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The highlight of Beth’s summer: the Youth Leadership Forum of the Ohio Governor's Council on People with Disabilities. Students with a disability in their junior year of high school had applied to attend as delegates. Five days without parents would be a first for Beth and others, with personal care assistants available for those who needed help.
I dropped Beth off at a fancy hotel in Columbus. I kept my phone charged and the gas tank filled, available at a moments notice. I could hardly wait to pick her up, even though she called every day and sounded happy on the phone. I kept busy, painting a bedroom with John. Maria and I went shopping and to Taco Bell in between her jobs. I met an old friend for breakfast. John and I spent a leisurely day in Findlay. We shopped, held hands at a movie, and ordered ginger chicken at our favorite restaurant. Still, I thought about Beth often. I worried that she would be reluctant to request help and get frustrated. I was right about asking for help, but wrong about her response.
Driving home with me to Tiffin, Beth said, “It was the best week of my life!” I smiled, glad to hear it but hoping many others would be even better.
The first night of the forum, she asked for help to get up on the higher hotel mattress. The other days, she figured out how to do it herself. She set her alarm early and worked to shower and dress completely on her own, allowing for extra minutes to zip zippers and button buttons. Proud that she could. After difficult but independent transfers, she even un-bunched her jeans by herself.
Introduced to disability issues past and present, large and small, Beth learned about the fight for the Americans with Disabilities Act. The speakers discussed stereotypes and why many people with a disability did not have a job. Advocates talked about limiting Ohio’s handicapped parking permits to those who needed them the most. One session explored ramifications of denied access and how to work for change. Information mixed with social events.
“The staff was great and there were a number of outstanding speakers,” Beth said. “The event had a big impact on my life my first year as a delegate.”
The forum anchored Beth to others with a disability. She met delegates, staff, and speakers with epilepsy, cerebral palsy, paraplegia, quadriplegia, dwarfism, learning issues, mental illness, and brain injuries. Some were blind or deaf. She accepted an invitation to report on the Youth Leadership Forum at the annual meeting of the Ohio Governor’s Council on People with Disabilities.
“The Ohio forum proved to me that the disability community is widely diverse and vitally important.”
Next destination of a non-stop summer: Edmonton, Alberta!
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