"About Us" is a series of interviews with accomplished self-advocates in Florida.
Arizona Jenkins, 42, does not let his cerebral palsy define or limit him. He's been a lifelong self-advocate going as far as persuading Tampa city officials to improve the bus system for people with disabilities.
Arizona helped found and continues to lead the New Horizons Support Group for People with Disabilities in Tampa. New Horizons, among other things, mentors disabled children and educates the able-bodied community about the abilities and needs of people with disabilities. He has served on several government transportation boards and disability advisory committees and was recently accepted into the Florida DD Network Collaborative Leadership Program.
Arizona is a bit of a public figure in the Ybor City community he calls home – to the point he was featured on one of the community’s renowned building murals. When he’s not advocating, you can probably catch him working the room at a community event or hanging out at his favorite coffee shop.
Question: How important is being a person
with a disability to your identity?
Arizona: I don’t see myself as different. People don’t notice my disability, they notice me as a person.
Question: When did you begin to identify as a self-advocate?
Arizona: I began to identify as a self-advocate from an early age. If I had to pinpoint a specific time it would have to be in junior high.
Question: What is your funniest disability-related story?
Arizona: My cerebral palsy only affects the left side of my body. I use a wheelchair and have a caregiver with me most of the time. I do not let my disability slow me down. One funny story comes to mind. I was at a meeting in Orlando when I fell out of my chair in my room. My caregiver had a room next to mine but she could not hear me call for help. I had to crawl to the door to get her. Unfortunately, I had no clothes on and locked myself out of my room and was stuck in the hallway until my caregiver unlocked the door.
Question: What disability-related issue(s) is most significant to you?
Arizona: There are many issues that are important; when it comes to advocacy, however, the most important to me would have to be transportation. Transportation is a huge problem in the disability community. If we cannot easily get around it is impossible for us to interact with and contribute to society.
Question: Can you share a time when your disability inspired a behavior, comment, or reaction that you found particularly obnoxious? What about a positive experience?
Arizona: This is an interesting question because, like I said, I don’t see myself as different; however, sometimes society does. It frustrates me when I’m out in public and I ask for assistance and someone is not willing to help. On the other hand, I take great pride in the fact that sometimes able-bodied people and disabled people will come up to me and appreciate my work as an advocate.
Question: If you could invite one person with a disability, living or dead, to have a conversation over coffee, who would it be? Why?
Arizona: My answer to the question does not involve a famous person. I would invite my friend Joda, because he’s now disabled but hasn’t always been. He can relate to both disabled and able-bodied people.
Question: In 10 years, what would you most like to be different in the lives of persons with disabilities?
Arizona: To answer this question, I have to bring up a crucial issue within the disability community. Currently, provider rates are not adequate; therefore, direct care workers do not get paid an appropriate wage. As a result, the quality of services suffers. In 10 years I hope that this will have dramatically changed.
Question: If you could pick one song as your theme song, what would you choose?
Arizona: I would pick "Lean on Me."
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