Part one. Nathasha Alvarez shares the actions that lead up to a lawsuit that changed her life and others. One episode isn't enough. Make sure you subscribe to hear it all.
Welcome, everyone, to a new episode of audaciously speaking, this is actually going to be the episode that will start off a series of episodes. I'm very excited about it. And before I go any further, I want to say hello to my niece, and my nephew, Luke, and my niece, Bella, this is for you guys. So in this episode, I'm gonna tell you about an experience that I had at the University of Miami as a freshman, and what I learned from it in hindsight, and at that moment, so there are lessons that we learn when we look back at things. And there are lessons that we learn right then and there as we're experiencing it. And these lessons helped me way after the experience. So I'm hoping it's going to help you too. I wanted to talk about how at the University of Miami, it was 1988. That was before the Americans with Disability Act. And it's after the Rehabilitation Act of Section 504. I went there, and I was really excited about it. It's supposed to be the Harvard of the South. That's what I was told in 1988, there were articles and everyone's so excited that I was going, it was really a big deal. And I was the first person in my family to go to college, so it's a bigger deal. And then of course, we have to remember that I'm disabled. And so that makes it even bigger, bigger deal. So anyway, I was having a really good time there. You know, I enjoyed learning, I enjoyed the professors, I enjoyed everything. one day, I needed to use the bathroom, and I didn't know where to go. So there's a sign in the Eye, which by the way, the building the Student Union, and everybody is there. It's right next to the bookstore. It's in the eye, when people buy their food, watch TV, there's a bowling alley, I mean, it was the place to be. And in the breezeway, that's where you're going to find a lot of people with tables set up, always asking you to sign a petition or join the club or, you know, really get involved in the whole school college environment. And I was so excited about that. And it's really . Does anybody know where the bathroom is? So these people point to the door. And I'm like, Okay, great. So there's a door for the men, there's a door for the women. And then there are water fountains. So I went ahead and I go into the female one. And I noticed that there is not a single stall that I can use. At the very, very end, though, there is a stall. That's not really a stall. Yes, it has a toilet. But then it has a shower curtain, any rod for the shower. And I'm thinking to myself, no way. They really cannot think that someone in a wheelchair is going to use that. How is that right? So I thought there must be a mistake. And I go outside, and I look to see who can give me an explanation of it. And I see somebody, one of the custodians, and like excuse me, I have to use the bathroom. Can you tell me which one? So she points to the same exact area And I said to her, nope, it's not there. I don't find one. And she looks at me like How can that be? So she told me to follow her. And you know what? She pointed to that same stall with nothing there except a shower curtain. And I said to her, this can't be it. And she spoke Spanish more than English so I told her in Spanish like this is not it can't be it. And she said, yeah, that's what they have. And I go, No, I can't go to the bathroom there. That's not right. The woman said if you want I can stay there and watch, make sure that nobody bothers you. And I really really have to go. So I said okay, okay. now I'm taking a chance on a stranger holding the door of a shower curtain door because not even a door to make sure that nobody invades my privacy. And I was really upset. So I finished I washing my hands. I thank her. And I knew I had to get the bottom of this. I thought this cannot Be it. And I thought about it and go What happened to the rest of the campus. So, as time went on, I started looking for more bathrooms, to see if there were any for people who use wheelcha rs, nothing. And I went ahead, a d I thought, This is so weird. I'm 18 years old. And in my en ire life, I have never had to g to the bathroom without a doo . That is a shower curtain. I went home, of course, on the d y that happened. And I told my m m, and she was like, That's c azy. I got totally insane. I ha to do something about this. And I went ahead, and I asked Dr. f ipsie, who is the person hat is supposedly the person t at all disabled people went t rough, during their time at the University of Miami. or any needs, or for any suggest ons or anything at all. If ou are disabled person, as Dr. f ipsie, he is the man. I asked h m, and he comes in, he meets me at the Eye. And he says to e, oh, what's the problem? So I told him, when he said, ou can always go to the clinic if you have to use the bathro m. And I'm thinking, Okay, wher 's the clinic? And the clinic is far away. So if I have to se the bathroom, I have to go fa away. But everybody else gets to use all of these bathroo s. Why don't they just fix the o e that has the shower curtain? nd you know, Dr Flipsie if y u know him. He's only like a San a Claus looking man, very joll , very happy. And everything s pretty much laughed off or ot a big deal kind of attitude And I'm thinking, well, then n body should have a door. If I on't get a door, nobody else sh uld. It's not fair. Now, mind ou, this is before the ADA. S no one is thinking. Oh, ye h, we're doing something wr ng. As a matter of fact, I di n't even know that there was a aw in place before the ADA. That was supposed to insure me of having some kind of respect, you know, to go to the bathroom. So I went ahead and I'm like, Okay, no problem. So I'm really having an issue with this, because the University of Miami campus is very large. And to have to go to the bathroom at the clinic was not something. I wanted. to te l you this because right now I c n say it calmly that at the tim , I was very angry. I mean, we' e talking very hot headed abo t this. Because I couldn't belie e it. The University of Miami s so expensive. How did they g t away with this? Why are th y doing this to me? That's wh t I'm thinking, why are they doi g this? To me? I didn't ask to e humiliated this way. So I m getting really upset about i . And then someone said, you kn w what you should you should wri e a letter to the University f Miami, newspaper, the hurrican . And I'm thinking, well, I don t know how that's gonna help m . But okay. So I go ahead, and I write it. And then t e University of Miami says to m , the hurricane, the newspap r says, Why don't you just write a column on it? I thought, oka , I'll do that. So I went ahe d and wrote a column because a l t of people with titles, we e telling me how I was making a big deal over nothing. As a matter of fact, you're not gon a believe this. But even oth r students were like, well, it s not a big deal to go to t e clinic and come back, then I found out that there w s actually a bathroom I could u e on the second floor of t e Student Union Building. But I had to go, you know, push a little farther than everyo e else. And no one thought th t was a problem either. I m thinking in my brain. Why don t you go a little further? Why do I have to, I'm the one in he wheelchair. Why do I have to ake more steps more actions to et what you get for nothing? But you know, we'll let it go. So I wrote an article in the newspaper. And I remembered that instead of getting all "good for you, you know way to go". I actually got more heat about it. In the end, I had written surfs up dude, because I said I was going to cause waves. Because by now I'm really getting upset. I started noticing how many others things on campus Were not accessible to me. I was actually struggling. And I didn't even know that I was struggling when I didn't have to be, for example, you know, sliding doors, automatic doors, they should be everywhere. Why do I have to struggle to open doors? or Why do I have to walk slowly so that when I see somebody who can walk that's going in the same direction, and hoping, okay, they're going to open the door, the same time I get there, and then the door for me. Yeah, that's what I'll do. And then I realized now, decades later, that I was actually training myself to do what I needed, based on the actions of others. So it would be convenient for them. So it's not about me struggling opening that door, it's about me going slow enough. And yet fast enough, sure that whoever gets to that door first, will open it for me. Because the doors was so heavy. Also, at the University of Miami, there was a huge drop, a long ramp made out of like tile show, when it rains, it would be dangerous for me to go down that. But once again, I did my very best to avoid going down that area. So in a way I was using these outdoing actions that made my life easier at the moment. But also I was missing out on things. Because because they weren't available to me, like everyone else. Interesting, but true. Then I said, You know what, Nathash, just go have a good time. Sure, go to a football game. That's very cool. I'm gonna go to a football game. And I wanted to get a ticket. I saw everybody lined up. So I got on that line too. Because we're all going to go to a football game. When it was my turn. First of all, the counter is way up there. so now, I feel like a little girl asking for permission to go to a football game. And the person says to me, Oh, no, we don't have a ticket for you. I'm like, What? Why not? if you want a ticket, then you can go with your ID. But if you want to bring someone you have to give them a ticket, you have to go all the way to the I think it was like the athletic department building. And you actually have to take a car to get there because no one can push all that. well, I can't do that. Why do I have to go all the way over there? I'm gonna go because you know, you need, you know, special tickets. And I'm thinking, why don't you have any for me there? And they go, No, I'm so sorry. Now you can tell. I'm not the happiest person. It is my freshman year, I'm really getting aggravated. And I don't know what to do about it. Well, that's when I realized that the more I told people about the situation. And the more I told the right people about the situation, the more ideas a gathering about what to do about the situation, not about complaining. It's about telling people what the circumstances are, what the conflict is, and that you have a desire to change this. And I'm thinking I have done this before. This is not the first time that a school or institution of education has given me problems. Like Okay, I'll handle it. But I was angry. I'm going to tell you that now, as a freshman, I was . Well, lo and behold, I go to my composition writing course I think it's called. And it's a freshman course. And my professor Adrian Peever. Goes ahead and tells the class that we're going to do a research paper. And you know what, I hate research papers. And I hate them because I hate researching. I just don't like looking through all that stuff. To this day. I avoid anything that had a lot of, you know, forms to fill out and research. Oh, I don't like it. When he said that. I'm like, Okay, this is gonna be fun. not fun at all. And I didn't know what to do it on. Because I was getting too angry, having to deal with the bathroom issue and all the other issues that I was finding. I was actually starting to get worried about Should I drink water should I not drink water? Then I have to leave the classroom. And then I have to go to the bathroom. I've got to push all the way to the Student Union, because all the other buildings were the same way with new bathroom. So that was really on my mind more than this research paper. So I'm thinking, What am I gonna do? Well, Professor Peter said to me, You know, I, you know, he told me he read the article from the newspaper. And I'm like, yeah, he said, you know, that you can get the blueprints for the entire college. And I'm like, really? Because, yeah. I said, How? So he told me, you know, ask the plantations on people like that. And I go, Oh, okay. And then he said, you can do your research paper, on the laws regarding this. And I'm thinking which law like, I have absolutely no idea which law he's talking about. And he says, Go, research it, okay. And he lives and you can do your paper on that. And I'm thinking, What? That is so awesome. Because now, I'm going to get a grade, the same time, I'm going to find a way to resolve the situation. I loved it also felt happy And I said, Yes. Great, fantastic. So here we go. So I've got a doctor flipsie, who should have answers for me. And I've got a writing professor who knows nothing about the law, or my right. And he told me "go for it". "Here you go. I'm giving you an opening, an opportunity to do this". Amazing. The people that enter your life when you need them. I said, Okay, so went ahead, and I found out about section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, which states that any institution whether it's private, or public, if they receive federal money, they must make everything (back in the day they said handicap) with handicap accessible. Okay. And I'm thinking, huh, University of Miami's private, but they get federal money. Well, we've got a problem here, . And there was my key, opening a door to get a door so I may use the bathroom. Like everyone else. It was exhilarating. Because I was empowered. I said, I'm taking action. I'm doing this. Now, of course, at the age of 18. I'm not talking like that age 18. I'm saying, Yes. I'm excited. Now. Now they're gonna have to give me that door. Yeah, but not to give me that door. The way that my high school had to put ramps everywhere. The way that my sixth grade elementary school had to put me in the correct classroom, Oh, my gosh, that all I kept thinking, Why do I have to fight for these things? Why me? You know what? I don't know either. Why me? And that's something that we all struggle with. When we're giving a major challenge. We started saying Why me? Now, story doesn't end. Although the episode will soon. Because I want you to think about a couple of things. I want you to think about how there's a status quo at this major educational institution. And how no one before me was saying anything about it. As a matter of fact, I'm not gonna throw anybody under the bus. But there was a very famous spinal cord injury person who was a student at the University, and the person never did anything to help the University of Miami, become more accessible. Now, that's for a future episode. But I want you to think why why did that person who probably had more pull than me do nothing? And why am I struggling? Basically alone, actually until there's a group that I gather, and I find a little team who actually feels like me. For now, this is my takeaway. My takeaway is that all status quo can be broken. And while Dr. flipsie was a really nice guy, he wasn't doing what I needed. For me. I don't know why. I know that you meet unlikely allies, like Professor Peever, who come in at the right time, and allow you to find the answer. And they're willing to help you in their own way. Sometimes we want help from people, but we want it in our way, we have to realize that sometimes we're going to get help from people, but not the way we think we're gonna get it. Last thing that I want you to think about for today, is that this struggle that I'm going to be telling you about isn't over. There are still institutions all over the country, and maybe around the world. But I'm speaking about the United States of America, where we have section table four of the Rehabilitation Act, and the Americans with Disability Act. Yet still, there are students on campuses, all over the country, who have to fight for just the idea of going to the bathroom. This is today's episode, what I'd like you to hear is, I would like you to go to Nathashaalvarez.com. and download a free PDF of the five actions that I take when I'm going through major struggles in life. And I'm going to see whether you can spot that I have done those things in the story that I'm telling you now. Remember, I'm doing this, to leave something behind for my nephew and my niece. And also to make sure that there are other people out there who understand that they're not alone in the struggles that they have. understand. And I want to share with you what I did to get it done. So until next time, when we continue this story, because oh yeah, it's gonna get better. And you're gonna hear how I ticked off a bunch of people. And you're gonna find out what I did get done, what I didn't get done. Because that's the way life goes. In the meantime, go to Natashaalvarez.com and make sure that you are living your life, one audacious moment at a time. Talk to you soon.