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Celebrating Disability Awareness Month: Shalom Hernandez

Image of ShalomShalom Hernandez, a business and education senior, aims to empower people with disabilities to push past their barriers—surprising themselves and others in the process. Diagnosed at an early age with Arthrogryposis (a condition that limits lower-body mobility due to due to joint contractures) she understands the importance of self-advocacy and encourages others to embrace her personal motto: “Living without boundaries.”

Burnt Orange Bound… Hernandez is proud of her accomplishments at UT Austin—and the many challenges she pushed through. “Coming to UT was a very hard transition. I had to move from El Paso to a new city and my mom was very scared for me. She’d say, ‘You don’t have to go that far to be independent.’ Even though she didn’t want to be discouraging, that made it harder to leave.”

Speaking out… During her first week at UT Austin, Hernandez’s biggest fear came true when she was placed in a dorm without a private bathroom and adequate space for her equipment. With guidance from her mentor from the Subiendo Academy, she immediately sought help from Services for Students with Disabilities (SSD).  “I told them that if I didn’t have accommodations, I would have to leave UT. They immediately took care of the situation and moved me that week. Since then I’ve been living in San Jacinto and have all the space I require.”

The power of mentors…Hernandez is especially thankful for her mentors in the Subiendo Academy, a one-week summer leadership program within the McCombs School of Business. Throughout her journey at UT Austin, they have helped her every step of the way. “My mentor, Leticia Acosta, has been my go-to person whenever I need guidance. She helped me through the process of contacting SSD and has always been there to give me the adult perspective I need.”

image of Shalom abroad Taking the world by storm…An independent spirit, Hernandez decided to take her undergraduate journey a step further and study abroad for six weeks in Barcelona, where she interned at a nonprofit that provides educational opportunities to underserved children and teens.  “While in Spain, I learned that I’m really good at adapting to change. The physical barriers were challenging, but I can always find ways to maneuver around them. There’s always opportunities out there. You just have to communicate with people and take the initiative.”

Paying it forward…Inspired by her mentors, Hernandez has taken on several leadership roles to motivate students with disabilities to advocate for themselves and travel the world. “Now that I’ve learned about all of these communities here at UT, I can empower more people to turn their disabilities into strengths. No matter what stereotypes people hold against you, just know that you can prevail.”

Life after UT Austin…Hernandez discovered her calling during her internship nonprofit that provides orthopedic surgeries to children in El Paso of Mexican citizenship. She’ll never forget the moment when she raised enough money to provide a young girl with a walker. After graduation, she plans to attend graduate school and later start up a nonprofit that will provide children in developing countries with life-changing medical supplies. “Even though I grew up in a low-income family, I had the resources to physically progress to where I am now. It breaks my heart that kids with disabilities in other countries don’t have the same level of opportunities.

Dancing the night away…When Hernandez isn’t immersed in her studies or advocacy work, she can often be found at a local coffee houses or dancing the night away at Dance Across Texas. “It’s fun to get out, discover new restaurants and learn about other cultures. I love living here and feel at home in Austin.”

Hernandez’s activities and programs on campus include: President, Subiendo Academy, Longhorn Chapter, 2016-17;  Vice President, Hispanic Student Association, 2016-17; Education Intern, Fundacio Pare Manel, 2017; Volunteer, Borderless Giving Program, 2015