Hi, I’m Chris Rosa, University Assistant Dean for Student Affairs at the City University of New York. My brother and I are huge Bruce Springsteen fans. We’ve been to 107 shows together. People collect all kinds of different things; we happen to collect concerts.
I’m fiercely proud of my identity as a person with a disability. I have a degenerative form of muscular dystrophy, and my brother has it too. It’s impossible for people to appreciate me, in all my complexity, without understanding that at my core I am a person with a disability. It links me to a community of people with similar stories who are changing the face of contemporary American life. It’s a cultural identity, similar to being African-American or Latino. The Americans with Disabilities Act is our Civil Rights Act.
I am a sociologist by training, so I understand that it’s natural for people to stare at difference. In many respects, this is where stigma is born. And so my philosophy has always been, that while I have your attention, I am going to make the most of it. It’s a great opportunity to create change.
I think about my niece Isabella, who’s only known me in my chair, which I’ve used since I was twelve. When Isabella was little, and saw pictures of me as a young boy, walking and standing, she looked perplexed, as if something really important was missing. I’m proud that that’s the way she thinks of her uncle.
I love sports, especially basketball. My brother and I coached youth basketball for ten years. The challenge — to teach without being able to physically demonstrate — pushed the limits of my ability to connect and communicate. If you have two guys in wheelchairs, who get the team playing better, succeeding, and everyone’s having fun, then suddenly, the expectation is that everyone in wheelchairs can do stuff. And it’s that simple. Coaching was probably the most rewarding experience of my life.