This week, Tia Holmes began her first days at college. She is an incoming first-year this fall at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and is already planning to major in computer science.
But her passion does not stem solely from computers. Since she was in middle school, Holmes has been working to promote inclusion and acceptance of people with disabilities across the country.
Holmes was diagnosed with mild cerebral palsy as a child. The disability affects her speech and movement, but not her drive to spread her message.
“Inclusion is complete and total acceptance of every individual for who they truly are regardless of ability and disability,” Holmes said.
Growing up in Cary, Holmes experienced what it felt like to be excluded. But she knew this was not what people with disabilities needed to go through. So, when she was 12 years old, she applied to a national conference focused on inclusion among youth.
She was the youngest person to attend the National Youth Inclusion Summit in Washington, D.C. At first, Holmes said she was overwhelmed by the group of 20 teenagers from across the country because she had never met so many people passionate about inclusion.
The group created and launched the campaign “I Am Norm,” dedicated to raising awareness about inclusion and providing inclusive practices in schools and communities.
“It is basically talking about how we are all different but different is normal,” Holmes said. “We are talking about no matter who you are, we are all special and unique and that’s okay because everyone is different.”
Since “I Am Norm” started, Holmes has only increased her advocacy. She’s spoken at the National Council on Disability’s National Disability Policy Summit, and worked with several organizations such as Kids Included Together (KIT) and TASH.
Coming into Carolina, Holmes said she plans to continue working with organizations like KIT, but is also adamant about branching out. She said she plans to join Advocates for Carolina in the Campus Y, and wants to get back involved in theater. Holmes said she was a part of the drama department in middle school, but hopes to start acting in college.
"By becoming an active member in a drama club I hope to open people's minds and show people that inclusion isn't difficult and can be fun for everyone," she said. “Inclusion is not about putting people in a room together, it’s about the bonding between all abilities. If you have a disability, that doesn’t mean you are of lesser value compared to if you have no disability. We all have our own disabilities, whether they are obvious or not.”