My name is Ketrina Hazell and I am 24 years old, I have a disability called Cerebral Palsy. I was diagnosed at 9 months old but that never stopped me from dreaming big as I grew up, despite the hopeless future that the doctors and professionals expected for me.
I believe that it's time for the educational and health care systems as well as businesses etc., to see the potential of people with disabilities, even from a seated position and hire us. I would like to become a certified teacher's assistant and I plan on starting my own nonprofit organization. Hopefully with the assistance of the program, Access VR (Vocational Rehabilitation), I will be able to achieve my goals.
During my time in college, I majored in both liberal arts, disability studies and behavioral mental health. I have had two years of college and am not yet finished. (Note that if this not happen, it does not mean my success story ends.) I started back to college this fall and I am taking courses in human services since I would also like to become a certified peer advocate.
As well as advocating for myself, I graduated from Partners in Policymaking in 2014 which certifies me to advocate for people with developmental disabilities and their families. I am a proud alumna of Youth Power which is an organization that encourages youth as well as families, to become advocates and for the families to encourage their youth to use their voices.
Since then, I began serving on a variety of committees such as the Youth Advisory Panel for Special Education and the Access-A-Ride/Paratransit committee, to name a few. I was just recently appointed to the Developmental Disabilities Planning Council. My work is my life - it’s what I live for. I strive to encourage youth to see the possibilities that they may not see within themselves; teaching them to be kind and an ally to peers with differences; stressing the importance of self advocacy skills; educating employees on disability and giving hope to upcoming parents of children with disabilities.
I am a founder and President of my very own advocacy group called Voices of Power. I am an educator, volunteer, mentor, friend, aunt and a sibling. I hope to one day work for city council or an organization serving youth with and without disabilities.
Aside from my work, I have been on many fearless adventures such as adaptive surfing, flying a plane and skating.
Most of all, I am the current Ms. Wheelchair NY 2018 with the platform to bring self advocacy into schools and build an inclusive environment within schools and local communities. I aim to be the voice for those who feel invisible.
mobileWOMEN Interview with Ketrina:
mW: It is clear that advocating for young people with disabilities, is a passion of yours. Why did this platform become your focus?
KH: Yes. advocating for young people with disabilities became my passion for many reasons despite the fact in my early years since the age of 5, I was very shy and only spoke to my mom and dad. Many others will just get a smile or a wave from me. My personal experience in public school from middle school to high school, I was often forgotten and not included on trips etc. I was often viewed as the little girl in the wheelchair and not what I could offer the world.
In my high school senior year during transition planning, the only opinion they had for me, was to placed in a day program. I had a different opinion, wanting to either be employed or go to college. With the support of my parents and my efforts to be a strong self advocate, made college possible.
Young people with disabilities need to know that they are valuable to society and this message needs to be conveyed to the rest of the world - this has become my passion.
mW: Do you have plans of how you will bring self advocacy into schools? If so, please explain.
KH: During my reign, I spoke at many schools and groups, about the importance of self advocacy through sharing my own personal story and journey. By speaking to both students with and without disabilities, helped me in a way, to promote disability awareness. I have ideas of developing a curriculum, in the future, to teach students self advocacy.
mW: Can you tell us a little more about your group, “Voices of Power”?
KH: “Voices of Power” is a group that I started about 3 to 4 years ago after I became interested in joining a self advocacy group at an agency and was told that I needed to be a part of a program there, in order for that to happen.I want to break barriers! I started my advocacy group because I want to encourage young people with disabilities to learn about self advocacy and be a part of the community.
mW: For those with a disability that are struggling to find a purpose, what advice would you give?
KH: To those with a disability struggling to find a purpose, my advice would be what I taught myself over the years: Successful people don’t have one path. Successful people are not necessarily those with a college degree, a house and a good job. Success belongs to those who are following what their heart desires. Create a platform for yourself .. Let it be something you are passionate about and here comes your purpose. Never be afraid to venture out..in that moment, you will discover a whole new world!
mW: Do you have any tips on how to advocate for oneself?
KH: Stand up for what you believe in and NEVER let anyone tell you “no”!