A Millennial's Perspective on NDEAM

I am 21 years old, and I was diagnosed with cerebral palsy when I was born. A walker gets me around my house, and a wheelchair gets me around the world outside of it. I rode a different bus to school than most students did since they had no need of a wheelchair lift.

It takes me longer than most people to access certain areas because I have to find a ramp to bypass a set of stairs, find and press a button to open doors (provided the button works), or wait on an elevator to take me to a higher floor in a building. If I happen to be outside when it rains, using an umbrella is actually an inconvenience. Wherever I go, I realize that there are people who may stare at me, make comments or assumptions about me, or call me an inspiration just for doing the same things they are.

These people define me by my disability. They have no way of knowing that I took and excelled in several Advanced Placement courses in high school; I studied French and am currently studying Japanese; I can play the ocarina; I am pursuing a degree in Computer Game Design and Development; I voted in the last presidential election; and I recently obtained my learner’s permit.

None of these has anything to do with my having cerebral palsy. Having a disability means living with certain limitations, but it does not affect my goals and aspirations in life. It never has, and it never will. Some people may define me by my disability, and while it is a part of who I am, I live every day knowing that my disability does not define me. I am defined by what I allow to define me.

While I have some issues and concerns some people will never have, I have much in common with many people at and around my age regardless of a disability. I am equally curious and driven just like they are. But, just like my peers without disabilities, I too worry about getting a job once a I graduate college.

As we celebrate 70 years of the National Disability Employment Awareness Month this month, I must make known my desire to live independently and be gainfully employed in the “real world,” something for which I could not be prepared just by taking a class or reading a textbook (every once in a while, I have to look up how to write a check correctly, for example). I want to apply my degree in game design and development to further advance science and technology – and perhaps even help the mainstream community learn that a disability is not a limit to potential.

I have to learn skills I do not yet have to apply the skills I do have to reach my goals. In any case, I know that even though I have a disability, even though the road upon which I embark may have more potholes than I would like, getting to my destination, whatever it is, is very much possible.

BIO: Kenneth Gagne has been a Georgia resident for 17 years and currently resides in Lilburn. He is a 2012 graduate of Parkview High School and a former student at Southern Polytechnic State University, which is now Kennesaw State University.Gagne is an avid bibliophile and can often be found reading horror fiction, historical fiction,or someone’s autobiography. He also enjoys writing, which I do most often when practicing Japanese vocabulary and syntax. Most recently, he has taken up swimming and considers nothing else quite as refreshing, liberating or invigorating.

Tags: NDEAM,, employment,, disabilities,