ABC7 Star: Man gives voice to people with disabilities

Tuesday, January 19, 2016
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Belo Cipriani is not only an activist for people with disabilities, but also a strong voice in the Bay Area's LGBT community.

OAKLAND, Calif. (KGO) -- Here is a man who hasn't let a disability define him or limit him in any way. He lost his sight after being brutal beaten by former friends, but the experience unlocked a part of him that he didn't know was there. This is what makes him an ABC7 Star.

Belo Cipriani and his canine companion "Oslo" are a familiar sight in the hallways of Oakland's Holy Names University, and in the small office he occupies as writer-in-residence. Writing is the vehicle he uses to crusade on behalf of the disabled.

"I would like to really just be able to be a voice for all the disabled people who don't have the ability to voice their thoughts and opinions," Cipriani said.

Cipriani was born in Guatemala, but grew up in a Latino neighborhood in San Jose. He wasn't always blind; that happened in 2007 when a group of childhood friends he was estranged from assaulted him.

"I got kicked in the head so many times that I got nerve damage from it," Cipriani explained.

PHOTOS: Meet the other ABC7 Stars here

For nearly two years after the attack, he withdrew to a very dark place. In his memoir, he recounts how it took the love of his family and writing to pull him out of it. He became not only an activist for people with disabilities, but also a strong voice in the Bay Area's LGBT community.

In fact, he was one of the grand marshals for San Francisco's 2015 Gay Pride Parade -- the first blind person to have the honor. He's happy to use the exposure to try and inspire gay and disabled people.

"When you set your mind to be the best you can be, you will inspire people," Cipriani said.

If that's not inspirational enough for you, he also practices the Brazilian martial art of capoeira, which is difficult enough for sighted people. He is also a spokesperson for Guide Dogs for the Blind - the organization that trained and provided Cipriani's inseparable companion, Oslo.

"A lot of the times when I am walking around, he's reading and looking around to see what I need," Cipriani says. His companion also pays close attention to what he wants too. "I love pizza and every time I walk by a pizza place, he always stops and sees if I want to go in."

And usually, Oslo is all the help this star needs to get around. Cipriani explained, "I feel the biggest misconception that able-bodied people have about the disabled is that we need constant care or constant help."

Translation -- ask before you try to help a disabled person.

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