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Celebrating Disability Awareness Month: Marisa Ortega

Image of student in London

Image of student in London Burnt orange bound…Since she was a young girl, Marisa Ortega always dreamed of becoming a Longhorn. She didn’t realize that dream could be a reality until she met with her community college advisor. “When she asked me about my dream school, I told her that I would love more than anything to go to UT. I’ll never my excitement when she told me I had enough transferable credits to get into the school that I always considered to be the Ivy League of Texas.”

Finding her path…When Ortega came to UT Austin, she knew she wanted to pursue a career path that would allow her to help people. Unsure of which path to take, she decided to major in education and later found that her passion for teaching just wasn’t there.  When an advisor told her to explore some options in the field of social work, it all started to come together. “I didn’t know anything about social work, but when I looked into it I realized that’s exactly where I needed to be.”

Defying limitations…Not only did Ortega surpass her expectations by becoming a Longhorn, she also accomplished the unthinkable: studying abroad. “I’m legally blind, so I never would have imagined studying abroad in London. Sometimes we put limitations on ourselves and need to break past our self-imposed barriers and take risks. That’s the only way we can see what we’re truly capable of. Society is already putting limitations on underrepresented groups, so why put more limitations on ourselves?”

Life after UT Austin…After wrapping up her master’s degree this summer, Ortega plans on returning to her hometown of Dallas to pursue a rewarding career in social work with a focus on people with disabilities. She understands the importance of this work because she, too, has benefited from supportive people and resources while navigating school and life with a visual impairment.

Educating future advocates…She hopes she can spread the wisdom she learned from her support network in the School of Social Work and Service for Students with Disabilities. “I learned more about advocating for myself in regard to my disability. I learned that people don’t see disability as a component of diversity, and that this is a marginalized population many people aren’t aware of. I want to keep working toward spreading awareness and helping this group find equality.”

Erasing the stigma…Inspired by her experiences abroad, Ortega has been encouraging more students with disabilities to consider traveling the world in study abroad information sessions.  She also wants to help erase the stigma attached to disability. “I want to take away the sympathy component and help people see that we all use tools to do certain things. Some of us may need a GPS system to get around town or a calculator to do the bills. And we all learn differently. It’s not about smart or dumb; it’s about finding a way of learning that works for you. “The beauty of life is that we’re all different. What would the world be like if we’re all the same?

A surprising journey… A first-generation college graduate, Ortega initially aspired to attain her associate’s degree and find a job to pay the bills. Looking back at her collegiate journey, she’s amazed at how far she’s surpassed her expectations. Now as she’s about to receive her master’s degree from the School of Social Work, she’s excited to see what the future might hold.

Watch Ortega discuss her experiences abroad in this video provided by the School of Social Work.

Programs: Social Work Intern, Services for Students with Disabilities; Pre-Graduate Intern, Intellectual Entrepreneurship Program (IE); IE Kuhn Scholar