The following is a transcript of my most recent and final speech of my Ability Now series. It's a bigger look at my work and life- hope you enjoy reading more about my journey!
My Work Experiences
Graduating from the University of California, Berkeley, with a Bachelor’s of Arts Degree in English and a minor in Education was one of the proudest moments of my life. During my second and third year at UC Berkeley, I had the opportunity to co-teach the Disabled Student’s Resident Program Class. The objective was to teach the new disabled students at UC Berkeley how to live independently. I taught them how to look for attendants, how to hire and/or fire them, how to convey their wants and needs. Also, how to set up their schedules, manage their money, etc… That was when I realized that I enjoyed teaching and helping others.
After I graduated from UC Berkeley, I got a job at the Center for Independent Living in Berkeley where I was an Independent Living Skills instructor. I basically did the same things when I co-taught the Disabled Students’ Residence Program class. Instead of students, I was working with clients, and I actually got paid. Unfortunately, the budget was cut, so that was the end of that job.
Shortly after that, I moved to San Francisco and began looking for another job, which was not easy. One day, I was grocery shopping in Safeway and a random woman said hi to me, so I said hi back. Then we started having a whole conversation about my talker and her son in the middle of the condiments aisle. As it turned out her son had Cerebral Palsy and used a talker. She was so impressed at how well I used my talker that she told her son’s Special Education teacher about me. Within a few I weeks I met with the teacher, who worked for the San Francisco Unified School District and he offered me a job working with the woman’s son helping him use his talker effectively. Eventually, I was officially hired on a part-time basis by the San Francisco Unified School District. I started out working with one boy, then the teacher asked me to work with some of the other students in this middle school class, who were also using talkers - - which was great! However shortly after that, there was another budget cut, and I was out of a job again.
From these experiences, I knew I wanted to work with kids and/or people with disabilities. Unfortunately, finding a job was more difficult than I imagined. I would apply for jobs online, set up interviews, but once they saw my wheelchair and talker, it was over. By the looks on their faces, I knew they were not going to hire me because of my disability. It was extremely frustrating and discouraging. And at times like these, I felt having a bachelor’s degree from one of the top universities in the country didn’t mean a thing.
So I was stuck at home bored and not doing much. At that time my ex-boyfriend had recently started his own home care business, and he hired me to help one of his clients with some independent living skills. This client was a teenaged boy with autism. This was the first time that I worked with someone who was autistic. At first I was a little skeptical, wondering how we would get along together. Would he pay attention to me? Would he listen to me? Would he understand me? Even though he didn’t like most people, we ended up getting along just fine. We went shopping, to get ingredients for him to make simple snacks, and I helped him budget his money. We also did some gardening and took buses around Berkeley. Every so often my attendant would need to remind him to listen and pay attention to me; otherwise, he would continuously talk about how dangerous people are or play his video games. But even though he thought people were evil and dangerous, he seemed to like me. A couple of times he actually told people that I was his best friend. That made me feel good. After over a year, his parents could no longer afford to continue paying for my services, so I had to stop working with him.
Once again I was unemployed, so my ex-boyfriend asked if I wanted to continue working for him doing data entry. I accepted the job and I worked from home. However, I was so bored being home all day by myself and typing stuff on the computer that I quit after a few months.
All of these jobs were only a few hours a week. I’ve never had a full time job, so that allowed me plenty of time to follow my true passion, which is Art. When I was not working I spent most of my time drawing and painting. So one day, my ex-boyfriend suggested that I start my own Art business. And that I did! Since he already had his own business, and I was a client of the Regional Center, he and my social worker helped me create my business plan and budget.… After about a year, my business, Ness Ness Va’s Art was created in June 2006. At that time I was living in San Francisco, so I needed a seller’s permit. I started out being a street vendor. A few days a week, I went out and sold my art on Market Street. I sold greeting cards and prints of my art. I received lots of positive feedback about my art, which made me want to continue making and selling more art. I was a street vendor in San Francisco for over a year, and while I was out there, my most popular piece was a drawing of a big green gecko.
Years before I began my business and started selling my art in San Francisco, I did the drawing of a big green gecko standing in a bowl of pasta holding a blouse. For some reason people in San Francisco just loved that piece and I sold several copies of it. That was how I got my inspiration for my first children’s book titled, “Gloria, The Gecko Attendant.” It’s about a girl with Cerebral Palsy, and she has Gloria, the gecko, who helps her with her daily needs. I wrote, illustrated, and self-published this first book in 2010. Since my book was so loved and accepted, I figured this was a good way for me to educate kids and others about disabilities. I decided then that I wanted to write more books.
Since Gloria, the gecko was so beloved, I decided to use her in my second book, “Rollerblading On Autism,” which I also wrote, illustrated, and self-published in 2014. In this story, Gloria teaches a boy who is autistic how to rollerblade. This book was accepted to the Autism Speaks Resource Library.
This past September 2017, I launched my third children’s book, “Finding The Spirit.” This chapter book is about a boy who was diagnosed with a spinal cord injury. Depressed and frustrated in life, his journey finds him learning and playing power soccer. When I launched this third book, I had my first book release signing event at the Books Inc. Bookstore in Alameda.
With my books, I hope to raise awareness and help educate children and others about different disabilities. Currently, I am working on my forth book, which is about an amputee. Eventually, I want to write books on all disabilities. That is one of my long term goals. A lot of my art/paintings have disability themes. For example, I painted Wonder Woman and other superheroes in wheelchairs or on crutches to show that even though someone who has a disability, he or she still can have super powers.
In 2010, around the time my first book came out, I began working with Casa Allegra, which is an organization that helps entrepreneurs with disabilities manage their small businesses. Casa Allegra helped me expand my business, by getting me a business license, a home occupancy license so I can work from home, and helped me develop my website etc… Since I have been with Casa Allegra, I’ve been doing art festivals and other events all over the Bay Area selling my art. Now I make and sell greeting cards, posters, calendars, original paintings, and children’s books.
Currently, I have three paintings in the Expressions Gallery’s “Summer Jazz” show in Berkeley. For the future of Ness Ness Va’s Art, I would like to expand my art and flourish on a much broader scale. My goals are to create more books to educate about disabilities, get my art into more art galleries in and out of the Bay Area, create more opportunities to speak and read my books at schools and other events, and get paid from all of these venues.
I don’t know what kinds of jobs that you guys have had. But whatever you are good at, whatever your passion is, you should follow your dreams. If you have difficulties figuring out what you want to do and what your passions are, try setting goals for yourself. Even if the goals are small ones like putting together your resume. It will give you a sense of an accomplishment, and that will help you in the long run.
Thank you letting Steve and I come, and listening to our stories. We enjoyed talking to you, and we hope that our presentations helped inspired you to do great things in your lives.