Model: Denise Dietrich-Prehay
Trainer, Mailman Center & Advocacy Network on Disabilities
My life journey of self-acceptance has led me to one of my goals of becoming a social worker. This journey began in Jamaica. I was born with a developmental disability, cerebral palsy, which affected the left side of my body and my speech. I did not realize I was different from my peers until I noticed the stares and looks of revulsion when I would speak. Growing up, I noticed my parents and other relatives would place limitations on me and would underestimate my capacity for learning. I made up my mind to never limit myself because of others perception about my VOICE. So, I became a fierce advocate for the developmentally disabled population.
On my journey, there were many people who supported and allowed me to evolve into the woman I am today. My sister, Maxine, has always been there for me. Maxine was my first advocate and first translator. In junior high, I was overwhelmed with the transition from Jamaica to Miami. I felt completely alone and was even more aware of my VOICE. I was faced with a lot of hurt and wanted to commit suicide. In the midst of my darkest hour, Mrs. Demps, my speech pathologist and good friend, saved me. My loving, supportive husband, Hugh, was the first man to notice me for myself and not just my VOICE (and being tall, dark and handsome didn’t hurt either). We have been together for over twenty years, and we have enriched each other’s lives immensely.
When you first hear my VOICE, you might ignore my intelligence, my sense of humor and my love of life. Stick around and you will discover that I am not a one-dimensional person. I love fashion and event planning. Even as a young girl, I was designing clothes and settings for my Barbie dolls. Watching old shows on the Turner Classic Channel provided the inspiration for my fashion sense and my ideas for theme parties.
I am a consultant at The Advocacy Network on Disabilities. I am actively involved in several advocacy groups. My advocacy work reminds me of the importance of speaking for those who do not have a voice. My VOICE might not sound like yours, but if you exercise a little patience and listen, you will understand me. My husband, family and friends will tell you, I always have something to say. So, let’s talk.
Photographed by Sharon Socol