E-Community Activity: Todd, Family, and Friends

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Subject: Todd, family and friends

Read the following story about Todd, and or view the video Taking Charge 1: Three Stories of Success and Self-Determination. You'll see how Todd's family members and friends have encouraged him to set high goals, work hard, make decisions, and learn from experiences. Tell the group what expectations your family and/or friends have for you.

Todd has not let anyone inhibit his dreams. Nor has he let his disability dictate his goals. He is in charge of his life and is making his own decisions. His disability requires that he modify the way some things get done and allow more time for certain activities, but it hasn't required that he abandon his dreams or release control of his life.

Todd credits much of his success to the supportive yet demanding environment in which he was raised. Todd grew up in a small town where everyone knew him and his family. His father died in a motorcycle accident when he was four. Losing his father made him an angry and difficult boy. "I just went downhill after that. I was so mad and angry inside. I got into a lot of fights and I swore all the time. I was a real bad kid."

A gun accident left Todd with a spinal cord injury when he was eight. From that day he has felt nothing below his shoulders and has used a ventilator to help him breathe at night. On the day he came home after almost a year in the hospital, Todd recalls: "I wasn't even home 30 minutes when my mother and I got into a big fight, screaming and yelling at each other. My grandma came over and she got all upset that we were upset like a chain reaction. My sister came home and she got yelled at. Then we all just sat there and cried."

Life was difficult, but Todd's mother held the family together. She supported them on what she earned from running a beauty salon. Todd credits his mother with teaching him self-determination. He never questioned his mother's conviction that he would grow up, get a job, move out, and lead a typical American life. "My mother instilled in me from day one that there was no room for failure.

There was no pity in our home. My mother always told me, 'When you're 18, you're out of here.' I never thought once that I'd have a problem finding a place to live or finding work. It never hit me once that I'd have a problem in society. I always knew I would work someday. I knew I had to make a lot of money, because it's expensive to be disabled."

Most people with severe disabilities are unemployed. Todd commends his mother, his faith in God, and the force of his own personality as factors in his successful transition to employment. Access to specialized technology has played a key role in his success as well. Since he cannot type on a standard keyboard, he uses special software to present a keyboard image on the screen. Then he selects letters with a pointing device operated with his mouth.

When Todd was asked why he has succeeded when many individuals with significant disabilities have not, Todd replied, "I keep thinking it's your attitude [and] personality. If it's in your mind that you're going to go for it, you will go for it. I just think it all has to come back to attitude. When you have [a good] attitude, doors open for you. Being disabled and using your disability for good, you have a lot more opportunities than other people—really good opportunities. If you take them, some really neat things can happen in your life."

Todd sees his career in programming as just the beginning for him—an early step in his ongoing journey."There are many, many things I would like to do, like public speaking, teaching. I'd really love to be in radio. I love music. Producing music would be nice. I always thought it would be fun to go to different buildings with contractors and see if their buildings are accessible. I don't know. I have no idea what my purpose here is. But it is something. I pray about it. It's been amazing so far. It's been one adventure after another. It's been a sweet ride. I have no doubt it will continue to be for the rest of my life."