For Paula Carozzo, growing up with a disability meant becoming her own role model. Paula was diagnosed with cerebral palsy after surgical malpractice in Venezuela. After receiving the news from the doctors and hearing that there was no treatment, her parents decided to move to Miami in search of a solution and rehabilitation options.
Today, after many visits to neurologists and orthopedists, consultations, and treatments, Paula Carozzo has become a voice for her community and an influencer with thousands of followers on social media.
Turning diagnosis into hope
Cerebral palsy (CP) is a group of disorders that affect a person’s ability to move and maintain balance and posture. CP is the most common motor disability in childhood.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, cerebral palsy is caused by abnormal brain development or damage to the developing brain that affects a person’s ability to control their muscles.
Symptoms of cerebral palsy vary from person to person. A person with severe cerebral palsy may need special equipment to be able to walk or may not be able to walk at all and need lifelong care. A person with mild cerebral palsy, on the other hand, may walk with some difficulty but does not need any special help. Cerebral palsy does not worsen over time, although the exact symptoms may change throughout a person’s life.
Despite the initial diagnosis Paula received in Venezuela, opportunities in the United States allowed her to have hope and overcome the obstacles.
“Besides being properly diagnosed, I was able to receive the best and most advanced treatments for cerebral palsy,” Paula told BELatina. “I also had the opportunity to attend school and later graduate from college. Something that my home country wouldn’t have allowed me to accomplish 20 years ago.”
Paula graduated with a bachelor’s degree in public relations and worked in various agencies in fashion and entertainment. But it was her first job that opened her eyes to a reality that needed to change.
The importance of visibility
After working with several clients, Paula Carozzo realized that she hadn’t represented a single client that was inclusive or had an interest in advocating for disability rights.
“That was the day I rethought my whole career and knew I had to switch gears,” she remembers.
Two years ago, Paula began a social media adventure, documenting her life, frustrations, and personal struggles living with a disability. Today, her social media platforms have a diverse follower base totaling over 54 thousand between Tiktok and Instagram, combined with just under 50% being fellow inclusive advocates, disabled influencers, and teens and adults looking to shine their true colors.
The ability to create an online community allowed Paula to be for others what she had to be for herself when she didn’t see role models that looked like her.
“[Instagram] has definitely created a safe space for me to express myself about disability. It has also given me the privilege to build a community where I’ve built relationships with other advocates, disabled celebrities, and people who have joined the movement,” Paula told us. “Through my creative work, I’ve been able to work with brands who have trusted me to spread the message of inclusion and disability on their behalf.”
“I now go by the title of an inclusive activist and disabled content creator. I strive to reach equality and justice for my community while sharing my story and creating content,” she added.
Whether it’s yoga or meditation, creativity has been key in Paula Carozzo’s life, as well as the driving force to keep moving forward.
“Most of the time, my creative work stems from looking at my past and seeing how far I’ve come. Then, it’s applying the baby steps I need to take to get to the future.”
Similarly, Carozzo seeks to redefine fashion through her experience.
“I think my favorite part about redefining fashion is that I constantly get to show the world all the different ways we can approach it. Fashion is a form of art. It’s a gateway for self-expression. There should be no limits.”
Disability in the Latinx community
For Paula, the most important obstacle in the Latinx community is the redefining of disability.
“The Hispanic culture stigmatizes disability so much and sees it as something that needs to be cured,” she explains. “Hispanics tie religion into everything. Growing up, I was constantly taken to all kinds of churches and spiritual healers to be cured. I just see disability as a way to live. It might not be yours, but it’s mine, and it should be respected.”
Indeed, this Hispanic Heritage Month, Paula Carozzo has reminded her fan base that, in addition to celebrating our culture and cuisine, they should remember the struggles and where we come from.
“Own that and take it with you, wherever you go,” she said.
That intrinsic value to her authenticity and her own story has made Paula a pioneer in deconstructing the narrative around disability — and she knows it.
“My work is constantly seen as inspiring, and while that’s really beautiful — but that’s actually the last thing I am trying to achieve. In the disabled community, most of our work is felt and seen as heroic when really we’re fighting for our human rights and trying to achieve the same thing as people without disabilities just with different abilities.”
Finally, for those who are at the beginning of the path Paula has had to blaze, her recommendation is only one: “If you feel that you can truly be the best at something, then you really deserve to give yourself a shot at it.”