"About Us" is a series of interviews with accomplished self-advocates in Florida.
Samantha Lebron, a new member of the FL SAND Fellows Program, is a self-advocate and athlete with cerebral palsy from Tampa. She devotes her time to advocating on behalf of others with disabilities and making meaningful connections with non-profit organizations that foster this community’s independence.
Labron is currently involved with three organizations in addition to FL SAND: ABLE United, Hillsborough Adaptive Sports, and Self Reliance -- a Center for Independent Living (CIL). As an ABLE United ambassador, she shares the importance of the ABLE Act and purpose of ABLE Accounts. She also works as a certified Work Incentives Practitioner where she provides benefits planning services to people living with disabilities.
Her advocacy efforts include being Ms. Wheelchair Florida 2020, a Florida Partners in Policy Making graduate, and a LEND trainee at the University of Miami Mailman Center. In her spare time Lebron participates in adaptive sports and creates videos about disability resources that she posts on a variety of social media platforms.
Question: When did you start to identify as a self-advocate and why?
Samantha: I began to identify as a self-advocate in 2018 after acquiring an injury to my neck and becoming a full-time wheelchair user. I went to my Center for Independent Living and met some self-advocates and they pointed me in the right direction to learn more about advocacy.
Question: What is your funniest disability-related story? Samantha: At my high school the courtyard was a shortcut to travel between buildings. I was using crutches at the time. After crossing the courtyard, I entered a building but suddenly realized that because I drag my right foot when I walk, I must have walked through an ant hill. I literally got ants in my pants and had to wear gym clothes from the lost and found for the rest of the day.
Question: What advocacy related issue is the most significant to you?
Samantha: Transportation, because it is one of the largest obstacles a person with a disability can face daily. The lack of wheelchair accessible vehicles combined with the restrictions and limited transportation options affects all aspects of life, including accessing education, employment, healthcare providers, housing, and recreation.
Question: Can you share a time when your disability inspired a behavior or comment you found particularly obnoxious?
Samantha: After having a conversation over the phone with someone who knew I had cerebral palsy, they said “I would have never guessed you had cerebral palsy because you can articulate yourself so well.” Despite being offended, I used the moment to educate the person, but it reminded me that the perception that cerebral palsy has a certain “look” needs to change.
Question: Can you name a time in which a behavior or comment inspired by your disability made you feel valued or understood? Samantha: I have another disability called hyperacusis, which is a rare hearing disorder that affects loudness perception. Certain pitches and frequencies of a sound can be painful to my ears. During the Ms. Wheelchair America competition, I spoke candidly about the disorder and how it affects all aspects of my life, including the times when I had to turn down education and employment opportunities because of it. One of the other participants in the competition told me that she was immensely grateful that we crossed paths because she also had the disorder but didn’t know what it was. I was grateful also because she is the first person I've ever met with the disorder and she made me feel valued and understood.
Question: In 10 years, what would you most like to see change in the lives of persons with disabilities?
Samantha: Many things, including more transportation options, increased access to higher education and employment, affordable housing and universal design, and increased income limits for Medicaid and SSI, including the removal of the marriage penalty. Overall, I would like to see a world that truly accepts and includes people with disabilities and not just because there is a rule or law in place.
Question: Who or what has most inspired your advocacy journey?
Samantha: I wanted to help those with disabilities and their families facing similar obstacles as those I had to endure. When my journey began I didn’t know what it meant to be a self-advocate. I was just doing what I felt I was called to do. As the journey progressed I realized it wasn’t just those with disabilities and their families who needed someone to change society’s perceptions of disability.
Question: What unique strengths have your disability given you or otherwise influenced in your life? Samantha: It has given me the ability to be creative. Daily, I have to find ways to do pretty much everything that others without a disability do-- just in a different way.
Question: Can you share a product, way to complete a task, or life hack that has made life with a disability easier? Samantha: Smart devices have given me more independence. With the use of Alexa I can control multiple devices in my home including my front door. It has lessened the need for caregivers to do certain tasks and helps me on the days when I have decreased mobility.
Question: If you could pick one song as your theme song, what would you choose?
Samantha: "God Is a Dancer," by Tiesto because any song with a beat that you can dance to makes me happy, no matter what mood I’m in.
The FSACentral staff would like to thank Samantha 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.