Alba Gonzalez is from Spain and is our newest Role Model. Alba also spoke this month, at the ENIL Roundtable on Personal Assistance held in the European Parliament on the 18th November 2014. At this event she spoke about her experience of living and working in a different member state. In this interview, she tells us how her educational choices impacted upon her employment opportunities and how she came to take a position in Brussels.
Hi Alba, could you please tell us a little about yourself?
I am Alba Gonzalez and I am twenty six years old. I am from Madrid, Spain. When I was sixteen, I knew that I wanted to study Arabic Philology, although my teachers, friends and family advised me to study something more “practical for my future”. I did it because I like languages, I wanted to learn something different and I also wanted to have a more critical view about Islamism. Once I finished my degree, I realized my future was very unclear, so I took a year to make a decision and in the meanwhile, I learnt French. After that year, I came back to my Arab studies, and I did a Master in Arabic and Islamic contemporary studies. Now, I work as EU Policy Officer of CBM in Brussels.
What is your personal experience of disability?
I am a wheelchair user, although I could walk until I was 11 years old. However, my way of walking was very different, and that always scared people except me. I do believe that disability only exists because people do not understand that it is part of human diversity. I have never been afraid of my disability, it is part of who I am, but I am afraid of the lack of knowledge, the fears of people regarding disability.
When did you first start your engagement with disability issues and why?
I was in class, and we were talking about the impact of the “Arab spring” on the rights of homosexual people. Suddenly, I started to wonder about the rights of persons with disabilities in the Arab countries, and I was offered to be part of a project led by the European Disability Forum and the Arab Organisation of Persons with Disabilities. The difficult part was to move from Spain to Brussels, considering the strong support that I need of personal assistance and the lack of disability rights when you move to another country. However, I will always be grateful for that opportunity.
Who has influenced you the most, and how?
I try to learn from every experience of my life, especially from the bad ones, because I think they make you stronger. My mother has always repeated me the importance of education, and that is why I am here. My friends have shown me that there are no limits, just those I build for myself. I do not know if someone has especially influenced me, what I know is that some people have so much to teach, I only take advantage of them letting me learn, the good and the bad things.
Is it difficult for you to find a new job?
It is difficult to start in the labour market, very difficult. Persons with disabilities have to face a double barrier: we have to demonstrate our value as workers, and as persons with disabilities. It is a double discrimination, a triple one if you are woman. Once I had my first contract, I started to be more confident of my future, and the fact that I am working within the disability movement makes things easier. I am sure that it would not be so easy if I apply for a mainstream job position.
Describe your present employment and even your past employment experience?
I am EU Policy Officer of CBM, where I can learn about disability policies, where I feel I am part of a team. Here I have the possibility of working with the European institutions, and although it is not enough, I can go to bed with the feeling that I am working for improving this crazy world.
My previous period was focused on the implementation of a project in six Arab countries. Since I started my degree, I wanted to go to this region, but it was difficult due to the accessibility, and finally I could do it. I started to believe in myself as a worker, I grew both professionally and personally.
Of which achievement from employment are you most proud?
I supported the organisation of an international conference in Turkey, with persons with all types of disabilities. As with Murphy’s law, everything went wrong! We had to deal with a lot of issues in relation to accessibility and available information. I am proud because I survived successfully, so I am prepared for the next challenge.
What is your vision for the labour market for disabled persons in your country at present and for the future?
When I was in the high school, a teacher of mine said to me that I should not study. I should work selling lottery tickets, and forget about the rest. Sadly, this is the future of many persons with disabilities in Spain. We have no opportunities. The Governments does not invest in us and they have reduced the economic and social support for persons with disabilities dramatically. I know that if I go back to Spain, I would never have the same opportunities I am having in Brussels.
What advice would you give to young disabled persons?
Look at what you have already done, and do not give up. We all have to fight against circumstances, you can change your circumstances into your allies.