February 3, 2012
In January the Aquarium of the Pacific presented its Glenn McIntyre Heritage Award to artist and advocate Ruben Rios at its Festival of Human Abilities. This festival is the Aquarium’s annual celebration that highlights the creative talents and abilities of people with disabilities. Each year at the Festival of Human Abilities the Aquarium honors an individual or organization within the community for outstanding community service and promoting cultural awareness.
Born in South Gate, California, Rios suffered a gunshot wound in 1988 at age eighteen that damaged his spinal cord and left him paralyzed from the neck down. As a child, he dreamed of a career as a police officer, but always enjoyed drawing and painting as a hobby. After his injury, he returned to art as a way to express himself, reclaim his identity, and regain a sense of self-worth. Today, he spends most of his time painting with the use of a mouth stick, advocating on behalf of those with injuries similar to his, and sharing his story with others.
Rios has been going to the Rancho Los Amigos Rehabilitation Center in Downey as an outpatient for more than twenty years. He serves on the center’s Rehab Council and as the co-chairman of the Patient Advisory Council, working to improve service to patients and foster communication between the staff, doctors, patients, and their families.
He has also been involved in the organization’s annual art show for more than fifteen years and, with other artists at the center, teaches a pediatric art class for patients. In demonstrating his artistic talent for his students, Rios helps inspire confidence and enthusiasm among patients at the center. He feels especially passionate about working with children and showing them that a spinal chord injury or other disability doesn’t have to hold them back.
It was during his time at Rancho Los Amigos that Rios learned about the Association of Mouth and Foot Painting Artists. He eventually submitted a body of work to the association and was accepted as a member in 1996.
Rios is also an ambassador for the Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation. He travels the country on behalf of the foundation doing painting demonstrations and speaking to groups about his experience with a spinal chord injury.