Casper, Wyoming: The first day of the People First of Wyoming Community Awareness Training 2010 took place Saturday. Over 30 self-advocates from around the state came for the two day event at the Hilton Garden Inn, which wraps up on Sunday and is themed on “We Are Family.” People First of Wyoming is a organization that advocates on behalf of adults with disabilities. Several presentations highlighted the main day of this event, including Mrs. Wyoming 2009 Joanna Hamilton’s.
Labeling People Was a Focus of the People First of Wyoming Community Awareness Training 2010
The first speaker was Sam Janney, the Public Information Officer for the Governor’s Planning Council for Developmental Disabilities. She first stressed that having a disability should be looked at as a unique way of living instead of warranting pity and “fixing” from the general public. She later challenged attendees at the People First of Wyoming Community Awareness Training 2010 to see the assistance they get to not be looked at as a perpetual hand out to “needy” people, but resources to help them follow their dreams and have more societal inclusion.
But the brunt of her presentation focused on how people with disabilities are hindered by labels. Janney took rolling feedback from the audience who said that they’ve been labeled with things like “retard”, “spaz”, “obese”, etc. The state official discussed her own 4 year old daughter, who was born 3 months early, and who is currently in speech therapy, occupational therapy, and special education. Janney talked of her frustration with doctors and educators giving her daughter labels. When asked to clarify what she meant in the sense of how doctors label patients in general with such terms like having a heart condition, a cognitive disability or even being pregnant, she remarked at the People First of Wyoming Community Awareness Training 2010 that she wants the medical profession to use terms which “recognize the disability that doesn’t define a person” in whole. She was troubled over her child being labeled as “special needs”, and likes it better when the question is asked of what services can be implemented to be successful without the label. Janney said that labels “hurt the hearts” of those such labeled, whether it be by doctors or society as a whole. She’s especially peeved by hotels who refer to accommodations as “handicapped accessible.”
Mrs. Wyoming 2009 Joanna Hamilton Spoke at the People First of Wyoming Community Awareness Training 2010
After the lunch break, Mrs. Wyoming 2009 Joanna Hamilton talked about her joys and trials of having a special needs child, Jonah, who has eczema. This is complicated by allergies to things like dust, sage, and more, which leads to rashes, which leads to him scratching his skin off, which has led to staph infections. Jonah had 14 staph infections in an 18 month period, and has been critically ill. She taught special needs children, but even had to endure less than ideal treatment at her job after she got a staph infection that kept her out of work for six weeks (the administration preferred that she not teach the kids anymore). Eventually Hamilton had to leave her teaching job when Jonah got very ill.
Despite the struggles, she stressed at the People First of Wyoming Community Awareness Training 2010 that despite people’s disabilities, they are gifts in disguise. She admonished the crowd to give back the gifts of attitude, friendship (commenting that parents of special needs children wish their kids “would have one good friend”), encouragement, and smiles. Hamilton also called having a son with a chronic medical condition “a gift”, remarking, “I got to spend more time with my family….I had to slow down” since her old teaching job didn’t give her enough time with her son and family. But now that some doctors are learning more about Jonah’s severity, they will have more insight to help other kids in the future. Hamilton has spoken at a National Eczema Association conference, and met doctors who specialize more in helping children with eczema. Even though she’s not actively teaching, she advocates for children with disabilities by speaking on such issues. Her active term of Mrs. Wyoming ended in May.
Self-Advocates Spoke About Their Lives During the People First Community Awareness Training 2010
The afternoon session wrapped up with three presentations by self-advocates from around the state. Brian Lorenz, a veteran who served in the Army, spoke about his life before and after suffering an Acquired Brain Injury (ABI). He said that before the injury, he was a quite a brawler and hellraiser, but since the November 1995 ABI, he’s mellowed out. Evanston resident Grant Nash, who also has an ABI (from a bicycle accident at the age of 11 in 1968), shared his life’s journey, which he called “a work in progress”, but succeeding medical expectations that he wouldn’t live past 40. People First of Wyoming Vice President, Ann Marie Doherty of Lander, used old home movie footage to help detail her struggles with weight and cerebral palsy. Doherty’s mother inspired her to lose weight, which had gotten to 250 pounds. Doherty lost 128 pounds from 1993-1994 through eating right and water aerobics (and has maintained a healthy lifestyle). Besides her mother, Doherty’s family never allowed her to feel sorry for herself and encouraged her pursuits.
Sunday’s session is scheduled to include a short morning session with a review and share panel for the attendees. For more information about People First of Wyoming, go to the organization’s website here.
Personal Notes, People First of Wyoming Community Awareness Training 2010, June 5, 2010