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Courtesy Photo Laurel stands proudly after a Special Olympics meet, displaying her 1st place medal for the swimming category in 2022

Questa High School Graduate Becomes Statewide Self-Advocate For People Living With Disabilities

Laurel Deans is a 2003 Questa High School graduate. Her family moved to Questa from Tucson, Arizona when she was in grade school. “My mom homeschooled me when we first got to Questa, but I decided I wanted to make friends, so she put me in school during my high school year,” she recalls.

Laurel has autism, but says she doesn’t view it as a disability, rather, her superpower. “I am just like everyone else. I might talk differently or have a different perception of the world than others, but when you get to know me, you will find we are more similar than not. People don’t see my disability, they see me as a person first and that’s how it should be,” she says.

After graduating, she held several jobs in the northern Taos County area, including the coffee shop in Questa, the Questa Deli, and Timbers. She also attended UNM-Taos recreationally to learn sign language, guitar, and Flamenco. Deans is fluent in sign language, and she prides herself in being able to teach others how to communicate with individuals who are hearing impaired.

Deans eventually moved to Albuquerque where she got involved with various advocacy groups. “I have been involved with various organizations. I served on the board for the Development Disabilities Council with the Governor, I was on the board for Elevate the Spectrum, and I currently serve on the board of directors for the ARC of New Mexico. I am also a Special Olympics athlete.”

Living alone and independently in Albuquerque, Laurel shares that she does need some assistance with things like buying groceries. During the COVID-19 pandemic, her assisted living staff dwindled, which forced her to reconsider living alone in Albuquerque. “My mom told me I should move in with her in Santa Fe, so I decided during the pandemic, that was a good idea,” she shares.

When asked why she is so dedicated to being a self-advocate for individuals with disabilities, she says that while her experiences have been mostly good, her friends’ experiences have not. “I have seen a lot of people be treated poorly because of their disabilities and I realized the strongest tool we have is our voice. I just want to encourage people to use their voice, because everyone deserves to be treated with dignity.”

Laurel shares that she eventually wants to get back to Albuquerque and start living independently again. “When I was there, I was in the Nutcracker on the Cracker on the Rocks play for three years. I also had so many friends there, and I just like it more than Santa Fe.”

While she has been in Santa Fe, Laurel has started volunteering at the local stables, working with horses. “Horses help my anxiety, so I love going out to spend time with them,” she says. Her two favorite horses’ names are Mouse and Ben. She has also been working with preschool children at her mom’s school. “I really enjoy working with the kiddos. They call me Yoyo or Lolo because they can’t pronounce my name,” she shares jokingly.