A Trailblazer for the Disabled in Chile

2015
Drawing on her own experience living with a disability, Valeria created a nonprofit to advocate for disability rights in Chile.

Drawing on her own experience living with a disability, Valeria created a nonprofit to advocate for disability rights in Chile.

When asked for advice about creating change in the community, Valeria Valdés González of Universidad Andrés Bello tells people to “believe in yourself and have the courage to do it.”

“Believe in yourself and have the courage to do it.”

“I used to ask myself why I was born with an intellectual disability. I’ve since learned that I’m here to teach people we can achieve things, just like anyone else.” The roles of teacher, advocate and champion are ones Valeria takes very seriously. Having faced years of discrimination and seen firsthand the multiple barriers to access and participation, Valeria is determined to lead by example.

Working alongside President Michelle Bachelet of Chile as part of the first Presidential Advisory Committee on Inclusion of Persons with Disabilities, Valeria campaigns strongly for the rights of people with disabilities. Valeria is the youngest member of the committee and the only member with an intellectual disability. Both of these factors are at the front of Valeria’s mind when she considers the message she wants to convey.

Valeria feels fortunate to be part of one of Chile’s only diploma programs in Work Competency, which was created by Universidad Andrés Bello in response to demand from parents and prospective students. The course prepares students for finding meaningful ways to contribute in industries as diverse as veterinary science, childcare, business administration and gastronomy.

Valeria is the founder and president of Líderes con Mil Capacidades (Leaders with a Thousand Skills), an organization that began seven years ago. The mission is to promote the rights of people with a disability and has a specific focus on those with an intellectual disability. Valeria is unwavering in her commitment to change society, fight discrimination and abuse, and challenge misconceptions. “We even need to change the language people use when they talk to or about us,” says Valeria.

Líderes con Mil Capacidades facilitates workshops and seminars, and develops campaigns. It is entirely selfmanaged, including the fundraising. Valeria and her team recently lobbied for more empowering language and the use of different logos within the rail system and for a more accessible approach to voting.

“We have so much more to do. Companies still have a fear of disability, and we need to keep running workshops for parents and for employers to challenge their perception of what we’re capable of.” Valeria wants to see less bureaucracy, paperwork and excuses when it comes to employment, and a greater commitment to equality and accessibility.

Valeria firmly believes that all she has achieved would not have been possible without her parents and the incredible support she has received from her university. This support extends far beyond academic assistance, and includes a scholarship that covers 90 percent of her annual tuition costs, and professors who actively promote and contribute to the work of Líderes con Mil Capacidades. Having advocates throughout the university has given Valeria the confidence and inspiration required to be one of Chile’s most significant change makers.