Legally blind Johnston native makes 'authentic' Netflix debut

Aria Mia Loberti is an advocate, scholar, URI graduate and now an actress

Posted 2/3/22

She can’t see well, but she’s intelligent and even pretty good at math. Now she’s trying out acting, and soon she’ll make her debut on a television near you.

Aria Mia …

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Legally blind Johnston native makes 'authentic' Netflix debut

Aria Mia Loberti is an advocate, scholar, URI graduate and now an actress


She can’t see well, but she’s intelligent and even pretty good at math. Now she’s trying out acting, and soon she’ll make her debut on a television near you.

Aria Mia Loberti struggled as a tiny third-grader in a Johnston elementary school — legally blind, but spunky and intelligent.

She learned to advocate, first for herself, and later for others. It took years to find her voice, but once it was discovered, she took her message to the world.

The Johnston native will star in an upcoming Netflix mini-series, and for at least four episodes, she’ll possess the eyes and ears of millions of projected viewers.

Loberti recalls spending school recess in a room, by herself, while the other kids played outside.

“My early years of elementary school were challenging,” Loberti told an audience at the University of Rhode Island four years ago. “My needs were not met in the classroom, even though they were protected by the Americans With Disabilities Act and by my Individualized Education Plan.”

Loberti, a 2020 URI graduate, shared her story at a TEDxURI talk in 2018.

“As a result, I would experience debilitating fatigue and frustration,” she recalled. “Even though these services were really very simple — like a seat at the front of the classroom, enlarged handouts on anti-glare paper, use of a white cane, it was a rarity that I ever received them.”

Loberti recalled difficult memories from elementary school; challenges that helped shape her future self. She attended Winsor Hill Elementary School for her first few years of schooling.

“One of the more dramatic turns was in second and third grade when I would be shut alone and isolated in a room during recess,” Loberti told the URI audience. “I was not allowed to go outside on a playground with the other children because I was considered a liability. So this was challenging. But as you could imagine, I couldn’t stay silent. Neither could my parents. So they formulated a plan, so that I could receive my legally obligated free and appropriate public education under the law.”

Loberti was born with a very rare genetic eye condition called achromatopsia.

“This basically means that I am completely color blind, am very nearsighted, and am quite light sensitive,” Loberti said. “So that in bright lights like these, or in outdoor lighting, without my dark glasses, I am completely blinded.”

The Role

Loberti will make her acting debut in the leading role of Marie-Laure Leblanc in Netflix’s adaptation of “All The Light We Cannot See,” according to a December casting announcement released by the content-streaming platform.

The character she will portray is also blind.

Loberti is not a conventional Netflix star. She has little training and won the role over thousands of others.

“We searched the world and reviewed thousands of auditions,” Executive Producer and Director Shawn Levy said in the Netflix announcement. “We never thought our path would lead to someone who has not only never acted professionally, but never auditioned before. It was a jaw-drop moment when we first saw Aria Mia Loberti, who is both a natural performer and an advocate for disability equity and representation. I can’t wait to tell this beautiful story with her at the center.”

Loberti has stopped giving interviews until closer to the mini-series release date. For now, she has been referring interview-requests to her TEDxURI talk.

“I’ve overcome the prejudice — sometimes the oppression — that I face with a disability,” Loberti told the URI audience. “Back in my elementary school years, I was pretty much made to feel as if my voice did not matter by those people in that school department. I was made to feel as though my voice and my mission was worthless.”

The Scholar

In 2020, as a senior studying philosophy, communication studies and political science, Loberti was one of five URI students awarded Fulbright grants to conduct research abroad.

She pursued a Master’s of Research degree in rhetoric at Royal Holloway, University of London, during her Fulbright year, focusing on how females are portrayed in Ancient Greek texts.

During her many years spent as a disability activist, including serving as the first legally blind youth delegate to the United Nations and a delegate to the U.N. International Human Rights Summit, Loberti was also a U.S. representative to the U.N. Commission on the Status of Women Youth Forum.

“Since I have been an activist for as long as I can remember, I have always been curious about how we use language to cultivate justice and understanding, with which my grant program (was) uniquely equipped to address,” she said at the time.

Following her time in London, Loberti traveled to the Keystone State to work on a Doctorate in rhetoric at Pennsylvania State University. She hopes for a career in academic research, while continuing gender- and disability-rights activism.

Loberti spoke to her former alma mater regarding the Netflix role.

“I was so shocked,” she told URI for an alumni feature. “It’s just ludicrous. There were thousands of people [who auditioned] and it’s a lead role. It was such a fun audition process and it was very empowering. That’s all I was seeking — a new experience, a challenge. I didn’t expect anything more to come of it. I think it was just pure shock when I learned.”

Overcoming Obstacles

Loberti credits her entire life experience, family and university faculty, for helping mold her into the woman she has become.

“Growing up with a disability was of course understandably challenging sometimes,” Loberti told the URI audience. “But those challenges brought me many vital lessons.”

Loberti’s parents, Audrey and Paul, served as powerful advocates for their daughter, but they felt left down by the town’s public school system.

“To make matters worse, teachers and administrators often misunderstood the idea of disability,” Loberti recalled. “I remember one administrator saying to me that she was surprised that I could be both legally blind and intelligent. Another said to me with my mom in the room that it was not worth the school department’s investment to enlarge or modify my mathematics materials because I’m a girl. Girls aren’t supposed to be good at math. And I’m blind, so what would I be doing with math anyway?”

Halfway through her third grade year, Loberti’s family embraced a different approach to education.

“I was homeschooled, from the middle of third grade, onward through my senior year of high school, through online curriculums, and it was amazing,” Loberti said in 2018. “To top it all off, I received a 98 percent average at the end of high school and all my mathematics courses, proving that even for blind girls, math is really cool and really helpful.”

Her Voice

Loberti excelled, but not everyone with a disability has advocates at home, or parents able and willing to compensate for public school shortcomings.

“I realized I was one of the lucky ones,” Loberti told the crowd. “And the moral of the story is that I learned from a very young age that our society sees disability in a somewhat negative light. And that young people especially with disabilities, especially young people and women, are often not taught or encouraged to use their voice. I was. My parents taught me how to advocate for myself. They taught me the laws that protected me. And that is my power.”

Loberti’s mother has never doubted her daughter’s potential.

“Paul and I are proud of Aria Mia and all of her accomplishments, including those in her academic career and her advocacy for disability equity,” said her mother, Audrey Loberti. “We are thrilled for her as she embarks upon this exciting new chapter in her life as an authentically cast actress. By simply living her authentic life, she has the potential to change stigma and stereotypes, and we applaud her.”

Glaring Omissions

Audrey Loberti also stressed the importance of “a crucial portion of Aria Mia’s life (from 1999-2018)” that has been omitted from many stories recently published about the budding actress.

“As a result of noncompliance in the classroom setting, Aria was homeschooled from third grade onward,” her mother said on Monday. “Her TedxURI speech, ‘The Power of Solidarity and Silence’ highlights some of our experience with the public school system.”

Aria Mia Loberti wants to change the world.

“There are so many people, especially in the developing world, who are not nearly as lucky,” she said from the stage at URI. “From a young age, I was an advocate. First for myself, and then locally and statewide, and more recently I became an international advocate, which was always a dream of mine.”

Loberti said she used to dream about her “current reality, about a place where I could be accepted, as a whole person, as someone with hopes and dreams, not just as that token disabled person or as the person with eyes that just work a little bit differently.”

Netflix has also announced that Mark Ruffalo (Marvel’s Incredible Hulk) will play Daniel Leblanc, Loberti’s character’s father. He works at the Museum of Natural History in Paris as a locksmith, and in the mini-series and novel, builds a small version of their town to help his daughter navigate the world after losing her sight.

“And I know that I wouldn’t be standing here today if I didn’t have grit and perseverance and all those things; those are great,” she said. “But I know I would most definitely, 100 percent never be standing here, literally and figuratively, if it was not for people like my parents, my professors here at URI, and the people who saw something in me and have allowed me to pursue my personal definition of success; who did not stay silent.”

She urged others to find their voices and open their mouths.

“Do not stay silent,” she said. “One voice can make an incredible impact, but no one can achieve anything alone. And I am living proof of that.”


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