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Shattering stereotypes

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More than one billion people in the world live with disabilities and most of them cannot afford healthcare, attend school or find work. They often face overt discrimination, stereotyping and lack of respect for their basic human rights — with women and girls disproportionately affected.

Take the case of Jillian Mercado. She always dreamed of working in the fashion world, but as a young girl using a wheelchair, she found that she didn’t relate to the models in the fashion magazines she was reading.

Mercado shares her own story, but focuses on highlighting the challenges that people with disabilities face daily

Diagnosed with muscular dystrophy in her early teens, she realized that equal representation was severely lacking in a world where very few people with disabilities have risen.

Today, Jillian has become one of few models with a visible disability who is featured in major brand campaigns and in 2018, she found herself featured on a giant billboard in New York’s Times Square. She has used her profile and rising influence to advocate for the rights of people with disabilities.

“Having a disability doesn’t stop me from doing anything. It’s an honor and a privilege to show people that it’s OK to be yourself and still do what you love,” said Mercado, who is committed to become the role model she wished she had as a child.

“All we want is to be provided with the same opportunities and be treated with the same respect like everybody else. I personally do my best to always have these conversations with anyone I meet. It is very important to spread this message so, by 2030, we can see the progress we have been a part of, and younger generations can benefit from.”

Mercado met with UN Secretary-General António Guterres in 2018 to discuss the organization’s efforts to address inequality — particularly among women and girls with disabilities — and to discuss what more can be done to achieve Goal 10 of the SDGs.

“It’s crucial to know that people with disabilities are everywhere and only want to have equal opportunities — to live a fruitful life without any physical obstacles,” said Mercado. “It’s important for me as a public figure to do my best in reducing inequalities — not only for myself, but for anyone else who may not have the same platform as I do. When we are all given the same opportunity to succeed in life, we can develop a better future for generations to come. ”

With the power of social media, Mercado shares her own story, but focuses on highlighting the challenges that people with disabilities face daily — including disability representation in media.

Visual representation of people with disabilities ensures inclusivity, and she wants to see more of it on TV and in magazines. She is also not afraid to take on businesses — or even world leaders — to raise awareness on equal access and rights.

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