Updated: Sep 10, 2021
Surrey's Marco Pasqua (photo: Marco Pasqua)
Spencer van Vloten
September 9th, 2021
Born with cerebral palsy, Marco Pasqua's journey as a public speaker and accessibility advocate has included working alongside his mentor Rick Hansen, giving a highly applauded TEDx talk, and even scaling down skyscrapers.
We talked with Marco about what laid the foundation for his success and why he thinks it's so important to look beyond disability.
LEARN MORE ABOUT MARCO PASQUA
What was life like for you growing up with a disability?
Marco: I’m very fortunate to come from a family that was about going after the things you want in life. I think a lot of that was from being a first-generation Canadian, my dad coming from Italy. That immigrant mentality was perfect to help get me out there and not to body shame or feel sorry for myself.
My parents never gave up on me and they got me involved in a lot of activities. My dad had dreams of his only son being soccer superstar, and that motivated me to do wheelchair track and field, horseback riding, swimming, weightlifting.
That intro to sports really changed my life.
At what point did the motivational speaker in you start to emerge?
Marco: I was exposed to speaking on a large stage for the first time at 9-years-old. It was during Timmy’s Christmas Telethon for Easter Seals, and I had such a positive experience from that and being involved in Easter Seals camps.
I was on stage during the telethon and Red Robinson came up and asked what camp meant to me, and I was so excited and gave this long explanation. Red was impressed and asked me to come back as an ambassador the next year.
That was a critical moment for me, and when I realized that news and media could be used as platforms for good.
Marco speaking during Timmy's Telethon (photo: Marco Pasqua)
You’ve been involved in many initiatives and causes - tell us about some of them.
Marco: I’m on the board for the Sunshine Foundation of Canada, which fulfills dreams for children with disabilities. They filled a dream for me when I was a kid, so it’s come full circle and it’s incredible to be able to pay that forward.
I'm also extremely honoured to be spokesperson for the Cerebral Palsy Association of BC. We're making plans for World CP Day on October 6th. CP isn't one of the sexy disabilities - it doesn’t get representation that other disabilities get in film and television - but we're working to raise awareness.
CP isn't one of the sexy disabilities....but we're working to raise awareness
Aside from that, I continue to contribute to value aligned charities, and I also work as an accessibility consultant, with small businesses and the City of Surrey.
I've been fortunate to work closely with Rick Hansen on accessibility, and Rick was the biggest influence on me moving forward as accessibility advisor. I'd been questioning it before, because I wanted to be seen as entrepreneur first and not just a disability guy.
Marco on the right, with his mentor Rick Hansen in the centre (photo: Marco Pasqua)
Does it annoy you when discussions about your life and career focus so much on disability then?
Marco: People need to remember that even though someone has overcome particular challenges related to a disability, it doesn't mean the disability itself is what provided them with the strength of character to accomplish that. Someone may have a disability, but there's far more to them than that.
We're all here to make an impact of some kind, we all have some given talent, and if we focus on giving that back to the world, we can progress as a society and contribute whether we have a disability or not.
Going back to your community work- what have been the highlights so far?
Marco: One of the biggest was propelling off a 20-story building to raise money for Easter Seals, which I did 3 times in my wheelchair. My wife was so worried about me! But even though I'm afraid of heights I had to face the fear, because it was for the kids and not for me.
Another real amazing thing was the TEDx presentation I did on using technology to improve the lives of persons with disabilities - it was the ripple effect that allowed me to work with Rick Hansen.
Marco giving a TEDx talk on adaptive technology
And my most memorable moment working with Rick happened at a gala we attended together. He went up on stage in front of 1,000 people, and in the middle of his talk he paused and said that he wanted to pass the accessibility torch to me.
When your mentor, your hero says he trusts you with his legacy, it makes a huge impact.
The federal election is just over a week away. What do you want to addressed at a national level?
Marco: The Accessible Canada Act was enacted in 2019, but we're yet to see much progress in its implementation. We need for that to start, and to make sure changes to the act are positive.
We should never be refusing the rights of people with disabilities. No federal laws should be made which create even more barriers, and in particular there should be no segregation of populations for any reason.
What's next for you?
Marco: Through the pandemic I’ve learned to be more adaptable in my skillset. I’ve grown my virtual capacity and experience, and as part of that have been working on an online project for inclusive employment.
I'll continue to do keynote presentations and workshops on bringing people together rather than apart. I'm proud to have a disability, but it’s dangerous to focus just on disability. We need to remember that we’re all human beings; we should judge by character.
If you're on the side of lifting people up, of accepting people, reach out to me, because we need more people with these values working together.
Spencer van Vloten is the editor of BC Disability. To get in touch, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org!