"About Us" is a series of interviews with accomplished self-advocates in Florida.
Beyssa Buil is a self-advocate on the autism spectrum living with multiple sclerosis.
Her advocacy efforts include being a student representative for Florida International University’s Disability Resource Center, serving as a trustee the Unitarian Universalist Social Justice board, and being a group facilitator for the Multiple Sclerosis Foundation. She is a public speaker bringing awareness to disability justice and inclusion and is a first year FL SAND Fellow.
Beyssa is an endorsed chaplain, community organizer, and Diversity, Equity & Inclusion educator. She uses social emotional learning, trauma informed care, and somatic (calming) practices to support self-advocates and individuals on their path of self-advocacy, and in her work to navigate and, with hope, dismantle institutional oppression.
She has a Master's of Divinity degree and is currently completing her Buddhist ecclesiastical endorsement. The nonprofit she founded, Society of the Flora, Fauna & Friend is involved with organizing and connecting individuals to coalitions engaged in disability and social justice campaigns on the local, state, and national level.
In this edition of “About Us,” Beyssa talks about the importance of self stewardship and social emotional learning -- helping people use positive emotions about themselves to inform their education -- to support self-advocacy work.
Question: When did you start to identify as a self-advocate and why?
Beyssa: When I was attending university and handed my accommodations to the
professor and they rolled their eyes, set down the paper on their desk and carried on as if nothing had transpired, I realized at that moment it was up to me to get over my fear and have a challenging conversation and self advocate. After leaving from that experience I realized I was now my own self-advocate.
Question: How important to your identity is being a person with a disability? Beyssa: My identity as a person living with Disability is core to who I am in the world and the work I am called to do. This expression of self allows me to be a more compassionate human being who sees all beings as interconnected and worthy of dignity.
Question: What advocacy related issue is the most significant to you?
Beyssa: Training people to be kind and inclusive, which would cut across all areas where people with disabilities need to advocate for themselves: from clerks, staff, and security at the disability office; medical personnel of physicians, nurses, aides, and people making the appointments; in education, teachers and aides in the classrooms, other parents and fellow students. Kindness and inclusion would transform the world.
Question: Can you share a time when your disability inspired a behavior or comment you found particularly obnoxious?
Beyssa: Whenever I am at the airport sitting in my wheelchair, people unconsciously speak louder to me as if being in the chair means I am hard of hearing. People making assumptions about my abilities versus asking me. Sometimes assumptions are made of me not being able to do something. Other times it is assumptions that I don't look or sound more disabled, which is equally harmful.
Question: If you could invite one person with a disability, living or dead, to have a conversation over coffee, who would it be? Beyssa: I would love to have a conversation and coffee with Alice Wong, a research consultant and disability rights activist who has spinal muscular atrophy. She created "The Disability Visibility Project." Why? An aspect of self-advocacy is being visible and part of society, which supports breaking down barriers of ableism. For a very long time throughout history, having any disability was deemed as shameful and even evil. This was pure ignorance. Alice Wong used her research to advance access and accommodation for disabled people. I really would love to know about her experience attending the reception at the White House for the 25th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act via telepresence robot. She was the first person to visit the White House and the President by robot presence.
Question: In 10 years, what would you most like to see change in the lives of persons with disabilities?
Beyssa: I would love to see our society transformed so that the lives of persons with disabilities can have access to safe and affordable housing with universal design; accessibility to medication and healthcare treatments like acupuncture, massage, biofeedback and art therapy where they are not viewed as luxuries but part of supports; and removal of the marriage penalty with SSI and the income caps that create poverty. Be included in all spaces instead of having to advocate that inclusion should be the norm.
Question: Who or what has most inspired your advocacy journey?
Beyssa: Stories about people throughout history that have had to face adversity and find ways to thrive even when whatever was the dominant culture was not allowing inclusion.
Question: What unique strengths have your disability given you or otherwise influenced your life? Beyssa: Thinking outside the box, which allows my creativity and intuition to flourish to notice patterns and solutions that are not obvious. Authentic expression of self and the tenacity to not give up. My parents say I have an indomitable spirit.
Question: Can you share a product, way to complete a task, or life hack that has made life with a disability easier? Beyssa: My cell phone- I use the camera to take pictures of places I have never been before, whether a parking lot, cross streets or building, so I know the orientation of where I need to come back to. If I suddenly can’t recall or express where I need to return to I can show it to a person for them to point the direction I need to go. Alarms on my calendar to help me stay on track of time and scheduling enough time to not feel anxious if I lose track of time.
Question: If you could pick one song as your theme song, what would you choose?
Beyssa: “Lights Up,” by Harry Styles, since a verse really resonates with the journey of being a self-advocate and not settling for anything less: “Shine, Step into the Light, Shine, So bright Sometimes, Shine, I’m not ever going back.”
The FSACentral staff would like to thank Beyssa for taking the time to participate in the interview. Let us know what you think about "About Us" on Facebook. If you know an accomplished self-advocate in Florida you think we should showcase in "About Us," contact us here or via Facebook.