Our last two posts focused on blogs featuring the voices of people experiencing disability. Pretty great stuff! Now we’d like to turn your attention to some local folks who are a members of the Oregon Self Advocacy Coalition. OSAC is a statewide organization made up of 18 local self advocacy groups whose mission is to engage communities in advocating for the rights of people with developmental disabilities.
FACT posed a series of questions to one OSAC member, Ross Ryan, that should be of interest to parents, caregivers, and young people experiencing disability. (Our thanks to Ryley Newport of Oregon Council on Developmental Disabilities for facilitating this interview.)
Tell us a little bit about your background.
My name is Ross Ryan, and I am currently the Sargent-At-Arms for the Oregon Self Advocacy Coalition. I have a passion to help everyone fit in and have the basic human right of a life in their community. I become involved in self-advocacy in my local community of Mt. Angel, OR. Our local self-advocacy group was known as the Victory Alliance.
After becoming a leader of my local group, I joined the state-wide group called Self Advocates as Leaders [SAAL] in 2000. In 2008, SAAL become the Oregon Self Advocacy Coalition in an effort to bring together local self-advocacy groups across Oregon. Since then, I have served as Sargent-At-Arms, the OSAC Employment Committee’s Co-Chair, and a lobbyist for OSAC. Additionally, I work for the Oregon Council on Developmental Disabilities as a Community Advocate.
What was your school experience like? In looking back, what would you have changed or improved upon?
My first experiences in school were not that good. I went to a speech and language school in Buena Park, California after attending mainstream classes in Connecticut for middle and high school. After California, I moved to Oregon for a transition program at Silverton High School, where I received a modified diploma. Things were good when I was in school, but there was no information to tell me about what to do after school. My parents did not know what to do with me. I knew I wanted to find a job, but I had no support to help me find one. I started working at a grocery store doing recycling, but it was not a good fit for me. I did not have the necessary assistance to do the job, I did not like the hours, and the environment did not let me socialize with other people.
Looking back at my school experience, I would have liked to have tools to understand what my life would be like after I graduated. I enjoyed being included in general education classrooms, but I would have appreciated additional support to have a better quality of life than I did at that time. If I could go back in time, I would make sure that I have a better support system for employment and that I left school with work experience in a field that I was interested in.
Who was your role model growing up?
My role model growing up was my dad and a teacher from middle school in Connecticut named Gary Warren. My dad was always encouraging me to fit in. For example, if I did not do my chores right, there would be a consequence, just like any of his other kids. If I screwed up, I was busted. Mr. Warren understood that we all have potential of doing what we want to do with our lives. He was a great teacher who put up with us and adapted materials based on how we learned best and what we were passionate about. They were both strong role models who helped me become who I am today.
What is the one piece of advice you would give to a parent of a child newly diagnosed with a disability?
My advice to parents of a child with a disability is to encourage them to grow and support them as they learn. I would like parents to know that we want to be treated like anyone else. We have feelings and abilities to do many things just like everyone else, but we just need a little extra assistance to help get us there. I am a prime example of someone who had assistance from my family and other supports that have helped me get to be the person I am today.