As a first-time freshman at CSM, Vanessa Castro knew hardly anyone on campus which could have been a tough transition for most people, but not Vanessa. She quickly realized that she needed to reach out and meet new people. As a disabled student, that task was not simple. Vanessa has navigated through daily life with the assistance of a power wheelchair and a communication device to type out what she wants to say. “I would ask random people on campus for help in getting items out of my backpack, and speaking through my communications device, you can imagine that I got many strange looks.” However, she was always able to find someone willing to help–and that’s how she began to meet new people and make new friends at CSM.
Vanessa became involved with the Disabled Students Program (DSPS) where she received services that were critical to her success in college: access to computers for assignments and tests, mobility assistance, test proctoring, disability management counseling, priority registration scribe for math. “The DSPS staff was always very helpful to me and everyone else who visited the program,” says Vanessa.
During her years at CSM, Vanessa was encouraged to run for student body office as a senator. While she hadn’t planned on getting involved in student government, her friends made her realize that she could educate students about people with disabilities. “I wanted to show others that despite my disability, I am capable of accomplishing so much. It just takes me a little longer, but when I set my mind to do something, I do it.” says Vanessa. She did indeed win the election and spent an exciting year participating in the student leadership process. As a senator, she represented the student voice in college decision making and helped to plan student events. According to Vanessa, “My year as a student senator was definitely the best time I spent at CSM.”
After graduating from CSM, Vanessa transferred to UC Berkeley where she earned a B.A. degree in English with a minor in education. She co-taught classes for disabled students in independent living skills at the university and later became an instructor for the Center for Independent Living in Berkeley and San Francisco.
Recently, Vanessa has launched her own business, Ness Ness Va’s Art. She writes and illustrates children’s books and creates greeting cards and prints of her artwork. Through her books, she continues to educate others about the disabled, particularly children. She has self-published two of her books, Gloria, the Gecko Attendant, and Goes Back to Soccer; both stories teach children about young people living with disabilities.