Model: Katherine Perez
Psychiatric disability
Loyola University, Executive Director and Law Professor

I first identified as a “sibling” to someone with intellectual and developmental disabilities, but as a child, I experienced disability (though I didn’t have the language for it). My obsessive-compulsive disorder turned into major depression and anxiety by the time I was a teen. The psychiatric system labeled me with formal diagnoses, yet I still didn’t realize I was part of the disability community. “Disability” was my sister’s experience. I was “mentally ill.” Not until I was an adult, when I learned about the Disability Rights Movement and Mad Pride, did I realize that I had always belonged.

I belong to a community that celebrates our differences and shares stories of pain. A community with human and civil rights that dictate we belong in society. Belonging doesn’t mean conforming, either. It means that society must make space for and value our lives and experiences. As a legal scholar and policy director, I face a system that wasn’t created with me in mind. However, I work to make sure that those who follow don’t have such a difficult experience.

As a third-generation Mexican American, queer, disabled woman, I’m living the life of my ancestors’ dreams and learning to break generational trauma.


Photographer: Emily Sandifer