A Disability Won't Slow Her Down

With the 25th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act, Nahara Rodriguez reflects on the progress and challenges she has experienced with her disability – and how she mentors young people to overcome similar obstacles. 

PHILADELPHIA – On July 26, 1990, the Americans with Disabilities Act became a law, officially prohibiting the discrimination of a person based on his or her disability.

Growing up in Puerto Rico at the time, a young Nahara Rodriguez was focused on elementary school and having fun with her friends. This historic law, enacted to ensure people with disabilities have the same rights and opportunities as everyone else, was not a consideration.

Just two short years later, however, a drunk driver crashed into the Rodriguez family car in a serious accident that left nine-year-old Nahara paralyzed from the waist down and using a wheelchair.

Reflecting on Accomplishments

Twenty-five years later, the anniversary of the ADA’s historic passage is being recognized with events and discussions nationwide about enhancements to current policies and programs along with ideas to help future generations with disabilities.

As an adult, Rodriguez herself can reflect on the personal and professional accomplishments in her life – and also sees greater opportunities in the future.

Since joining PNC Bank in 2012, she has worked her way up to become the assistant branch manager of the busy Rittenhouse branch in downtown Philadelphia. This promotion followed her nomination and successful completion of the company’s retail banking leadership development program. The vestibule area in her branch was renovated to make it more wheelchair accessible, including a new, lower desk.

Nahara Rodriguez was promoted to assistant branch manager by PNC

I am still faced with challenges every day, but I choose to make my experience positive — to have it affect my life in a good way and learn from it.

Rodriguez, whose personal story was featured in a book about “gutsy girls,” has channeled her passion and determination into helping children and young adults who have become disabled to overcome their fears and struggles.

Volunteering at an area children’s hospital, she is a mentor to “help them realize they can still do everything they want to do. They might need a gadget or some assistance, but their dreams are attainable.”

Future Challenges

On its 25th anniversary, Rodriguez has noted the progress that has been made under the ADA. Traveling can be difficult for the disabled, especially those in wheelchairs like Rodriguez. But she has seen tremendous improvement especially with air travel accommodations.

For instance, if an individual with a disability needs a caretaker to travel, that person flies for free to help. In addition to travel, the accommodations made for workers with disabilities has also improved per ADA requirements. Yet public transportation for someone in a wheelchair can often be challenging.

For the keys to success in life, Rodriguez says her father taught her that honesty, trust and character make you, and define your life in both directions.

I had a hard time understanding that when I was young, but as I got older, I grasped its meaning. I live by this phrase every day, and it truly makes me who I am and how others perceive me.'

Nahara Rodriguez is a volunteer and mentor at an area children's hospital

When she mentors children and young adults with disabilities, Rodriguez talks about her job. She also shows them her customized car that enables her to drive and tells them about her passion for kayaking and parasailing.