Taking Charge 2: Two Stories of Success and Self-Determination

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Over footage of a young woman in a wheelchair and a young man, the screen reads "Taking Charge 2: Two Stories of Success and Self-Determination".
[Narrator] Success is how you define it. It's deciding where you want to go in life and finding a way to get there. For some of us, including people with disabilities, there may be obstacles to overcome. Everyone has challenges, everyone has choices, everyone can find their own path to success. And almost everyone has some help along the way. Sometimes, technology provides that help, playing a role in personal, academic, and professional goals. And sometimes it's people.
[Narrator] Nate, a high school senior, knows a lot about finding support.
[Nate] You've got to constantly ask questions, you've got to self advocate, like they say, all the time.
[Narrator] And that's what he does. Nate's learning disability makes some classes difficult, like Spanish. So he goes to tutoring after school.
[Narrator] When Nate was very young, it took a while for anyone to realize what a struggle it was for him to learn to read. Even his family didn't understand.
[Nate] They'd be like, "Oh, well, you're faking, you're playing around, you're just not trying hard enough or something." But I was trying.
[Narrator] Besides having a learning disability, Nate changed schools several times between kindergarten and second grade.
[Nate] So it made it hard for me to get things down. And I would be missing this and I would be like, "Oh, so how do I do that?" and the teachers would be like, "Oh, you don't know that?" And then they would just, you know, just pass me or something like that.
[Narrator] Nate's mom wanted to help him, but conferences at his school were discouraging back then.
[Marlinda] I remember one time them saying that he was mildly retarded. And I remember just breaking, I mean breaking down at that meeting and saying, "You can't put that on his record because my child is not mentally retarded."
Nate goes outside.
[Narrator] Fast forward past grade school and, eventually, a correct diagnosis. Support from his mother, his teachers, and his church kept him trying to succeed. And Nate himself began to take charge of his future.
[Marlinda] Once he decided, "I'm going forward regardless of my learning disability," his grades shot up, I mean just tremendously. It started in the middle of ninth grade, and it's been like that ever since.
[Narrator] Nate went beyond going to tutoring and asking his teachers for help. He did some research and found a program that would encourage his dreams of a college education.
[Nate] I had looked on the Internet before that, and then my mom, like I told her I was going to just see if they had any programs out there or internships that had to do with people with disabilities, with any type of disabilities. And so I started looking and I looked up and I found DO-IT.
A woman gives Nate a microphone.
[Narrator] DO-IT, at the University of Washington, offers Summer Study sessions and year-round support and mentoring for college-bound students with disabilities. Nate approached his teachers for references, applied to the program, and was accepted.
[Nate] The overall program was really challenging to me, like it just, it really opened my mind, like.
[Narrator] In a DO-IT field trip to observe gorillas at the zoo, an instructor shared both scientific knowledge and her own personal story.
[Nate] When she spoke, and when she talked about her disabilities and her life struggles, that's what really opened me up, because....you know, believing in yourself and just knowing that you can do it.
[Narrator] Nate looked for support and found it. He met inspiring adults and connected with mentors in DO-IT. He recognized his own strength, and he learned how far it could take him.
[Nate] At the beginning and everything, I never thought that I would be in any type of position to even make it through high school at first. And so, you know, now that I'm just believing in myself more and you know, just having that support behind me, it's just making everything worthwhile to keep going. And I may keep struggling, but just keep going. And that's the most important thing.
You've heard it before: the longest journey begins with the first step. Jessie is just getting started.
[Jessie] I go to Ballard High School, I'm a senior, I'm graduating 2006.....I have a sister named Morgan who's tall and who goes to UW, and I have my mom Linda and my mom Stephanie; and I have my little dogs, that one named Ginger, the other one's name is Rosie...and they like to get in trouble.
[Narrator] Jessie's mom Linda, a carpenter, built independence into their home.
[Jessie] This is my bedroom. This is called the blue room, 'cause I like the color blue. And over here is my sink and the toilet, so I have my own bathroom in my room. That's Lauren Jackson, the tallest Storm player in Seattle, and I like her because she's tall and she's a really good basketball player.
Jessie walks through a door a few feet high.
[Narrator] As Jessie grew up, Linda found that she was helping her daughter more than was needed. And letting Jessie explore her abilities was much more stressful than it had been with her older sister.
[Linda] With Jessie it has felt to me that it was cruel to not help with all the daily tasks. It's always felt like that. And now I'm trying to retrain myself that it's cruel to not let her go through those things. Because she's able to do them. It takes a longer time, but she can do them just fine. and she doesn't mind doing them actually.
[Narrator] Jessie took a big step toward independence last summer, when she left home for two weeks to attend the DO-IT Summer Study program at the University of Washington.
[Jessie] It was a new experience, because I've never been away from home that much... it's working out fine, though.
[Narrator] It was quite a challenging experience for Jessie's parents.
[Linda] It was terrible. I felt like, when I walked out of the room, I felt like I was going to throw up. You know, it's so great for her, of course, but I just felt that it would be really hard for her.
[Narrator] Jessie, on the other hand, fit right in.
[Jessie] It's kind of fun for me to be around kids and grown-ups with different disabilities and wheelchairs, because I'm the only one in my family.
[Narrator] Summer Study was two weeks of classes, discussions, entertainment, and learning how to take charge.
[Linda] I really think that DO-IT lit a little charge in her, and it's burning. And she came home from DO-IT really excited... and just started doing things for herself Like she would rush up and hit the paddles for wheelchair doors before I could get there, and started saying, "Oh, no, I want to put my own socks on today," and just a lot of things that were different.
In class.
[Narrator] The biggest change was that Jessie took charge of her high school curriculum. She was determined to leave her "special education" program, which wasn't challenging enough.
[Jessie] I was trying to get out of it so I could do more academic classes, so I could have homework...and just be out more in the hallways instead of trapped in one room.
[Narrator] Jessie's Favorite classes include Spanish and math.
[Narrator] Sometimes during the school day, when it's necessary, Jessie works with an assistant.
[Jessie] She helps me get my books out; she helps me in the bathroom.....and she helps with getting me to the bus, helping me with my jacket, and pretty much just helping me get stuff that's too high for me or I can't do on my own.
[Desiree] She's a good girl. She's got a lot of energy and she's just real happy in life. I'm not worried about her leaving school, cause when she leaves here, she's going to make friends, she's going to go on in life. She's going to do fine.
[Narrator] Between her assistant and her friends, Jessie does quite well at school. But she's very aware of the physical barriers that prevent her and others from being completely on their own. For example, there are no automatic door openers to get into the building.
[Jessie] I want to be able to talk to the head of the school and see if they can change the school just a little bit, so people with wheelchairs and disabilities could go there and be able to do stuff and get around on their own, instead of having other people do it for them.
[Narrator] Jessie's social awareness is growing in other ways, too. Her senior project reflects that.
[Jessie] My topic is going to be on little people, cause that's what my background is-well, one of them-and I want to be able to share that with other people instead of ignoring it. And other people, like grown-ups who have kids, get to know what little people are and if they have one, they know how to deal with one.
[Narrator] Jessie's plans include community college, a house of her own, and at least one dog. And she has advice for other students.
[Jessie] Do the right thing, pretty much. Just follow your classes, do what your dream tells you, and then go do it. It's hard, but you can manage.
[Narrator] Nate and Jessie have self-determination in common. They're learning to make their own choices and find their own paths to success. They're preparing to be independent adults. In your search for success, these suggestions may help you, too.