Becoming a successful artist and founding a flourishing nonprofit doesn't just happen - it takes a certain perseverance and fearlessness. For Reveca Torres, the paths to those achievements run parallel to her paths from Chicago to England, from Arizona to Costa Rica.
In 2002, Reveca applied for MIUSA's U.S./England Cross-Cultural Perspectives on Disability Leadership Exchange Program. As a wheelchair user who had acquired a spinal cord injury at age 13, Reveca was eager to challenge herself and seek out adventure.
While in England, Reveca gained many interactions and experiences that have stayed with her long since. Although the experience of traveling to a new country in itself was exhilarating, what really set the wheels in motion for her future of advocacy had to do with her fellow travelers, which included young people who had not only physical disabilities, but sensory and non-apparent disabilities as well.
“I had only known other wheelchair users, so this concept of cross-disability and cross-culture was something really new to me. It opened up my eyes to how similar we all can be even though we all have such differences.”
This is where the idea of connection enters.
During her transitional time from rehabilitation, Reveca recalls the challenge of not having peers who were going through the same thing she was. But on the MIUSA exchange program, Reveca came to understand the importance of connection and of peer support. This epiphany would eventually lead her to found BACKBONES, a non-profit organization dedicated to creating linkages among indivdiuals and families affected by spinal cord injuries.
Once she returned stateside, now with a new set of self-advocacy skills as well as confidence and independence, Reveca set off for her next adventure at the University of Arizonia to pursue a degree in theater arts and costume design, building on a long-time fascination and love for fashion design and art. But it wasn't long before she was whisked away once more.
Four years after her first program with MIUSA, Torres was asked to take part in another MIUSA Cross-Cultural Disability Exchange Program, this time in Costa Rica, as a program leader. “It was a whole different dynamic than being a participant. I learned a lot about myself as a leader.”
Today, Reveca's contributions to the spinal cord injury and wheelchair user community are well-known, and she was even named New Mobility’s Person of the Year in 2015! She has even found ways to channel her love of art into her advocacy; To date, her latest artistic pursuit is exhibiting "Reinventing the Wheel," a traveling series of portraits of 21 individuals with spinal cord injuries. The people in the photographs are "real" and resilient, which she says is to counter the tired portrayal of people with disabilities as depressing or hopeless.
Reveca has found independence and freedom in her disability and she encourages others to do the same every day. Being able to reframe her understanding of independence was another lifelong lesson gained from her time traveling with MIUSA and her peers.
“This trip made me realize that independence doesn’t mean you have to do everything for yourself. Independence now meant that I could direct my own care, and even though I physically couldn’t do things, I was able to tell someone how to do it and do it how I needed it done and do it how I wanted it done. And that was freedom and that was independence to me.”
Want to know more about Reveca, her achievements, and her nonprofit? See related links below.