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Redefining Possibilities

Chris Simental-Vargas advocates for equal opportunities in the disabled community.

Chris Simental-Vargas

Being wheelchair-bound since birth, Chris Simental-Vargas could easily let his situation take control of his life. Instead, the 32-year-old chooses to remain positive, focusing his efforts on helping those in the disabled community.

“Just because someone has a disability, that does not mean they’re not deserving of having what everyone else has,” he says. “People need to listen to us and understand where we’re coming from. We just want what everyone else has.”

Vargas was born with a condition called spina bifida, a birth defect in which a person’s spinal cord fails to develop properly, as well as scoliosis, which is a curvature of the spine. Dealing with surgeries and countless hospital visits throughout his childhood, it would be easy to feel depressed and downtrodden. Yet Vargas chooses to rise above any kind of negativity.

“I try to keep positive because I know that, with my condition, the level of injury determines your quality of life,” he says. “Depending on where the level of spine injury is at and the effects of that, I could have easily been affected more severely. I could have been a vegetable.”

Vargas says it helps if people try to be more understanding and compassionate toward someone with a disability, understanding that a disabled person may be unable to do things that others take for granted. The more understanding people are, the better a disabled person’s life will be, he explains.

“I credit moving to Houston to really opening my eyes to a whole new world, actually,” he says. “I saw that Houston doesn’t have sidewalks everywhere like they do in El Paso. That created so much anxiety and anger within me that I was like, ‘How the heck does Houston not have sidewalks? That’s ridiculous.’ It’s an issue of safety for me. People need to shift their perspective. Live in our shoes.”

Something as routine as going to a store or business becomes an issue for Vargas when proper accommodations aren’t made.

“It gets frustrating to me, and I want people to realize so much more could be done,” he says. “It’s something that I had to learn to figure out. For example, there was a Montrose store I wanted to go into, but the entrance of it had a step, and that’s the only way to get in. I was by myself, meaning there’s no way I could get in, so I was screwed from experiencing that store. I also remember vividly a bar-and-grill place I went to, and all they had were high tables. I ended up leaving because there was no way I could eat there because the tables were super-high. There was no accommodation, no accessibility.”

Vargas says he hopes the disabled community can have a seat at the table and be more involved in business plans, residential construction ideas, and event planning.

Simental-Vargas arriving at Minute Maid Park for Lady Gaga concert in 2022.

“One thing that I would love to see happen is businesses and stores having someone who was born with a disability be on the organizing or planning committee, because only we can tell you what will and won’t work. We just need to talk to each other to create a dialog. We need better communication, be more upfront and honest.”

It’s this very reason why Vargas became involved with The Woodlands Pride Festival.

“I was part of the planning committee, and I took it upon myself to take charge,” he says. “I was involved in everything having to do with the disabled guests attending the event. I really made it more accessible and more inclusive. I made my voice heard, and said, ‘This is the way it’s got to be.’ I am so grateful I had the support of the entire team. It was refreshing to have a committee be so open and willing to listen.”

Vargas says he has seen change and improvements over the course of his lifetime that have made his life better, but so much more work can be done.

“Disability doesn’t strip us of our right to a normal life. Being heard and understood is
crucial for us; we seek the same opportunities as everyone else.”
—Chris Simental-Vargas

“The community isn’t asking for much,” he says. “We want what everybody else wants: to be treated equally. I believe more can be done by non-disabled individuals. Again, the key is listening to those who have a disability, because even though sometimes it might seem like we’re asking for too much, we really aren’t.”

Vargas has also seen struggles in the gay dating scene, with his disability being the reason some men won’t talk to him.

“Something I hear a lot in the dating world is, ‘We don’t want to become a caretaker,’” he says. “The reality is I’m not asking someone to be my caretaker. I’m asking you to be my life partner. That’s the mindset and mentality that I feel most of the community has right now.”

Ever-positive, however, Chris will continue to be an advocate for his community, while also focusing on his career and creative side. 

“I’m very artistic,” he says. “My idea would be to go into graphic design using vinyl. I started freelancing it in El Paso. That’s something that excites me. I want to explore more of who I am and what I love to do. I’m also going to be getting involved with a job-training initiative. It’s a program where I will get some help in finding a real working job. Because at the end of the day, I’m trying to live my life, just like everyone else.”

Keep up with Chris Simental-Vargas on Facebook at tinyurl.com/Simental-Vargas, and on Instagram at @_truthfullytopher

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Connor Behrens

Connor Behrens is a communications graduate from the University of Houston. He has written for the Washington Post, Community Impact Newspaper and the Galveston County Daily News (the oldest newspaper in Texas). When he's not writing stories, he is likely watching the latest new release at the movie theater.
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