Sam stands on stage in a maroon dress. She is in profile and has her arms up and legs back in what is called an attitude.
What is your favorite memory/ moment that brought you lots of joy? A memory that sparks joy for me is the performance of my undergraduate senior dance thesis, "The Journey". Not only did this piece culminate four years of hard work, time, and energy, but it also showcased my journey to accepting and learning to love my experiences as a disabled woman. Plus, my service dog made a cameo appearance on stage: how can that not bring joy?
What is something people generally don’t know about you? Generally, people do not know just how much of a coffee snob I am. Although I keep it simple and drink it black, it has to be pretty dang good! On a more serious note, a lot of people do not know that I love surfing.
Who is Sam? I am Sam (Sammi to my family and Samantha if I have gotten myself in trouble). I am blind, a wife, daughter, sister, dog mom, friend, believer, guide dog handler, dancer, teaching artist, learner, adventurer, and accessibility enthusiast.
What gets your fired up about the disability movement? The progression of the disability movement gets me fired up. Accessibility is slowly seeping into the "average" parts of life. For example, I can now shop online at my favorite stores thanks to image descriptions and screen-reader compatibility, watch pretty much any movie and truly enjoy it thanks to audio descriptions, and travel to new places independently thanks to smartphone apps such as Uber and Aira. Moreover, seeing my two worlds (i.e., dance and disability) come together through accessible performances and integrative dance companies really gets me fired up!
What is your advocacy platform? I do not have one specific advocacy platform. I advocate through different channels. I use my life experiences to self-advocate. I use my involvement in the dance community to advocate for accessible and integrative classes and performances. I use my Christian faith to advocate for accessibility and inclusion within the Christian community, and I use my guide dog partnership to advocate for the rights of people with service dogs. I advocate through social media, YouTube, my very new and upcoming blog, The Beyond Boundaries blog, presentations, and day-to-day life.
What barriers or challenges do you face in this movement? In life, most of my challenges do not stem from my blindness but from the stereotypes and stigmas placed on me by others. There is a tendency in our world for others to impose what they may have learned and been taught about disability on our community as a whole, rather than acknowledging that each human being is an individual with their own experiences and their own story to tell.
What do you want those who do not identify with disability to know? I want the world in general to see me as fully human, fully capable, and fully worthy. I want others to know it has taken me a long while to accept who I am and the journey I am on, but I have come to love all of it, all of me. Everyone's experiences with disability are completely different, as disability is not "one-size-fits-all". Some may identify positively with their disability whereas others may not want to identify at all with their disability. Some may be searching for a potential cure, whereas others would prefer to live the rest of their lives with their disability. At the end of the day, all of it is perfectly okay because we are all individuals living collectively while journeying along our own paths.
What areas are you still growing/hope to grow? Personally? Professionally? I always strive to become a better advocate (both for myself and as an ally for others). I strive to grow in my knowledge and understanding of others' experiences. I strive to grow more compassionate, empathetic, kind, and caring. I also strive to grow as a dancer and teaching artist, learner, and friend.
Who was the person/role model who inspired you to look into disability advocacy? Why/how did they inspire you? I credit my mom for my involvement in advocacy. Mom is a tough cookie, a force to be reckoned with. From the earliest I can remember, she taught me my worth is no less than anyone else's. She fought hard to help me get to where I am in life today. Whether it was fighting for my rights to equal education or making sure I was involved with the blind community. From a young age, she helped instill a sense of power and purpose in me. She helped me to see the world would be tough to live in at times, but I am equipped with the courage to fight for what is just and what is needed to help make our world accessible for all. Aside from my mom, I also credit my blind community. I grew up in the suburbs of Long Island, NY, where the blind community is close-knit and absolutely awesome. Through summer camps, accessible sports teams, weekend outings, and wonderful conversations with members of this community, my advocacy spark became a bright blaze.
When people look at you/up to you, what do you hope they see? When people look at me, I hope they see a powerful woman of courage and faith. I hope they see someone who loves and cares for people deeply: someone who will fight for justice, who will persevere, and who earnestly smiles often.
What are your next steps? I am in the midst of many super exciting projects! I am forever working to make dance more accessible and integrative. I have had to take a break from teaching in person due to the current pandemic, but hope to get back to the world of integrative dance super soon. In the meantime I am teaching online classes for dancers with and without disabilities. I am embarking on a new journey called "The 9:3 Project", where I am beginning to use my faith as a means of creating more accessible spaces for all. I am also working on my blog, "The Beyond Boundaries blog", which I plan to use to reach out to both disabled and non-disabled people. Aside from these specific projects, I also give periodic presentations, talks, and serve on panels on guide dogs, dance/performing arts, accessibility, inclusion, etc.
How do we follow you?! My social media is up and coming.
For now, follow me on Instagram @sambricoc_14
Blog: Beyond Boundaries Blog
On YouTube: Samantha Ambrico-Custer
or shoot me an email at email@example.com.
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