Ileana Rodriguez shares her unique perspective on disabilities and devices and inspires us to pursue our goals despite perceived obstacles.

What do you see when someone enters a room? Their physical traits? Their clothes?

When Ileana Rodriguez enters, many people notice her wheelchair first. She has been in a wheelchair since the age of 13 and since then she has achieved heights most walking folks can only imagine. Still, many people still see the device first.

Rodriguez learned early on that, while her wheelchair set her apart from the crowd on land, in the water she was like everyone else. Her device “disappeared.”

ileana rodriguez tedxfiu talk

Her desire to be seen for who she is, not where she sits, inspired the design of a dress for one of her FIU architecture classes. Unlike her classmates, who aimed to protect themselves from physical elements like rain and heat, her creation protected her from people – people who couldn’t see beyond the wheelchair.

Rodriguez has certainly proved herself. She and her fellow athletes in the 2012 Paralympics Games are as dedicated to their sport as their Olympic counterparts.

Though the American Record-holder didn’t place in London, Rodriguez did fulfill a dream that nearly every athlete holds: to represent her country on the world stage. And she did it without her wheelchair.

Watch her full TEDxFIU talk: