Where did you grow up and how has your background influenced you today?
"I was born and raised in East Flatbush - Brooklyn, NY, to a Panamanian Mom of Caribbean descent. I was taught to find a way and to never make excuses. To that end, education was actively prioritized in our household, and has always been a driver in my life.
At the age of nineteen and a GW Junior, I began to experience vision loss due to an acute onset of an idiopathic immune disorder affecting my eyes. Although advised that my condition could be progressive and that I should consider quitting school and preparing for a life without vision, I decided to complete my degree with a double major. I kept my internship for as long as I could, going to weekly medical appointments in Bethesda, Maryland between classes and my internship obligations. I wasn't aware of the resources available to me as a disabled student because my doctor never told me I was disabled.
I had never known anyone who was disabled. I didn't even know I had the right to ask for help. Had I understood, I would have inquired through the appropriate channels. Instead, no excuses made, I carried on, unable to see the board, barely able to read my textbooks or computer screen, and looking nose to page at exams. I hid my limitations even from friends who wondered why I had begun to isolate. As the high-dose steroid medication changed my appearance and my vision worsened, I decided it was better to not have to see the people who knew me before my health crisis.
I didn't have an explanation for what was happening to me, nor did I know how it would all end. I felt detached from the "normal" college experience and, to a degree, shame for being different.
Thankfully, after graduating, I got the recommendation to register with the Commission for the Blind. I did not know at the time, but I was actually legally blind. Blindness to me, like many people, meant having no vision at all.
I regained my confidence after being introduced to the various accommodations that help the visually impaired such as electronic magnifiers and magnification software. Today, almost twenty years later, (many of them working in disability advocacy and ADA compliance) I am a mom of two toddlers and I very much see myself as their first teacher.
It saddened me that as a visually impaired parent I would not have access to comfortably participate in one of the most fundamental bonding and learning activities that takes place at home--story time. Although braille, ebooks, magnifiers and audio formats are available, there are millions of Americas who live with partial vision loss and therefore are not braille proficient.
In addition, large magnifiers, audio and ebooks are high tech solutions that may not always be easily employed at story time. I felt a low tech option was needed to fill the gap. I was not going to sit on the sidelines because of my disability, so I created a way. Adjustments to text size and contrast effortlessly lowers print access barriers for many who fall in the middle of the spectrum of vision loss– those not cured with glasses and not proficient in braille.
The JUMBO large print that I incorporate into the design of my books is uniquely suited for children's picture books because this medium allows for creative and outside-the-box aesthetics. It has been an amazing journey bringing my company, Inside Ability Books, to life. I have learned so much in the process. I am not only helping parents/caregivers and children with visual impairments enjoy story time but also wearers of high prescription glasses and people who struggle with focus and attention when reading. I have been given kudos from teachers, librarians and school districts across the country for creating this one-of-a-kind accessible print design approach. I'm proud to be someone who doesn't let barriers stop me and I strive to always inspire and encourage others to find a way in spite of adversity. "
Tell us about your current professional role and why it excites you (if you can share a topic you're particularly excited about, we'd love to hear it).
As an Author and the Founder of Inside Ability Books I'm excited to be applying my passion for creative writing and early literacy tools to providing access and inclusion to people of all ages who experience barriers to reading standard sized text.
Print accessibility is a subject that is not commonly discussed but I'm glad to be sparking conversation around the topic. You often find low contrast text in reading materials that make it more difficult to read, such as a dark purple background with black letters or yellow background with white letters.
Another barrier is layout. Important information such as a call to action or contact information is often hidden within a dense paragraph that would be more easily identified if set on its own, outside of dense copy text. Swirling and script fonts can be hard to read on informational material such as menus and event promotions. Until someone who does not have 20/20 vision mentions these issues, they are often not known or considered. Unfortunately, there is not a loud voice around the topic because there is a stigma associated with vision loss. I am hopeful that is beginning to change, however.
What accomplishment are you most proud of and why?
"I am most proud of saying yes to every opportunity big or small and committing to progress. This means only comparing myself to the last version of myself and keeping my eyes forward regardless of limitations or plans that fell through.
My 19 year old self could not see a reason to give up even though she could not see the way forward. She couldn't have predicted my career successes or failures. How could the same person who was afraid to ride the city bus alone, because she couldn't see far, also end up in a career that involved travel. How could the girl who was afraid to discuss her disability with family and friends ultimately date, socialize, get married and have 2 kids! How could the girl who at one point was afraid to go outside by herself live on her own and then become a homeowner out of state and commute to work on public transportation. She did it and she will do even more because she never stopped moving forward. Sometimes it was by inches and sometime it was by miles but she always made a way forward."
Did you receive a scholarship at GW? If so, how did your scholarship help you succeed?
"Yes, I received the Alumni Award. Along with financial aid and work study, It allowed me to attend GWU. It also kept the pressure on to keep my grades up to keep it!"
Was there a standout course, professor, or organization from your time as a student that inspired your career path?
"There was an assignment in an Intro to Logic class to solve a few ‘if /then’ problems. I struggled with all of them except the last problem. In class the next day the professor asked for volunteers to come to the board and show their work. I needed participation points but I only solved the last one. Lots of hands went up for the other questions, but as we got to the last one no one put their hand up. I was confused but I put my hand up anyway and went to the board. I started to write out my answer and he clapped. He said he threw in a trick question at the end which was harder than the rest. He was impressed that I got it. I was shocked to say the least. Like many kids, I dealt with imposter syndrome, but that moment felt like a validation I had never felt before.
I have carried that moment with me and I think of it every time I start to feel self-doubt. I remind myself that my contribution doesn't have to look like what everybody else brings to the table."
What is your favorite only-at-GW moment?
"When I graduated I took full advantage of the career services and online portal for applying to jobs with employers recruiting for GWU grads. I was matched with a few great opportunities. Additionally, attending an urban campus allowed me to intern at a few different corporate offices that I may not have had access to on a more remote campus."
What is a piece of advice you would offer to students seeking to pursue your field of work?
"I think the advice that I can offer is a bit more general. Commit to being a life-long student and evolving your goals. Understand your gifts and acquired skills. Be able to discuss what you bring to the table with confidence. Every career path will require that you be able to effectively communicate and market yourself. Believe you are the person for the job, interview the interviewer and look to reference how you will address the pain points they've described. And last, tap in to what makes you truly happy. Be sure to prioritize joy and health as much as ambition. If you keep trying you will get where you want to go. You just want to make sure that you are happy and healthy when you get there!"
What fun fact about yourself would you like to share?
"When I was a child I wanted to be a writer. As an 18 year old, I discarded that notion as unrealistic. While at GW's business school I started my 1st adult fiction novel and a collection of poetry and short stories as a coping mechanism during my health crisis. It literally saved my life and mental health. Now, full circle, I am now a children's book Author! It was meant to be..."
Is there anything else you’d like to share with the GW community?
February is Low Vision Awareness month. Feel free to look into educational forums such as NIH.gov that highlight stories and insights. You can also check out and please share my JUMBO large print book collection at www.iabilitybooks.com.