Marco Pasqua has been speaking to audiences since he was 10 years old. Having Cerebral Palsy and using a manual wheelchair to get around most of the time, has in no way dampened his spirits, and his impact as an inspirational speaker is profound. When he speaks, people listen, not out of politeness because he has a disability, but because his first few words will inevitably cause you to stop and take note. Marco’s delivery is energetic and he possesses the innate ability to light a fire in people, subliminally urging them find their own motivations, whatever that may look like for them.
The fact that he was born with a disability is of little consequence to Marco. In fact, he says, “I think it’s absolutely a hundred percent meant to happen. And if you asked me if I would change having a disability, my answer is no. I really feel like this is what I’m meant to do. This is why I’m here on this planet – to open up people’s eyes and to share experiences from the perspective of somebody who has legs that don’t work very well, which is okay, because I can now show people that this is not something to feel sorry about, instead, I am empowered by it because I get to share with others from this perspective.”
Although Marco is an inspirational speaker, being considered an inspiration to others is contextual. He is pleased to be considered inspirational about what he does as a speaker, consultant and entrepreneur, however, he does not want to be considered an inspiration because as a person with a disability he is able to get himself a cup of coffee, unassisted, etc. No applause is needed for this! Sadly, there is a public misconception that praise should be given when mundane tasks are being performed by a person with a disability, but he believes this is a myth that needs to be dispelled.
Marco’s speaking engagements have touched a wide cross-section of people around the globe. Already gracing the stage since the tender age of 10 speaking to audiences informally, after losing his job in the video game industry during the 2010 recession, his wife, then girlfriend, encouraged him to start his own company through which since 2012, he now offers his services of Accessibility Consulting, 1-on-1 Coaching, Custom-Tailored Presentations and Emceeing.
One of the subject areas Marco covers in his presentations, in a way that’s relatable to everyone, is Overcoming Challenges and Obstacles. He does this through the use of his CUBE Principle, an acronym for “Creatively Utilize your Best Energy”. Marco initially created this system to showcase the ways in which people can authentically make connections with one another, and also advise how that would work in a business and personal setting. Accessibility consulting through the lens of his own lived experiences as a person with a disability has since been added to the suite of services he offers and, “ it’s actually a fantastic combination because I think it helps to open people’s eyes about my own experiences and rather than developing pity for somebody with a disability, it actually provides them an opportunity to develop empathy and a greater understanding of the experiences that we all go through,” Marco said. “Not everyone can relate to having a disability but everyone can relate to going through challenges,” he explained. Those who hear him speak will all admit that he is captivating, but Marco shared, “I want to be recognized as a speaker but not necessarily as a speaker with a disability. I’m just a captivating speaker who happens to have a disability. And I want to be recognized for that first more than anything else.”
Marco exudes utter confidence and his effervescent personality is difficult to ignore. He attributes the acquisition of this trait to his close-knit family and especially his father who has been one of his biggest inspirations. Coming to Canada from Italy as an immigrant, his father became used to facing adversity and had to overcome many obstacles as he settled into his new life. Marco shared, “my Dad’s immigrant pride and spirit made my parents strong and this, I think, gave them the qualities to be the right parents to have a child with a disability.” Marco recalls them encouraging him to be himself, and shared, “I’m so blessed to have the parents that I do, because they always told me that I can be something more than I ever perceived myself to be.” Marco recalls his sister never treating him differently or, like her brother with a disability, he was just her brother! He fondly recalls, “she would say ‘Marco you be the goalie’ and even though I was crawling around on my hands and knees or even in my wheelchair, she wouldn’t go easy on me. She would tackle me. She would kick the ball at me. She didn’t care, because to her, I was just her brother and there was no difference.”
The strength of his family bond encouraged him to not make his disability an obstacle, so too was the influence of Rick Hansen whose work Marco has followed his entire life. Although he was just a baby when Rick Hansen’s Man in Motion World Tour took place in 1985, growing up, Rick’s ripple effect throughout British Columbia, the rest of Canada and the world, was continually felt. Today, Marco is proud to be associated with the Rick Hansen team. He is a designated Rick Hansen Foundation Accessibility Certification™ (RHFAC) Professional, and pre-COVID-19, saw him flying monthly (sometimes weekly) to different cities across the country, talking to architecture firms, design organizations and other businesses about the importance of Accessibility and Universal Design. “This is not just about speaking inspirationally,” Marco said. “It’s actually about speaking inspirationally while providing practical tools and tips to organizations.” Marco is equipped with practical knowledge about blueprints and is able to advise how spaces can be made accessible, not just for those with mobility challenges, but for people with vision loss, hearing loss and cognitive challenges.
People are at the center of Marco’s work, and changing public perception regarding disabilities is high on his list of priorities. Especially, he helps employers realize that a disability does not make someone different in a bad way, it actually makes them different in a unique way and being unique is never a bad thing because, “your skill sets can be applied in a unique way in the workplace or in other environments where you might be able to do something better than your average employee, because you’ve done things differently your entire life, and it is that different thought process that actually makes you stronger,” Marco advised.
Being considered ‘different’ for Marco extends into his romantic life. As an inter-abled couple, he and his wife Karin, often face abject public curiosity and downright rudeness. Together for 13 years, married for 6, during the early years of their relationship, being protective of Marco, Karin would wear her fiercely defensive armor when public encounters were imminent. While holding hands, people would draw the erroneous conclusion that she was Marco’s nurse, caregiver or sister and compliment her for that action, “Oh, that’s so nice”. She was never ashamed of his disability, but hated being judged by others, and their often-expressed opinion that she “can do better than to be with someone with a disability”. Karin eventually came to the realization that negative public opinions had to be ignored and, like Marco, start using their relationship to educate and inform. Karin has now learned to tune out the stares, snickering and curious looks that assail them when they go out, and their outings are many! Among other things, they both enjoy rock-climbing, swimming and exotic vacations. One of their favourite vacation things to do is cruise to the Caribbean, where, although most of the islands are not very accessible, the genuine warmth of the people and their readiness to help has made all of their trips quite memorable. Of fond note are the islands of Aruba, St. Lucia and Bonaire.
Marco advises people with disabilities to do extensive research prior to booking that vacation! He suggests the use of Mayaan Ziv’s Access Now, which pinpoints accessibility around the world. People can search for accessible places which others would have rated and pinned on Access Now’s map.
When speaking about accessibility, Marco is proud of his city, Surrey (a part of the Lower Mainland in British Columbia, only 25 minutes away from Vancouver) which is one of the most accessible in the world. He attributes much of this to the inspirational Terry Fox, Rick Hansen and other advocates who continue to influence change and improvements for people with disabilities.
Lived experiences in his accessible city, with a caring family and loving, supportive wife have aided the development of Marco’s confident, authentic persona. “I’ve had 13 surgeries and spent a lot of time in the hospital, but I didn’t let those experiences bring me down,” he said, “I actually let them build me up. I think it all comes down to the way in which you choose to look at your life.”
Marco passionately echoes the request of many people with disabilities: “Just treat me like a regular person. I don’t need you to treat me any differently.”