Recently, I was asked by some professors at Brigham Young University to write an essay about my life and transitioning into adulthood with a disability. The essay is set to be included in a book titled Flourishing in Emerging Adulthood: Positive Development During the Third Decade of Life. The essay will begin the chapter on transitioning. This book is set to be released sometime later this year or early next year. With their permission I have decided to share my essay with you. Please note that this is a lengthy essay, but I think it is well worth the read and talks about how I’ve become who I am today. Please enjoy this piece and please share your comments and thoughts. Thank you for your support!!!
Throughout life, transitions can create some of the most daunting experiences anyone will encounter. Leaving school, finding a job, moving out on your own, finding someone to share your life with all constitute life transitions and events that force everyone to look outside of their comfort zone to formulate a solution. Everyone dreads the change but we all must face it head on and accept the challenge of something different. For people with disabilities these changes may be overwhelming and, at times, debilitating. The key to success while transitioning is having attained the proper skill set to help overcome whatever transitional barrier(s) your particular disability mandates.
I am a 25-year-old male who was born and raised in Virginia. I am someone who, I hope and believe, has successfully transitioned to adulthood, though not without my ups and downs. Because I was born with Cerebral Palsy (CP) I use a power wheelchair to help me get around and accomplish daily tasks. I graduated from college in the fall of 2013. There I created my own disability advocacy degree under the Interdisciplinary Studies major titled “Advocacy for Social Justice.” I also majored in Sociology and have a minor in Psychology. Some of my hobbies include: hanging out with friends and family, watching sports of all kinds, and working with individuals with disabilities. Until recently, when I opened my consulting business, I never held a fulltime job, having only interned at all of my employment experiences. These internships include two federal and one state governmental entity and a disability resource center. Additionally, I have worked on a congressional campaign. I hope my experiences help to motivate you, whether you’re a student or a teacher reading this essay, to take control of your transition process or to help someone effectively transition to adulthood.
My transition to adulthood has been one of learning by trial and error. My transition process started during the summer of my junior year of high school when I participated in my first youth transition program, the Virginia Youth Leadership Forum (YLF). YLF works with high school juniors and seniors with disabilities to educate them about disability history, self-determination, and advocacy skills. This was my first experience being around other young people with disabilities. It helped me realize there is a community of supports and people for me to lean on. I have taken the lessons that I learned at YLF and incorporated them into other programs and internships that I have participated in. Having a strong foundation of self-determination skills has helped me flourish, with some struggles along the way, into adulthood.
An additional factor in my success has been the guidance of my family. My parents have always done whatever they could to allow me to go on my many adventures and accomplish my goals. My mom spends countless hours traveling with me around the U.S. to conferences and other events. My dad is always there to provide me with sage advice whenever I come across a barrier that I think I can't overcome. My older brother provides me motivation when I may be finding myself in a rut. I have taken highlights from all of their advice, as well as the personal morals I have developed, and related them to my experiences to try to become the best adult I can be. The skills I acquired through my family’s guidance have helped me navigate these transitional changes into adulthood a little more smoothly.
When I was getting ready to enroll in high school my brother gave me an important piece of advice that has become the mantra for my life. He said, “Get involved and stay involved.” You could say I took this advice and ran with it. In high school I was very active in the school community. I was freshman class president and remained involved in some form of student government throughout my four years. I also served on the student newspaper for four years, including two as editor in chief. I integrated myself into the sports teams by managing both the boys’ varsity basketball team for four years and the varsity football team for one season.
When I transitioned into college I continued to get involved in activities. I was a founding father of my fraternity chapter on campus. When I wasn’t participating in fraternity activities I was helping students learn about people with disabilities through our student disability club. I also created and brought Disability History and Awareness Week to campus my freshman year. This was a college wide event that focused on the many aspects of disability with emphasis on educating other college students about issues surrounding disability.
Internships also played an important part of my college career. In 2011, through the American Association of People with Disabilities (AAPD) summer internship program, I interned at the US Department of Transportation (DOT). While at DOT I worked in the Disability Resource Center which is an internal office within DOT that provides accommodations and the resources to employees of DOT who have disabilities. Because of this experience I fell in love with the Washington, DC area so much so that in 2012 I left school and returned for a semester to intern at the White House. Thanks to my brother’s advice I did not sit on the sidelines; I made it a point to be actively involved throughout my educational career.
In the fall of 2012 I took a semester off from college and interned for the Obama administration in the White House Office of Public Engagement (OPE). During my internship I worked closely with the disability policy liaison and one of the deputy directors of OPE. While there I worked hard to master one of my greatest strengths which is my ability to communicate easily with anyone. With this skill, the exposure this internship gave me, my passion for helping others, and my desire to be a voice for the voiceless, I have set a goal to have a career in public service. I have learned throughout my experiences that my voice can carry a tremendous amount of influence to help create change for those who live with disabilities in this world. I blend this lesson into all aspects of my life, making it paramount to me in my encounters with others. Everyone should have a voice and I’m hoping to serve as that voice whether that is in government, my community, within my consulting business, or just in society as a whole.
Through my Washington, DC experiences I developed a passion for politics. This interest continued to grow as I increased my involvement in disability advocacy work. I have always said that there are not enough people with disabilities in positions of power in the government and other high-profile sectors. In the future I want to get involved in politics so as to spotlight people born with a disability as opposed to someone who acquired their disability from an accident. So often people who acquired a disability did so after they attained the self- determined skills they needed to accomplish their goals in life which also helped them have a better understanding about how to cope with their acquired situation. I am motivated to be a role model to show everyone that people with disabilities can hold positions of influence and guide global change.
As my experiences have helped shape my outcomes, I feel it’s important to give back in my own way. Through my youth work I have met countless young people with whom I have stayed in contact and whom I consider close friends or family. It is my hope that I have allowed these young people to lean on me when they encounter something they are unfamiliar with, whether it be transitioning to college or dealing with a frustrating situation. People have always asked me what I did to get through a similar situation which has resulted in volunteer mentoring becoming a huge part of my transition to adulthood. To be trusted enough by others and to be able to pass experiences on gives me a very rewarding feeling and is the trait that I am most happy to possess.
My understanding of transition aided my personal development through both good and bad circumstances. Adulthood makes you realize what it is that you like doing, what you are good at and what you should not attempt. Through the transition process I have come to understand that I want to help others and to use my voice to do so, which is good in that I have found my passion and know the direction I want to move towards in the future. It has also helped me better understand and pinpoint my personal flaws. I have begun to start identifying the challenges that my disability creates as an adult. I completely understand my physical need to always be assisted by, thus dependent on, others to help with some, but not all aspects of my life. I have always understood that this was going to be the case, but recently I began to put more emphasis on how I will manage this moving forward. I am developing strategies to confront life’s obstacles, such as not being able to drive a car, as they arise. Through skills such as advocating for myself, understanding how my disability affects me, and goal planning I hope to get through these situations with ease.
Using my brother’s advice, my education from disability programs, and my goal to help others, I have tried to position my future to achieve the goal of service and education for all. After I finished college I spent a few months trying to find a job in a disability related position. I thought this was the best way to accomplish my goal. When I determined I was not having any success with my job search I took matters into my own hands and in 2014 started my disability consulting company. Through professional consulting and public speaking services, I strive to educate and guide organizations to strengthen their understanding of disability culture and the issues that affect this population. I use common sense cost-effective solutions to solve disability related concerns. I hope later on in life to use my consulting company to propel me to a career in politics where I feel I can make the most significant contribution.
The transition process is never easy, but given the proper tools it can be manageable. One of the tools that is most important is the understanding and consideration of others. Within both the educational and the disability community adults often have stigmatic negative perceptions of people with disabilities. They tend to stifle younger individuals leading many other adults to assume that young people with disabilities are incapable of achieving major goals in life. I feel that this mindset is twofold. Initially, adults don’t allow young people to experiment for fear that whatever is too dangerous or too complicated. Adults also tend to over protect younger people so much that they don’t allow them the opportunity to fail. Failure is one of the best ways for somebody to make it through the transition to adulthood affectively. It shows someone what they did wrong and how to potentially change it to not make the same mistake twice. My experience tells me 1) let young people figure out what is attainable on their own, don’t immediately discount an idea because you think it is unrealistic, 2) figure out what the young person is passionate about and incorporate that into their lessons or community, 3) adults who assist in the transition process need to be facilitators and not dream crushers. They need to help the young person explore so they can potentially achieve their goal. Transition is an integral part of everyone’s life. No one will be successful without having had the necessary experiences that give them the ability to transition through life’s challenges.