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Restarting the “Cool Cats: Voices from the Disability Community”, in which people with disabilities are featured. The point of this is to share different slices of different lives. For people to hopefully connect over shared voices, experiences or disabilities.

Please welcome Eliza Riley!

Getting to Know You

Your name:  Eliza Riley

What’s your connection with disability? 

I was born with a disability, Cerebral Palsy. Or it might not be – I have never gotten the official word.

Star Trek or Star Wars? 

None of the above

If you could live in any other country for 2 years, where would you go?

I would say let’s go to Ireland! I want to see where my ancestors lived, I want to thank them for the Irish humor and the grace of a true woman.

What dish would your bring to our community picnic potluck?

My famous Banana Bread made in a crockpot, oh the cooking lessons we learn in life. Crockpot is your best friend.

Now That We’ve Been Introduced…

What do you do:

I work in development at a local high school. I specialize in alumni activities

How did you come to doing what you do? How has your career trajectory flowed?

With a degree in theater arts I felt ready to take on the world, lol. I took a bit of time to just devote myself the stage, only to realize that I needed more out of life.

So what is a girl to do with a degree in theater arts? I started to work at an employment agency that specialized in working with people with disabilities. It was an interesting job and got me looking into disability advocacy as an employment path.

I then signed on for a year with AmeriCorps. This was very meaningful to me. I spent the year working at the volunteer center of Silicon Valley where I worked with Santa Clara County Collaborating Agencies’ Disaster Relief Effort (CADRE).

One of the primary goals of CADRE was to create a support system to better serve the many vulnerable populations in Santa Clara County and create a system to organize the different types of CBOs who may help with response and recovery in a disaster.  I then was able to put on an emergency conference by and for people with disabilities.

It was the first of its kind, where we took conference materials and geared them strictly towards people with disabilities. I then transitioned to work at CONNECT Job Seeker Center. I was able to work with people with disabilities as they looked for work, advising them on what questions to ask, when to disclose and other employment related questions.

During this time I was able to serve on Silicon Valley Independent Living Center’s (SVILC) Board of Directors. This position let me take a closer look at disability advocacy as a movement. I was eventually hired on as a Youth Leadership and Outreach Coordinator. I enjoyed this position as it let me increase my ability to connect with a broader audience.

I was also able to be an ambassador for Abilities Expo, San Jose show. This opportunity allowed me to recruit both audience members and possible exhibitors. I then was able to work for College of Adaptive Arts as an office manager and registrar.  This position allowed me to experience the birth of a brand new organization and the celebration that the arts brings to a community.

I now work for my old high school, Saint Lawrence Academy as where I am able to hone my fundraising skills. I would say looking back at it, that I was given many invaluable tools that I will continue to put to use in my everyday activities.

Where would you like to see yourself in 5 years?

That is a very good question. In five years I would like to see myself still living in my own house, still having the drive to get up and work. I want to get back to swimming and eventually walking again. I will spend time exploring the world of art and that piece of me I lost, most importantly still advocating for myself, victims of abuse, and people with disabilities.

Not to be morbid, but what do you want people to remember about you when you’ve gone?

Above all that I had a wicked sense of humor. “Life is shit, you get over it, then you die” Most of my story is here.

Who or what inspires you?

I would say that would be my mom, Mary Beth Riley. She lives such a great life. Being a mom of a disabled female was tricky. What were you supposed to do? She let herself get caught up in the world of CP. She successfully managed to balance being with me for every step and keep a good grasp of her career. She is now a principal of Notre Dame High School, San Jose and still have time to laugh and live life. I always strive to follow her example in life, love and the pursuit of happiness.

About Disability

If you could say something to yourself in the past – that is, the you that was really struggling with something related to disability – what would you say?

Get over it, there is so much that you are not going to know, ever.

Science and doctors will be absolutely no help and you just need to consider yourself a medical mystery. Relax about it, it is a problem that you just cannot solve. Go and solve some real issues!

What do you like about your particular disability?

That is a rather tricky question. I like the sense of self it has given me. The sense that you just never know, what have you really got to lose? I like the listening capabilities it has given me. Somehow I am able to talk to people and have no fear of exposing too much or coming off harsh.

Any one thing that you wish people would *get* about disability?

Nothing really, I’m just like everyone else it is just I have been waking up with this exciting notion that using a wheelchair would make life so much easier.

What single piece of technology makes your life easier?

That would have to be my bed, it is a Tempur-pedic massager. There is nothing like coming home after a days work and get a full body massage.

elizaWhere else can we find you online?




If you would like to share your Voice, please send me an email (

Guest posts are also welcome. Please read this, thank you.



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