Firstly let me introduce myself, my name is Prerak(Rak) Mehta, I am a recent masters graduate in the Rehabilitation Counseling Program at the Illinois Institute of Technology. Now on to the good stuff! I was anticipating my move in date for a very long time and on Sunday it finally arrived! While I was on the flight to Washington the only thoughts that were popping into my mind were "this is week 1, next week is #2 and than I only have 10 more weeks to go! When I finally arrived in D.C, it was raining! Finding the way to a taxi could have been compared to Dorthy's struggle in finding the Wizard! Once I found a cab to my apartment I thought that the Nighmare on I street is over! Then I arrived on Foggy bottom station and my dad was explaining to me the street names.... in the pouring rain. As much as I appreciated his effort in making me understand with 18 inches of rain pouring down, all I could think about was the snickers commercial "need a break? Grab a Snickers!" Nevertheless once I got back to my room and the nightmare on elm street was over.... my week would turn from downright ugly to "Idownright awesome".... and so it begins my journey.... OUR Journey!
Before I begin this very long winded blog, I want to make something perfectly clear, if you are viewing this blog to learn about my "limitations" you have picked the wrong blog, if you want to see how my disability affects my everyday living, you have picked the wrong blog. So what is the purpose of this blog you ask? My goal is pretty simple, I want you(the reader) to appreciate me for "who I am" rather than as an individual with a disability. Do I have a disability? Absolutely, Am I ashamed of my disability? No way!, however as a Rehabilitation professional and a person with a disability I want to incoporate more of a strength based approach to my blogs. In other words the goal of these blogs is to show the reader that "yes I do have a disability", but "I am just like the next person who does not have a disability!". In this Blog the reader will be able to see my weekly updates; what did I do during the week, any notable events that I attended" and any social gatherings I was apart of?. In addition I will also do weekly shoutouts to important people in my life! If you are not on the shoutout list as a Mental Health professional "I feel your pain".
Tuesday was the first day of Orientation, at first I was skeptical of the first day since Tuesday has been the day for the majority of oreintations I had in my life, I tend to make sure that I drink a lot of caffeine because I call these days "Sleepy Tuesday's", however the first day of AAPD's oreintation was not bad at all. There were a lot of housekeeping items, reviewing the no pity book with our group members and getting to know people in the program better. When I left Oreintation on Tuesday I felt like I was apart of a family of individuals who shared the same experiences, motivations and successes as myself. Prior to coming into Oreintation I did not know what to expect, however I must say that Tuesday really made me feel apart of something special. On Weds I had the opportunity to meet my mentor Ms. Marcie Roth. Before meeting Ms. Roth I used this magnificient tool called "google" and did some research on this wonderful individual. When I went to her website the first thing I saw was written in Big letters "Marcie Roth appointed as a Presidential appointee", the first thought that popped into my mind was "holy cow I better go shave and buy a tuxedo I am meeting with someone who is kind of a big deal". Needless to say the meeting with Ms. Roth was absolutely amazing, we started to connect from the moment we shook hands. During our first meeting we talked about FEMA, the special education system, movies and our learning objectives for the summer. Based on the first meeting,it is very obvious that Marcie truly enjoys what she does and that she is a champion of disability rights. President Obama made a pretty darn good selection! Although Marcie is known for her work with FEMA and the emergency preparedness of individuals with disabilities. . There is one quote that she made to a local newspaper that still sticks in my mind as powerful and empowered me to be a better advocate for persons with disabilities.
This quote illustrates a few things; Marcie's passion for disability rights, her direct nature as someone who is not afraid of attacking the education system and someone who has incorporated a strong social support system for her children. These are three reasons why Ms. Roth is amazing.
One of the most exciting lectures from week 1 was Joyce Bender's lecture.Ms. Bender's lecture was powerful, direct and to the point. I am usually very shy to speak in front of a group, however Ms. Bender made me feel comfortable in sharing my own personal story of being bullied. Once everyone shared the story, I realized that all of us share common experiences and we have a common bond. There are not many people who can have an effect on an audience, however I felt that Joyce's lecture was very powerful she taught us a little about being successful in Washington, but a lot about life.
Before I begin the second half of my blog, let me just say that the only similarity between week 1 and 2 is that I spent four days in two cities that have not won a superbowl since the industrial revolution. On Monday I flew out to Batimore for the National Disability Rights Network's annual conference. When I arrived to my hotel room I was informed by the higher powers at NDRN that I would be a room monitor and the microphone guy(passing the microphone to those who wish to speak). Once I heard that this will be my primary responsibilities I felt like Maury or Jerry Springer or Jay Leno except that I was the "mic guy", so I would have been their sidekick!. Nevertheless the conference was simply amazing! Prior to attending the conference I knew nothing about Protection and Advocacy groups, however this conference really opened my eyes into the many issues individuals with disabilities face. My favorite lecture was the Sheltered Workshop lecture and how individuals with disabilities are getting denied competitive employment because the VR system deems them "not qualified" for services. These individuals are sent to a sheltered workshop such as goodwill industries and are trainedo to "stock soda in a cooler". It was astonishing to hear that the owner of goodwill industries is making a fortune while individuals working in the store are earning $5.50/hr. As a person who has done several internships with different VR agencies I agreed with this point of view. The lecture sent a clear message to Rehabilitation Professions to stop underestimating the potential of our youth and allow them a fair chance to succeed in society.
The other lectures I really enjoyed throughout the conference were the planery sessions where speakers came in to discuss the issues/legistration facing Congress. During the first planery session I actually cried! The topic of restraint and seclusion and the speaker had aspergers syndrome. The brave young woman would stand in front of 500 spectators to tell the world her story. According to the young woman, she was physically assualted by her instructors and fellow peers. Prior to moving to a different school, this young woman was a straight A student, outgoing and had a lot of friends. When her parents moved out of town to a new school things started to become bad. Her instructors would lock her in a small room in the basement until the end of the class period. Once one of the instructors held on to the neck of her shirt while choking her, the instructor also asked her if she knew what he was saying. According to the young woman the school district has yet to apoligize for their actions. The young woman's story was so powerful that the Assistant Secretary of Education, Rosalinda Barrera who was up next was left speechless. After listening to the speaker I arrived at the conclusion that "this is where I want to be" not because of the money, but to make sure that this does not happen to any other child who enrolled in the education system. As parents we leave them with individuals who we are sopposed to trust, however many educators abuse the "trust" that we give them. Finally I also enjoyed the Public Policy lecture I think Eric, Cindy and Patrick really hit the nail on the head with many of their key points Finally the Assistive Technology lecture was very informative as well, I feel that not many people know about which AT products are out there and how can we get medicaid to pay for these devices. As an individual who also has a certification in Assistive Technology I found this lecture extremely interesting. There were just so many sessions that were worth going to that I lost count! In addition to attending sessions, I had the opportunity to interact with some important people such as: Curt Decker, founder of NDRN, Michael Bailey, President of NDRN, Amy Sher and Cathy Steffkle, an adovacy specialist in NDRN . Cathy offered to take me out to dinner next time I visit Wisconsin.
The most important part of the conference was the FOOD! Wow! Conory, Red Velvet cheesecake, Shrimp Pizza, Steak Pizza awesome pasta and Boca Burgers! NDRN is not only rasing the bar for Disability advocacy, however now conferences might not serve lunch from jimmy john's.... just kidding
I would like to give my first weekly shoutout to a few people who mean a lot to me. These individual's have helped me grow as a professionally and as a person. If it were not for many of these individuals I would not be doing an internship in Washington D.C.
1. My parents(Rajendra G. Mehta and Raksha Mehta)- My parents are the bread and butter that keeps me going everyday. If it were not for them I would not be where I am today. I always tell people that it does not matter how severe the disability is. If the child has a strong support system and Parents who simply do not give up than they will be able to accomplish so much in life. My parents have stood by my side despite what the school system said, what my fellow peers said about me and how bleak the future looked for me. If it was not for their encouragement, willpower and for them believing in me I would have not gotten to this stage. Thank you so much Mom and Dad!
2. Frank Lane- I would like to thank Dr. Frank Lane for helping me grow as a professional/ There are not many instructors who got out of their way to write a letter of rec for their students, Dr. Lane is one of those awesome individuals! He has always been there for me as an advisor and instructor. He has also given me the opportunity to be apart of the Rehab Program offering me a scholarship when I joined the program. There is a reason why Dr. Lane is the director because he is simply the best!
3. Kenneth Weber- If it were not for Ken I would not have gotten this internship, Ken also wrote an excellent letter of reccomendation for me. I cannot say this enough that my experience as an intern at Hines VA was the highlight of my graduate career. I have never been around a group of highly motivated, caring and fun individuals. Thank you Ken!
4. Jon Larson- When I asked Jon to write me a letter of reccomendation he did this within a day. Jon is simply amazing as a professor, human being and Professor. I learned a lot from Jon's courses. Thank you Jon!
5. Margie Makielski- If you don't know Margie you should, she is kind of a big deal! Margie is a former AAPD intern and a really good friend of mine. If it was not for Margie I would not be sitting in my apartment writing a long winded blog! Margie encouraged me to apply for the AAPD program telling me all about her experience as an intern. Yes, this remarkable individual has probrobly gotten sick of me by now since I have followed in her footsteps. First at the VA than as an AAPD Intern. I like to play follow the leader because Margie is the definition of a leader. Thank you so much Margie, I am happy to not only share the same experience as you, but to call you my friend!
The IIT Rehab Faculty(Pat, Nikki and E TO the J)- Thank you so much for your help and support throughout the two and a half years. If it were not for the Rehab Faculty I would not have grown as a person and a professional. Thank you guys(and gals) so much
AND that's all folks!
PS: Now you know why they keep me away from blogger!