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Living With A Disablity: One Man's Journey

U.S. Department of Defense
National Disability Awareness Month

The theme for this year’s National Disability Employment Awareness Month is “Expect, Employ and Empower.”

The Disability Law Center released a report earlier this month that said Utah agencies need to fine-tune their programs that assist student’s transition from high school to jobs.

John Cardis works with disabled students in the Cache County School District and agreed that things need to improve, but said some parents are just surviving the day-to-day and haven’t allowed themselves to imagine the future.

“Once they get into secondary [school] I start talking a lot about transition in the future," Cardis said. " As I start talking about employment a lot of times the parents look at me as though I’m not really understanding their child or their situation so I get a lot of questions on what other students are doing and what a typical situation is.”

Scott Salinas is a high school graduate, former Mr. Grizz pageant winner and volunteers to help high school students with disabilities in addition to holding down a job.

He was born with Down syndrome to Alex and Karen Salinas. Alex Salinas said that their worst fears were unfounded.

“There’s no real reason to be afraid of him," Alex said. "I mean I was, growing up, I was always afraid. And I thought, when we had him, that those fears, that was going to be our lifestyle and it hasn’t been.”

He said a lack of knowledge creates common misunderstandings.

“Not all handicapped children are the monsters that some people think they are. He likes to do everything that your regular child likes to do. And I think that’s the fear. It’s just that they don’t have the knowledge that these kids have some abilities. It’s just a lack of knowledge,” he said.

Karen Salinas, Scott’s mother, said he has worked hard to build relationships.

“We can’t go anywhere now without a kids yelling from across the store, 'Hi Scotty!'" Karen said.

She said goals are important to the success of people like her son.

“I think that your expectations have to be high. We aren’t restricted from going anywhere because Scotty doesn’t have behavior problems. I know in some situations that’s not possible but I think often, the expectations are low and so that’s what you end up getting,” she said.

People with special needs are capable of learning social skills, and Karen uses her son as an example.

“Acceptable behavior can be encouraged and unacceptable behavior can be stopped," she said. "I think that too often we see, just sort of random, ‘let a kid do anything’ kind of things. Just because they’re special needs doesn’t mean they can’t learn what appropriate behavior is and they can’t be taught how to behave appropriately.”

Cardis and the Salinas family agree on the importance of high expectations to help empower a person with disabilities to gain employment. They add that getting your child signed up for all available disability programs, at birth if possible, is beneficial to all involved.