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It was such a pleasure to be acquainted with this month's featured individual, Ancel Montenelli. He is recognized as a leader in advocacy for Latinos with disabilities in the United States and in Latin America. Since 1994 he has been in the field of disability and civil rights laws, with an emphasis on housing advocacy, community organizing, and leadership training. In 1996, Ancel joined the staff of the Great Lakes ADA Center within the Department of Disability and Human Development at the University of Illinois Chicago and has been there ever since. Ancel allowed me to ask him a few framing questions to help illustrate what it is he does, and to convey the commitment he has invested in his profession.
First of all, I must applaud you on all of your outstanding accomplishments! You have a long list of work that you have been a part of— was there a particular catalyst in your life that started you on your career path?
Early 1990 after the Americans with Disabilities was passed, I obtained an internship to work with parents of children with disabilities and adults with disabilities as a coordinator of an advocacy and leadership program with a non for profit organization in Chicago. Through this work I became more active in the disability rights and independent living movements that put me [in] a professional career that I happily perform today.
As an individual with a disability, do you feel that you have an added benefit when working within the populations that you assist? Has that provided you with any eye opening moments?
Absolutely, being working in the disability field for more than 20 years and have the opportunity to be part of different advisory committees through the years, did allow me to represent and address some of the concerns at the time that impacted our community with disabilities. Contribute with our recommendations to policy changes than eventually those policies became a pillar for diversity and inclusion for those programs run by the state and local government entities and non-for profit organizations— but it is surpris[ing] to me that today people with disabilities still struggle [to find] better job opportunities and better access to health care.
What has been the most rewarding aspect of your career so far? Why?
To be part of policy changes and creation of programs that became a pillar for diversity and inclusion of people with disabilities, or doing a presentation on disability laws that create awareness to improve the life of a person with disability, or a business that became more welcome to customers with disabilities.
Alternatively, what has been the most challenging aspect of your career? Why?
Translate the concept of diversity and inclusion of people with disabilities to other culture such as the Latino community, because the misconception and some of the stereotypes this community has about people with disabilities.
In closing, is there any advice or wisdom you’d like to impart on our Punch-In members as they are setting out to explore their own career aspirations and goals?
Work hard for what you are passion[ate] about and try to make a difference that benefits others.
Thanks again to Ancel for sharing his profession with all of us -- he has a remarkable outlook and drive!