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Canali Overcomes Odds, Finds Passion for Advocacy

"About Us" is a series of interviews with accomplished self-advocates in Florida.

Sara Canali is a self-advocate with cerebral palsy from Highlands County. Sara's experiences in special education, as well as getting her GED and continuing her education as an adult, heavily impact her advocacy.

Sara recently finished her associate's degree and began her bachelor's online through Belmont University in August. An accomplished artist, Sara's goal is to obtain her degree in graphic design. Additionally, she is a recent graduate of Partners in Policymaking; an active member of the Aktion Club in her area, Special STARS and Miracle League; and a participant in Ms. Wheelchair Florida.

Question: When did you start to identify as a self-advocate and why?

Sara: I started to identify as an advocate in 2009 when I joined Aktion Club, a service organization for those with disabilities. Also, I began competing in Ms. Wheelchair Florida in 2013 and learned a lot about the importance of self-advocacy through my experiences in those competitions.

Question: What is your funniest disability related story? Sara: When I was 5, I pulled the life alert alarm in my grandmother's apartment, triggering the fire department to respond. Pretty funny to look back on.

Sara Canali in her black cap and gown holding her diploma from South Florida College.
Sara proudly displaying her associate's degree diploma upon graduation.

Question: What advocacy related issue is of the most significance to you?

Sara: The rights of students with disabilities in education, especially higher education. It is important to me that others know their rights and how to access the things they need to be successful.

Question: Can you share a time when your disability inspired a behavior or comment you found particularly obnoxious?

Sara: When I went through an educational psych evaluation and the evaluator listed the wrong diagnosis and underestimated my determination and ability to get my GED. Later, I had the opportunity to let him know I was working on my associate's degree. He was surprised, but it felt good to be able to let him know what I had accomplished.

Question: Can you name a time in which a behavior or comment inspired by your disability made you feel valued or understood? Sara: When professors or others acknowledge how hard I work.

Question: In 10 years, what would you most like to see change in the lives of persons with disabilities?

Sara: Awareness of the ADA from the general public, transportation in every county, and increased access to supports in higher education.

Question: Who or what has most inspired your advocacy journey?

Sara: My friend Robyn, because she's taught me a lot about which organizations (such as APD and Vocational Rehab) can assist me, and has inspired me to research the things that I need on my own.

Question: What unique strengths have your disability given you or contributed to? Sara: My determination. It's the reason I keep going, and also helps me pursue my passion for art and music.

Question: Can you share a product, way to complete a task, or life hack that has made life with a disability easier? Sara: My FM device, which helps me hear by drowning out background noise and helps manage my auditory processing disorder.

Question: If you could pick one song as your theme song, what would you choose?

Sara: "Anyway" by Martina McBride, because disability or not, anyone can dream.

The FSACentral staff would like to thank Sara 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.


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