Monday, March 23, 2009

Disability rights leader Kathy Martinez nominated for ODEP assistant secretary

From DiversityInc. Magazine. The White House press release is here.

Internationally recognized disability-rights leader Kathy Martinez (pictured) was nominated for assistant secretary for the Office of Disability Employment Policy (ODEP) by President Barack Obama on March 20.

Martinez, who has been blind since birth, specializes in employment, asset building, independent living, international development, and diversity and gender issues from her work as executive director of the World Institute on Disability (WID). Her impressive résumé includes Proyecto Visión, WID's National Technical Assistance Center to increase employment opportunities for Latinos with disabilities in the United States, and Access to Assets, an asset-building project to help reduce poverty among people with disabilities.

She was also responsible for leading the team that produced the acclaimed
international webzine Disability World ( in both English and Spanish.

"As a Latina who is blind, I have first-person experience with the low expectations and assumptions of the majority culture," Martinez says. "I have seen many disabled Latinos live down to these diminished expectations. They become overwhelmed by isolation, are disconnected from the service-delivery system and don't have disabled Latino professionals to look up to or network with. Unfortunately, even those who do access resources often are not receiving appropriate service."

Martinez's nomination came the day after President Obama made his controversial comment comparing his 129 bowling score to that of Special Olympians on "The Tonight Show with Jay Leno."

Latinos are the fastest-growing ethnic group in the United States, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. At the same time, Latinos have lower levels of educational attainment and higher dropout rates than other groups. Also more likely to be living in poverty, Latinos' health issues often go unchecked because of a lack of access to health/medical insurance. According to Proyecto Visión's web site, unabated health concerns, vocational injury and disability caused by violence all contribute to Latinos acquiring disabilities at elevated rates.

No stranger to the White House, Martinez was appointed by former President George W. Bush in 2002 as one of 15 members of the National Council on Disability, an independent federal agency advising the president and Congress on disability policy.

Martinez did not face diminished expectations even though she and a sister, Peggy, both are blind. In a radio interview, Martinez said, "My mom did not want [us] to go away from the family to go to the school for the blind. So Peggy and I were [two] of the first disabled kids to go to our public school, and we had teachers that expected a
lot of us. And they were tough. One of the biggest battles that disabled children and young people face is low expectations. If you expect someone to do well, very often, they will."