PIQUA — “My Story, a Journey into Self-Advocacy,” a conference aimed at people with developmental disabilities, was held at Edison State Community College on Sept. 30 to help increase knowledge and awareness of ways for those living with developmental disabilities to advocate for themselves and their goals.
The event targeted people from Auglaize, Champaign, Darke, Logan, Miami, Preble and Shelby counties, and their family members or guardians. Guests heard about the many accomplishments of other self-advocates and what they are doing in their own lives to accomplish their goals and make their communities a better place to live, work and play.
The conference began with a series of speeches and personal stories from self-advocates, or people living and working with developmental disabilities in the community as they strive to achieve their goals and dreams.
“I realized something that I have always felt and that is that self-advocacy is a choice,” said Michael Ham, the featured speaker for Miami County.
Ham graduated from Wright State University with a bachelor’s degree in Urban Affairs and works as the project manager for the city of Troy. He also serves on numerous boards and committees, such as the Troy Board of Education, The Future Begins Today, and Teen Leadership of Troy. He has also received awards in the community, like the Outstanding Young Man of the Year by the Troy Area Chamber of Commerce in 2015.
Ham said that every person one meets is dealing with some kind of disability. “If we’re all disabled, we have a choice,” he said.
People can choose to work toward the best version of themselves, Ham said, explaining that “being the best version of yourself means speaking up for yourself.” He also said that it meant finding what one is good at and then using those talents to produce good for other people.
Ham also suggested that people should work to give back to the community.
“When you get something good … you can’t keep that for yourself. You have to give that back,” Ham said. Later, he added, “I think I owe my community and the people who supported me to give back to them.”
“As a child, I struggled very hard being social with people,” Blaine O’Leary of Shelby County said, explaining that he was diagnosed with autism at the age of 9. “My journey into self-advocacy started at the age of 13 … This is when I took control over my disability and education.”
O’Leary is a member of Aktion Club and has received state-level training for advocacy. He enjoys helping others, volunteering for Raise the Roof for the Arts, the YMCA, Special Olympics, Relay for Life, and the Historical Society. O’Leary is also a member of the Ohio Disabilities Council.
“I want to … be the best that I can be,” O’Leary said. “I’m not ashamed of my disability.”
O’Leary said that while people may have limitations, they can be aware of their weaknesses and come up with solutions to reach their goals. “Your voice is important,” he said.
O’Leary went over characteristics of self-advocacy, including having knowledge of one’s rights, the importance of communication and being assertive, and also knowing oneself.
John R. Hannah of Champaign County also spoke, mentioning an appreciation for his fellow county residents.
“Everybody from Champaign County, I’m proud of you,” Hannah said. “My heart is in Champaign County … People in Champaign County are very much like gold and silver and pearls.”
Hannah has been a full-time employee of and consumer advocate for CRSI in 1995. He also previously served as past president of the Arc of Ohio. Hannah was also a participant in the first Special Olympics held in Chicago in 1968 and participated in the International Special Olympic Games in 1983 as a basketball player.
Ruby Sacher represented Darke County, where she graduated from Mississinawa Valley in 2015. Sacher also graduated from the Miami Valley Career Technology Center in 2012. At both institutions, she learned she enjoyed clerical work. Sacher is a single mother and the current president of the Kiwanis Aktion Club of Darke County. She is currently studying Business Administration at Edison, volunteers at Anthony Wayne Early Childhood, and works for Janitorial Management Services at the Darke County Whirlpool factory.
Sacher also expressed appreciation for the people who work with her at the Darke County Board of Developmental Disabilities.
“Without them, I wouldn’t be where I am today,” she said.
“I’m just really touched to be here today,” Ty Ferguson of Logan County said. Ferguson received formal self-advocacy training from the Ohio Self Determination Association. After receiving that training, she started training her coworkers at RTC Industries.
“My dream is to teach as many people to speak up for themselves,” Ferguson said. “It takes a lot of determination.”
Linda Gail Dunn, who represented Preble County, is a member of the Preble County Board of Developmental Disabilities’ Human Rights Committee and MUI Committee since 2015. She has worked for L&M Products for 15 years and has volunteered for the Senior Citizen Center in Preble County and local food banks. She is also an active member of Liberty Baptist Church.
In the afternoon, the conference guests also heard from Scott Osterfeld of the Butler County Board of Developmental Disabilities, Scott Marks of the Ohio Association of County Boards and Pete Moore of the Ohio Association of County Boards.