Catarina Rivera of Blindish Latina is smashing disability stigmas through storytelling, advocacy, and education.
Meet Catarina Rivera, the founder of Blindish Latina. Blindish Latina is a platform smashing disability stigmas through storytelling, advocacy, and education.
A Latine/x woman who has lived with disability all her life, she brings a deep understanding of intersectionality to conversations surrounding disability. Her work at Blindish Latina is changing the way brands around the world approach tourism marketing. She is also a public speaker and DEI consultant with over 14 years of experience in the public sector, working with companies to improve accessibility and inclusion, retain employees, and design better products.
Now, she is a finalist for the Trailblazer Award at the 2024 Bessie Awards. This award honors the go-getter who has thrived in the past year in building her own empire and carving out a path for future leaders in the travel space.
The Bessie Awards honor women and gender-diverse people of impact in travel, particularly influencers, creative entrepreneurs, marketers, and other representatives who have contributed unique voices and work to the travel industry.
We hope you’ll join us in Salt Lake City, Utah, for the 2024 Bessie Awards ceremony to celebrate Catarina Rivera and the other finalists!
She took some time to share with us more about her work and her future plans for herself and the whole travel industry.
Becoming a Content Creator & Digital Nomad
A Cuban-Puerto Rican who grew up in the US, Catarina Rivera traveled quite a bit during high school and college. “I continued to travel in my 20s,” she tells us. “When Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico, things shifted for me. I felt called to create a trip to Puerto Rico that would explore food sovereignty after Hurricane Maria. That trip led to me co-founding a sustainable travel company and learning about this field.”
While the company closed due to the pandemic, Catarina learned a lot and was forever changed by the way that trip was able to support the local community.
With a dream of living abroad Catarina and her partner took the leap to become full-time travelers a few years ago. “We first lived in Barbados and then started traveling all over the world!” she tells us. “When I started my social media channels, I mainly shared disability awareness content about my hearing and vision disabilities as well as disability in general. Now, I share a lot of travel content as well because I realized there was a way to merge my passions.”
Blindish Latina now boasts an audience of more than 70k highly engaged followers across her channels.
“My goals are to increase the representation of disabled travelers by showing myself as a disabled Latina traveler,” Catarina tells us. She also aims “to help the travel industry become more inclusive and accessible to disabled people, and to smash disability stigmas.”
Beyond her social channels, Catarina is a public speaker and DEIA consultant — as well as a trip creator!
“Last year, I partnered with an accessible travel company in Portugal to host a week-long accessible trip to Portugal,” she tells us. “We had 8 travelers join us, most of whom had never traveled on their own. We had people with all different kinds of disabilities and we validated each other beautifully. We did adaptive surfing on the trip, we painted tiles, we connected with each other, and we had fun!”
And that’s not all…
Pushing for Change in Tourism Marketing
Catarina is incredibly proud of being part of Delta’s Faces of Travel initiative in 2023. “This was a huge honor as they’re my favorite airline,” she says. “For the campaign, Delta asked me to return to a place that was meaningful for me. I chose Miami and created a video telling the story of my trip to Miami as well as why representation in travel is important to me.”
Unfortunately, while this partnership was a highlight for Catarina, the response to her campaign further highlighted the issue with public discourse today.
“My video went viral with 37 million+ views, with lots of people questioning my blindness and leaving uneducated comments,” she explains. “Despite this ableism that exists online, I continue to show up exactly as I am, unapologetically, and to believe that we truly can create change now.”
That change is vital, and it’s one that Catarina continues to push for in all of her multifaceted work. “I want to see more diversity in marketing,” she tells us.
“Far too often, I see ads for travel destinations that show only white nondisabled people. But when I see ads that have people of different races, abilities, body size, etc., that excites me and makes me feel more connected to the destination. This also applies to the creators that travel destinations and companies choose to work with.”
On top of all of her other work, Catarina plans to launch a YouTube channel soon, with the goal of eventually having her own travel show.
She is also working on a book proposal for a book that will be an approachable guide to disability inclusion in the workplace.
And she is also launching her first product, which will be a fashionable accessory for blind people.
“I’ll continue to pursue travel brand partnerships and to do public speaking and consulting,” she tells us, on top of all of her other big projects. “I would like to do more partnerships with European destinations and to work with more clients in the travel industry for my speaking/consulting services.”
Brands: take note and take action by connecting with Catarina before her schedule fills up!
Uplifting Others in the Industry
Catarina shares a few folks she takes inspiration from in the travel industry, and we love amplifying others’ fantastic work!
“I have always looked up to Kelley Louise of the Impact Travel Alliance, which is now called the Impact Travel Social Club,” Catarina tells us. “Kelley is a multi-passionate creative with a true, authentic desire to support others in this space. She’s connected me to many wonderful people in the industry. Kelley also was a participant in my sustainable travel company’s trip to Puerto Rico.”
“I also admire Vincie Ho, who’s created an innovative equity-focused organization in the RISE Travel Institute,” Catarina continues. “I remember when she was just launching and now it’s thriving.”
Yet another Bessie Award winner — RISE won the Social Impact Award in 2022!
“A travel creator that I look to for inspiration is Martinique Lewis, who creates amazing content with a personality that’s authentic and unmistakably hers,” Catarina says. “She’s a force in this industry, with all the things she does and has created. She’s also a true champion for others.”
To keep the momentum going, Martinique is yet another Bessie Award winner! She was awarded the Trailblazer Award — the same award Catarina is now a finalist for — back in 2020. This year, she is a finalist for Creator of the Year.
Catarina, we love your inspirational recommendations and couldn’t agree more!
Envisioning an Inclusive Future
Catarina doesn’t shy away from addressing the critical issues in the travel industry. She emphasizes the urgent need for accessibility and disability inclusion, stating, “The lack of accessibility and disability inclusion in the travel industry is a huge issue. A huge segment of the population is left out, as well as their loved ones. We need the travel industry to prioritize inclusive and accessible travel.”
She notes that, while some changes may take more time — like infrastructure changes — others are quicker to implement. She highlights disability awareness training and following best practices for accessible social media content as examples of quick wins the industry can action.
As a full-time traveler, Catarina Rivera also knows that overtourism is another major issue facing the travel industry. “We need destinations to retain their character and to protect local communities,” she says. “This is one reason why I support sustainable travel and slow travel.”
With so many issues facing the industry today, it’s creators like Catarina who are inspiring change and blazing new trails for other content creators to follow.
Speaking of her Bessies nomination, Catarina says, “It makes me feel seen and heard, especially because disability isn’t spoken about often enough in the travel industry. Last year, I spoke on the main stage at WITS and it was my first time attending the conference. I had a wonderful experience and felt like my talk made a difference. I joined Wanderful for the Global Meetup in Edinburgh last fall and got to continue connecting with this beautiful community. It means a lot to have the Wanderful community view me as a Trailblazer.”
We are so excited to celebrate Catarina Rivera and the other finalists at the 2024 Bessie Awards in Salt Lake City. We hope you’ll join us!