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Women's History Month: Nurse Andrea Dalzell fighting to stop discrimination against people with disabilities

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) - As we celebrate Women's History Month, we're introducing you to a young nurse fighting to stop discrimination against people with disabilities.

As CBS2's Cindy Hsu reports, she's sharing a message to never give up.

Andrea Dalzell grew up in East Flatbush, Brooklyn.

When she was 5 years old, she was diagnosed with a neurological disorder that affects the spinal cord. By the time she was 12, she was a paraplegic.

Today, Andrea is a registered nurse at a school on the Lower East Side, and she's got a full plate.

"Full time job, I'm in school full time to get my master's in nursing education," she said. "I am also a volunteer. I'm also a disability rights advocate."

She's had to fight every step of the way. After earning a degree in biology, she was accepted into nursing school. But here's how orientation went:

"Maybe 45 minutes into orientation, I was pulled out by professors, and they were like 'We don't know if you can be a nurse. We don't know if you can be here,'" she said.

She fought for her spot with the school's Office for Diversity and Inclusion. Then, after graduating, another wall.

"I went on 76 interviews in about a year and I got rejected from all of them," she said.

Yes, 76 interviews.

She was finally able to get a desk job until COVID hit, and she worked on a COVID unit at Montefiore Hospital.

"I was there for over two and a half months working COVID, lifting, turning patients, doing CPR, running full codes," she said.

Her mentor is George Gallego of the Axis Project.

"Andrea's like this amazing ball of energy that you just can't contain, and it's ready to explode at any given time in order to create life for everyone that's within her space," Gallego said.

Just a few months ago, Andrea won the Craig H. Neilson Visionary Prize, which comes with a $1 million grant. She's starting a nonprofit called The Seated Position to help create opportunities for people with disabilities.

"Don't listen to someone else's 'No,'" she said. "Just keep speaking up. Don't settle."

She says that's the way to force change.

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