Maria Vasquez


Maria Leon VasquezReady, Willing, and Able

Maria Vasquez has been in a motorized wheelchair since she was 7. Born with severe cerebral palsy, her speech is slow and slurred. Her fingers can’t hold a pen or navigate a keyboard. Yet these constraints haven’t stopped Maria, who is 46, from becoming the first of five siblings to go to college. Graduating with honors from Fairfax High in 1993, she immediately enrolled at Santa Monica College — taking one course per semester. “I wasn’t sure I could handle more than that,” she recalls.

Then in 2000, she met her future husband, Antonio Saba. Soon, Maria became a mother and put her college plans on hold. When their son, Antonio Jr., reached middle school, Maria returned to SMC to finish what she’d started. From a certificate program in Early Childhood Education, she segued into the Associate degree track in Social Welfare.

Everything required extra effort. “Many days I had second thoughts — moments where I was going to throw in the towel,” she said. Maria composes documents by typing with her nose on an iPad. “When I had to write an essay, it would take me all night,” she said. In lectures, she relied on a notetaker. For exams, she headed to the Center for Students with Disabilities, where an aide would fill in her answers from dictation.

“My message to the next generation is to remind them to never give up,” she said. “Accomplish your goals, no matter what life throws your way.”

Though Maria has no immediate plan to transfer, her ambition is to become a social worker advocating for the disabled. For now, she’s looking into a human resources job with the City of Los Angeles.

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