Mexico, and if you’d like to get involved email info@GoAdelante.org.