While growing up in the inner city of Newark, New Jersey, Sarah Helena Vazquez was constantly reminded that the world considered her to be “different.” Sarah was born with Cerebral Palsy, and like many of her peers, she could have easily ended up living a life stifled by low achievements. But with the confidence she gained from her mother and the high expectations of her teachers, Sarah has spent her life following her dreams and is now regarded as one of the nation’s leading advocates for people with disabilities.

During her freshmen year of high school, Sarah’s resource room teacher introduced her to the art of writing. For the first time Sarah realized that writing allowed her to express the way she felt about the world. After graduation Sarah went on to earn a bachelor’ degree from Rutgers University where she double majored in English and Psychology. In 2001, Sarah began working with the New Jersey Department of Education’s Office of Special Education where she helped organize and presented at the Dare to Dream Youth Leadership Conferences for thousands of students with IEPs.

Sarah has also presented at the Council for Exceptional Children’s International Teachers’ Convention; the staff at Eastern North Carolina School for the Deaf, and she was one of three advocates brought to Washington, DC by the Office of Special Education Projects to present during the national celebration of the 35th anniversary of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. In 2011, Sarah released an autobiography titled “Paved Roads” which details her life’s journey. “Paved Roads” has been read by many stakeholders within the disability world and it is being used as a teaching tool at schools like Temple University.

Sarah currently works for Neighbours helping adults with disabilities find community-based support so they can enjoy the benefits of independent living. Whether she is giving advice to transitioning youth; facilitating workshops about self-advocacy; or challenging an audience of educators to adopt more inclusive practices; Sarah Helena Vazquez’s message expresses a commitment to high expectations and her unwavering belief that people should always follow their dreams.