Sarah Whitlock: The doctors told my parents I would probably never be able to write my name.
Trenell Walker: When I first went to school, they did not know what to do with me.
Kenny Rogers: I didn’t know how to interact with the other kids in school because I seemed different.
Hilda Niño: I was very scared.
Sarah Whitlock: I was like a bird let out of a cage when I went to college.
Bobby Gruner: Don’t give up just because the world says you cannot.
Sarah Whitlock: There is nothing that is going to limit you in this world.
Narrator: The Texas Council for Developmental Disabilities presents The Next Step
Failure is Not an Option
Narrator: The first speaker is Trenell Walker, a Counseling Major at the University of North Texas. Trenell has Quadriplegia as the result of a football injury.
Trenell Walker: When I suffered my injury it was difficult because I was 14 years old and I had a lot of people who looked up to me when it happened and I didn’t understand what it was, what had happened. But when my mom had told me, when I looked up at her when I was in the emergency room and I asked her if I was paralyzed and she nodded her head yes, you know, it kind of made me feel kind of you know what is going to happen, cause I really could not fathom at the time the severity of my injury.
Narrator: Now speaking is Susan Rogers, the mother of Kenny Rogers, a Video Production graduate from the Art Institute of Dallas. Kenny’s disability is Asperger’s Syndrome.
Susan Rogers: The one piece that we hadn’t really dealt with was in every diagnosis they had give him, in every testing situation they had always eluded to Autistic type tendencies but nobody had ever addressed it. And so we decided that that’s what we were going to target. And at that point we had Kenny retested for Autism. We were lucky that year that Asperger’s was part of the diagnostic tools that they had and Kenny fit that just perfectly.
Narrator: Speaking now is Hilda Niño, a sophomore at the University of Texas at Brownsville. Hilda is a student with visual impairment.
Hilda Niño: Basically, when my parents found out that I was visually impaired, they at first didn’t know what to do with me and how to treat me, but then my mother later realized that she was going to treat me the same as my brothers. I did basically everything my brothers did.
Narrator: The following speaker is Bobby Gruner, from College Station, Texas. Bobby is a graduate of Texas A&M University, with Dyslexia.
Bobby Gruner: I could walk into a room and no one could know that I was Dyslexic, except for myself, and so it is easy to hide.
Narrator: The next speaker is Sarah Whitlock of Houston, Texas. Sarah attends the University of Houston at Clearlake and is a clinical psychology major. Her disability is Cerebral Palsy.
Sarah Whitlock: I was diagnosed with CP, which is cerebral palsy, at age 9 months, and I looked normal. I just didn’t hit the developmental milestones and when I received that diagnosis the doctors told my parents that I probably would never be able to write my name.
Early School Experiences
Trenell Walker: Well when I first went back to school they didn’t know what to do with me. They tried to put me in a class with those students that needed things to be slowed down in order for them to understand, you know because they automatically assumed that since I had a physical disability I had a mental disability.
Bobby Gruner: My early experiences with school were very hard I guess, as not knowing really what was going on with myself as learning. And so, I was diagnosed with Dyslexia in second grade, and there it kind of gave me some answers at what was going on with why I was acting so, or why I was not able to read.
Sarah Whitlock: My regular counselor actually refused to see me. When I was in high school she sent me to the special ed counselor who knew absolutely nothing about the process of going to college so I had nobody there to tell me, you know, this is what you should do. You need to get your SAT scores and all that stuff and I did everything on my own.
Narrator: Speaking next is Kenny Rogers, a video production graduate from the Art Institute of Dallas. Kenny’s disability is Asperger’s Syndrome.
Kenny Rogers: Before I got a correct diagnosis, I didn’t know how to interact with the other kids at school. Some of the teachers accepted me but it was the students who really didn’t like me being around them because I seemed different, but we’re all different.
Trenell Walker: You know this has been a learning experience not only for me but for her, that her, you know, that her baby, as she refers to me, you know, can get out there and will get out there and do it and continue to pursue the goals of his life whether he is living with a disability or he is up on both his feet and able to do things for himself.
Narrator: The next speaker is Trenell Walker’s mother, Verna Williams.
Verna Williams: My concern was about the accommodations and things that, you know, would be there at the campus and I was comfortable because his older brother would be going with him because he is his attendant, but as far him leaving home, nah, I didn’t want him to go, but I knew he had to grow up. And I am glad that he had the mind that he has to want to do things.”
Hilda Niño: Even though my mother was very scared about letting me go because I am the only girl and usually in Hispanic culture it is harder to let the girls out. She never showed me that fear because she wanted for me to get my education, and she knew that me going to Austin was a great opportunity to learn and become more independent.
The First Day
Sarah Whitlock: Walking into my first class with 500 other freshmen, I was overwhelmed, but I was so happy and so excited to be there, and I was like, you know, this is my time, this is my chance to have a life and to establish myself and to really show the world that anyone can overcome anything if they put their mind to it.
Trenell Walker: High School, it is all about image, but when you go to college, you know, it’s about image but people see you wanting to excel in what you do therefore they are willing to help you in spite of your limitations. They see more in you than you actually see in yourself.
Hilda Niño: The first day I got to St. Edwards, I was very scared, but then again 40 other students were there with me who were very scared as well. I thought about how I was going to do living by myself in a campus that I didn’t know very well and I knew I was going to miss my home very much. So it was a little bit hard adapting to my new surroundings. I had never been away from home for over than 2 months. So that was a little bit of a challenge but I got over it very easily because I had met a lot of people who were very helpful.
Kenny Rogers: There were many things they were expecting from me, but I got encouragement from everyone of the teachers and they let me do the work, which allowed me to develop the confidence to know that I could do it.
Trenell Walker: After, I think my first semester, I began to get out and meet more people and it seemed like they would just come up to me and make eye contact and say,” how are you doing?” And once I spoke and they spoke back and I smiled and they realized that, hey, there is a person. A friend of mine told me, she was like, once we speak to you we do not even see the wheelchair, we only see you.
Making the Leap
Trenell Walker: I love college, I would recommend that everybody has a college experience because once you have that experience, it’s like life, I mean the diversity. Everybody is not going to be the same, but when you go to college and open up your eyes and realize that though this has happened to you, you are not the only one.
Hilda Niño: The great thing about college life is that you meet a lot of people who come with very different backgrounds and who are eager to learn about other new things, so my first week there was meeting people.
Sarah Whitlock: I was like a bird let out of a cage when I went to college because you know it is really your first time to experience life and for me anyway it was my first taste of real independence. I was completely away from my parents and you know I really just found myself and learned just so much about myself, just being away from home and it was just such a unique experience because I was able to develop a deeper sense of self.
Getting Help on Campus
Sarah Whitlock: When I got to college, the office of disability services was invaluable to me. The lady that I worked with also had Cerebral Palsy and she was able to teach me how to hire attendants and how to just manage my life.
Trenell Walker: So once you know your disability and you are diagnosed, and the things you need, they will supply it, but you got to tell them what they need, because if not, they won’t know.
Hilda Niño: They were very quick about getting me the things I needed. For example, when I first went in I told them that I needed a speech program for a computer to take my exams. Of course they really didn’t know much about it so I told them about the program and they were very quick about purchasing it. They installed it in the computer two weeks later.
Sarah Whitlock: I use note takers and what they did was they provided some NCR carbon paper and I would just ask students to take notes for me and whatever they wrote would go onto the next sheet. Oh, and testing accommodations, I could go and take my exams in a reduced distraction environment and that was very helpful for me if I needed extra time to write. Sometimes I would use a computer, voice activated software to take my exams, my essay exams especially.
Community College … University… Or Technical School?
Bobby Gruner: Going to school for a year at a very large university with 44,000 students, it’s quite overbearing in going in, and it was kind of tough to adapt. Then coming back to a community college made me see that the biggest comparison with the two is that it’s just a small university, it’s the same thing, you’re studying the same materials, but is just on a smaller note. You have smaller classrooms, which I think helps a lot being able to have a more one on one communication with the professors.
Susan Rogers: We began to look at the Art Institute, and to tell you the truth I was comfortable in that because he says it was a good environment and it was smaller. It was about like half the size of TCU, that sort of thing. The classes were all smaller; there were about 20 kids in the classes. The teachers were very friendly, very open.
Kenny Rogers: It would be about two years but I would have an Associate in Applied Science for Video Production and I would have experience to work. And that’s pretty much one of the big reasons why I decided A-I-D.
Be Your Own Advocate
Hilda Niño: At first I was a little shy and hesitant about speaking up about what my teachers could do to accommodate me. And I wouldn’t speak up and when they had overhead transparencies; I wouldn’t ask for them to be accessible so I could read them. So I would just go by ear and what I heard I would take notes on. But then I saw that was affecting my grades and my GPA was dropping. So that’s when I realized that I needed to speak up for myself because if not, if you don’t speak up for yourself, nobody is going to help you.
Sarah Whitlock: I just knew that if I was going to get anything accomplished I was the one who was going to have to do it; nobody was going to sit there and do it for me.
Trenell Walker: Being a self-advocate is very important because if you don’t speak nobody will speak for you. And plus, if you don’t say anything they won’t know. Like my mom used to say, a closed mouth doesn’t get fed, and literally it doesn’t get fed when you don’t ask.
Susan Rogers: As a parent of a child with a disability a lot of times we hear no. No, they can’t take that class. No we can’t provide that service. No we’ve never done that before. No way we’ve ever had a kid like him here. And too many times as a parent we just get used to hearing no and we just sit back and take it. We don’t understand how the systems work or how to navigate things. And I want to encourage parents to say-why?
Sarah Whitlock: I don’t think I had any self-confidence initially going into it because I was afraid of what was going to happen to me. I didn’t know how I was going to get out of bed in the morning. But everything worked out. And it is so worth it. It’s so hard but it’s just so worth it.
Don’t Give Up
Bobby Gruner: Believe in yourself. Don’t give up just because the world says you can’t go any further; that high school is as far as you’re gonna go. Just don’t listen to that; don’t listen to the outside world. If you feel that in your heart just go with your gut.
Hilda Niño: Regardless of what your disability is, there is always a chance for you to be successful in either college or technical school if you put a little bit of effort. Even though you are scared and you feel that a lot of unknown things are out there just as long as you have confidence in yourself you’ll be able to overcome any obstacle.
Trenell Walker: If you believe you shall receive, but not only that, if you believe you shall achieve. And the only thing you have to do if you have a belief or a dream, just do it. Because, one, if you limit yourself, everybody else is going to limit you. But, if you keep on going you never know, the sky is the limit and that failure is not an option, and that if somebody says you can’t do it, that just gives you strength to say I can.
Kenny Rogers: Don’t give up and know there will be other people there to help you.
Sarah Whitlock: As long as I have a good attitude, a strong attitude I’m gonna make it. As long as you have that, then there’s nothing that’s going to limit you in this world.
Narrator: Bobby Gruner graduated from Texas A&M with a Bachelor of Arts in Communication and a minor in Business. He’s currently pursuing a career in commercial real estate in Dallas.
Hilda Niño has completed her Associate Degree in Social Work. She continues her participation in the support group she started for parents of children with visual impairments and mentors students with visual impairments in learning to use computers. Hilda is also a camp facilitator for the Youth Camp for the Blind during the summer.
Trenell Walker continues his studies at the University of North Texas and stays busy as a guest speaker at different conventions. After graduation, Trenell hopes to land a job at Scottish Rite Hospital as a counselor.
Sarah Whitlock is currently pursuing a Master of Arts in Clinical Psychology at the University of Houston Clear Lake. She also has an internship at the Shriners Burn Hospital in Galveston, Texas. After receiving her Master’s Degree, Sarah plans to get a Doctorate in counseling.
Kenny Rogers is a National Keynote speaker on children’s mental health, freelances in video production and has moved into his own apartment. He’s writing the training manual for Dallas Community Televisions new digital editing system and working on a documentary to be used as a tool in teacher in-service training around the United States. Kenny also worked as a crew member on the production of this video.
For more information contact the Texas Council for Developmental Disabilities at 6201 E. Oltorf, Ste. 600, Austin, Texas 78741; or call (512) 437-5432. In Texas 1-800-262-0334. You can also log on to the TCDD web site at www.txddc.state.tx.us.
[Financial Support for the The Next Step is provided by the Texas Council for Developmental Disabilities, with Federal funds* made available by the United States Department of Health and Human Services Administration on Developmental Disabilities. *($75,000) (66%) DD funds; ($38,019) (34%) non-federal resources.]
Special thanks to the students, families and schools who participated in the production of this video.