Disability rights are civil rights

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Nicholas Zemp advocates for the Americans with Disabilities Act at Disability Awareness Week.

Nicholas Zemp advocates for the Americans with Disabilities Act at Disability Awareness Week.


Jeanette Blain | News Editor | [email protected]
Photo credit: Collin Cooper | Photo Senior Staff | @coop.97


The keynote speaker for Disability Awareness Week was student and local business owner Nicholas Zemp.

Sitting in a motorized wheelchair, he shared his story of living with paralysis Sept. 29 at Ragan Theatre.

Zemp became paralyzed in 2009 when he suffered a spinal injury after falling from a balcony at a friend’s party.

He started UVU four years ago and now studies biochemistry and botany. He has also studied natural medicine on his own for fifteen years and owns his own herbal apothecary that he runs out of his Provo home.

The Americans with Disabilities Act is 25 years old this year. Zemp said that even though there was initially a lot of opposition to passing the act in 1990, it has opened opportunities for people with disabilities to participate in the workplace and community spheres where they didn’t before.

“It’s important to remember that disability rights are actually civil rights,” Zemp said. Those rights are guaranteed under the constitution.

Although, the ADA has benefited Zemp and others, he said that one thing the ADA does not address well is disabilities that are not physically visible.

“We all face challenges,” Zemp said. “And, in a sense, we all have our own sets of disabilities.”

Zemp also shared four secrets to life that he has gleaned from his personal experiences.

The first is to be grateful. It’s important to take the time to look around and take inventory of good things, he said.

The second secret is to be humble.

“We’re all going to need help at some point, and to be able to ask for help when you need it is really important,” Zemp said.

The third secret is to find the subtle or hidden gifts in life. He said that people tell him it’s terrible that he’s in a wheelchair, but his disability has actually allowed him to see hidden benefits such as becoming closer with family and friends.

The fourth secret is to build on small victories, because progress happens over time.

“Everybody has something they can contribute to society,” Zemp said.

Stephen Hawking is one of Zemp’s heroes because he is able to contribute to the scientific community in a huge way despite his disability.

“Any obstacle can be overcome. It’s the ones that we put in front of ourselves that are the ones that are going to hinder us the most.”