Achieving Goals: Kevin's Road to a Career in Computer Science

Hi, I’m Kevin. I grew up in Kennewick, WA, the largest of The Tri-Cities where I to enjoyed playing in the desert behind our house, building dirt forts and roadways for my hot wheels miniature cars. I suppose this was the young engineer in me. My hobbies changed as I grew up. I became involved in computer technology in the 6th grade, and have been interested in it ever since. A second interest of mine, which I now enjoy more than any other extracurricular activity, is helping those with disabilities and serving at my church. While computer science is my career, helping with church, promoting disability advocacy, and meeting new people are now my biggest interests.

Almost 8 years ago during the summer between my junior and senior year of high school, I was horse-playing with a friend and we both tripped over a dining room chair and fell to the ground. Unable to break the fall, I broke my neck at the C-5 level and am now paralyzed from the chest down. After 3 months in the hospital, I slowly started a new life, and today I am quite independent.

Before I was injured I had always been a good student, and this did not change after my accident. In fact, it did not change my career path in computer science either. I did have to relearn how to write and to do other physical tasks, such as getting books and pens out of a bag or off a shelf. I had to learn how to negotiate the high school campus and transportation to and from school and to work through some of the bureaucracy involved in getting the help that I needed. My parents, church community, and numerous friends were all an integral part of the help I needed to succeed. I had further support from several select mentors and government organizations, such as Social Security, MedicAid, Division of Vocational Rehabilitation (DVR), and several other agencies that provided care and support. As a sometimes perfectionist, some of the pressures put on me were self-imposed, but others were from friends and family. The biggest pressures were to always succeed, to keep motivated, and to continue on with my life.

The occupational therapists at Harborview Medical Center in Seattle encouraged me, as did my support group, to pursue higher education. DVR helped with some of the logistics, and my family helped as well. Because I needed to make more money to support myself, and give myself a chance for a better life and future, I was motivated to attend college.

Some of the major challenges and difficulties that I had while attending college were finding the funding I needed for school without incurring debt, organizing all the logistics behind supporting my physical care and access needs, and having knowledge of pertinent disability related policies. Being resourceful, networking as much as possible, being personable, hard-working, and maintaining a healthy physical, social, and spiritual life helped me overcome some of these challenges.

During my junior year at Seattle Pacific University, I met with Scott Bellman of the DO-IT Center at the University of Washington. He and I discussed DO-IT's available resources and I signed up to be part of the AccessSTEM team and joined its online email community. While I had much of the support I needed already, I highly recommend this online community as many ideas and much peer and mentor support can come from it. The same goes for interacting with the staff at DO-IT. They have access to unprecedented resources and have a passion for helping students with disabilities realize their educational and professional goals.

I graduated in 2005 with a Bachelor of Arts in Computer Science, and this has brought me a good deal of success. My income went from being dependent upon government agencies like Social Security, and my parents, to near financial independence. It has opened many doors for me, and I am now working on a Master's degree in Business. My success has come through strong self-advocacy, self-knowledge, a great support group, and my healthy physical, mental, and spiritual life.

There were some major challenges in securing a job. I needed to determine what was the most financially sound route for me to go and figure out what I really wanted to do with my life. Looking at the financial aspects of taking certain jobs was quite important for me because I fell under income limit restrictions in order to receive care funding and other types of expensive needed assistance. If a job is offered that has higher pay than the income limits people receiving this assistance are restricted to, yet not enough to take over the assistance cost burden, most cannot or will not take the job. I was in this dilemma myself and took the risk of taking the job, assuming that I am young and healthy and my economics would continue to change positively as I grew professionally. To find a job I networked with people at Seattle Pacific University and DO-IT. They helped me find my first job at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory.

E-mail, the Internet, and software have all helped me to be as independent as I am. The Internet has been a great information resource when researching policies, laws, and resources that I need. Specialized computer software has allowed me to learn the skills I need to perform my job functions, as well as, keep track of personal information and stay in touch with key contacts – an important part of networking. The other accommodations that I use at work are an adjustable desk, a special typing aid, and built in accessibility features in Microsoft Windows XP.

Staying positive, staying connected, having goals and keeping on track to realize them has continued to drive me towards continued personal and professional success. I really discovered that it is “all about who you know” as well as what you know - that, and hard work!