KYEA: Educating, mentoring, and supporting youth with disabilities in KS

Kansas Youth Empowerment Academy Newsletter
Issue #22
September 2013
in this issue
:: Behind Julia's Glasses
:: Celebrate Disability Employment Awareness Month!
:: Meet our ICONs
:: KYEA Updates
:: State and National Opportunities
:: Being EQUAL to the Task: Profiles of Successful People with Disabilities
:: Disability Mentoring Day
:: Spotlight On Youth Employment: Brenna Koch
:: Businesses Owned by Youth with Disabilities
:: Etiquette Tips for the Workplace

Are you employed? Do you get the satisfaction of going to a job each day and receiving a paycheck for your hard work? Next month, we celebrate Disability Employment Awareness Month. We are getting the party started early by bringing you a newsletter full of articles on employment for youth and people with disabilities!

Employment is so important, and, at KYEA, we believe that people with disabilities can and should be employed. Take the Disability Employment Awareness Month theme, for example: "Because we are EQUAL to the task!" People with disabilities are just as capable of succeeding in any type of job as those without disabilities. Oftentimes, people with disabilities are even more hard working. Check out our articles below on a youth with a disability who is successfully employed as an accountant, five people who prove that anything is possible, and our list of websites for businesses owned by youth with disabilities. This month, we also bring you information on Disability Mentoring Day. Cities around our state will be hosting events, and it's a great opportunity to job shadow in your field of interest.

Also read below to find out what's new in our KYEA world, state and national opportunities, and lots of other helpful information.
Once you've read through our newsletter, ask yourself... Is employment possible for me? Of course it is! Enjoy!
- Carrie Greenwood, Program Coordinator 
Behind Julia's Glasses
by Julia Thomas, Executive Director
"I Can. I Will."
Julia Thomas with cartoon sunglasses over her face. She is smiling and has her hand under her chin.


As we celebrate Disability Employment Awareness Month, I reflect on my journey through college.  When I started college in August of 1996, my career of choice was to be a teacher.  After a semester of classes, I realized that patience is not one of my virtues.  I then changed my major to psychology.  I figured that if I ever went blind, all that I would need in order to be a therapist would be my ears!  Again, I realized that patience is not one of my virtues.  I then changed my major to Rehabilitation Counseling.  I figured that, since I am a person with a disability, I would be great at helping adults with disabilities.  Did I mention that patience is not one of my virtues??  My major changed to youth ministry and then I finally ended on human services.  While exploring human services, I did finally come to realize that I love working with youth.  Finally, in 2003, after several changes of my major, I graduated with a bachelor's degree in human services with an emphasis on youth services/addictions counseling/nonprofit management.   


Looking back at my indecisiveness, I realize that I was so busy trying to find a career path that I thought I could do with complete vision loss, that I forgot to find a career that I would truly love and have passion for.  Fortunately, human services was the perfect major for me. I found that working with youth, specifically youth with disabilities, is truly my passion.  Never, in my wildest dreams, would I have believed that someday I would be an Executive Director of a youth organization!  Why, you may ask?  Well, honestly, I did not believe that I could do such a job with my disabilities.  I was so afraid that I would not be good enough or capable enough to lead and motivate people on a daily basis as their boss.  And honestly, there are still days when I question myself.  The one thing that I do NOT question, though, is my passion for youth! 


So, although I changed my mind many times, felt insecure, and never imagined doing what I am doing today, I know I am here for a reason.  Ask yourself this, are you trying to find a job that fits your disability, or are you searching for your passion?  Some of you will be surprised at what you discover. 

Celebrate Disability Employment Awareness Month in October!


Directional street sign with arrow and Your Career People with disabilities CAN and SHOULD be employed! "Because We Are EQUAL to the Task" is the theme of this year's National Disability Employment Awareness Month. This theme reflects the reality that people with disabilities have the education, training, experience and desire to be successful in the workplace. Let's work together to improve the statistics below.


Did you know...?


20.5% of people with disabilities are working vs. 69.1% of people without disabilities.


Only 16.4% of youth with disabilities (ages 16-19) are currently employed vs. 29.4% of youth without disabilities.


Only 29.8% of youth with disabilities (ages 20-24) are currently employed vs. 63.8% of youth without disabilities.


*Employment statistics in August 2013 from U.S. Census Bureau for the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Meet our ICONS!
Our Topeka KYEA office now has two new awesome interns! Learn all about them below...


Dezarae Marcotte Dezarae Marcotte  

Age: 19
High School Diploma and some college experience. Working towards going back to college.
Disability: Autoimmune condition known as Devic's Disease or NMO (neuro-mylen optica). This condition affects the nerves in my spine and in my optical nerves. This causes episodes of vision loss and paralysis.
Favorite thing about being an ICON:

Having the opportunity to learn how to work in the "real world" with my newly diagnosed disability. Also, learning about different resources around me that can help with my needs and overall adjusting to the condition. KYEA makes me feel important, and it makes me feel like I'm accomplishing things to get closer to my dreams.
Favorite hobbies: Shopping, of course! I'm a girl; it's in my nature! Also, I love writing and reading poetry, spoken word, etc. Music has always been my passion and cooking is fun as well.


Amber Meaux  Amber Meaux

Age: 21
Education: High school diploma

Disability: Visually Impaired due to a condition known as retinoblastoma. I can see lights and shadows out of my right eye, and my left eye is a prosthetic.
Favorite thing about being an ICON:

Learning about different disability types and how to interact with people with different disabilities properly. Also, learning how to be professional in a work environment and being able to be independent in working. I'm excited to be learning all of these things.
Favorite Hobbies: Reading, writing, shopping, swimming, singing, and helping others, and I especially love children.

KYEA Updates

Sharing all things new in our KYEA world...


Goal Setting Presentation Targets High Schools in Topeka LOL- Living Out Loud  

LOL: you've probably seen this as texting language for laugh out loud. Well, KYEA is reenergizing our goal setting presentation and naming it "LOL: Living Out Loud!" Our goal, in the next few months, is to take our "Living Out Loud" workshop into high school classrooms. Our target, for right now, is to present this workshop in Topeka high schools and hopefully expand to other cities in the future. Are you a high school special education teacher in Topeka? Do you need some help encouraging your students to set goals? Then bring KYEA to your school so that we can assist your students with "Living Out Loud!" This workshop gives youth with disabilities the tools to set their own goals and the empowerment to achieve them.


Learn more about Living Out Loud workshops



Dates Set for 2014 KS Youth Leadership Forum and Empower Me! Challenge

Mark your calendars! But don't get too confused. We have set the dates for our 2014 KSYLF and EMC programs, but you'll notice a slight change in the months that each are taking place. We are now recruiting for participants and volunteers for each of these programs. For more information and applications, visit each program's page on our website.
Are you ready to be empowered?
2014 Empower Me! Challenge
June 2-7, 2014

Participant Form Deadline: April 18, 2014

KSYLF logo with dove
2014 Kansas Youth Leadership Forum
July 14-19, 2014

Washburn University, Topeka
Delegate Application Deadline:
December 15, 2013
Volunteer Application Deadline:
February 5, 2014
KYEA Seeking Youth and Adult Board Members
KYEA is looking for youth with disabilities who would be interested in serving on our Youth Advisory Board (YAB). Interested youth must have a disability and be between the ages of 16 and 24.
We are also looking to recruit adults who would be interested in serving on our Board of Directors. Individuals who are passionate about leadership for youth with disabilities, effective in their career, well connected to the community, and have extensive networks that can be utilized to promote and advance KYEA's mission should contact Johnna, VISTA Program Support, at
People with disabilities CAN take charge of their lives! It just takes a bit of self-determination. Check out this video that features people with disabilities being self-determined and successful...
Taking Charge 3: Five Stories of Success and Self-Determination   
News and Events


Opportunities in Kansas


- Do you know a person with a disability in KS who has demonstrated exceptional desire and dedication in overcoming barriers? Then nominate them for the Peter John Loux Award! Read more... 


KU-AUMI InterArts seeks volunteer performers for an interactive, multimedia, mixed-ability experience incorporating sound, movement, visual & electronic media. Be a part of this group that that brings disability and non-disability communities together.  


- Youth and parents: Come and participate in an upcoming Families Together Team Empowerment Conference in Dodge City! The conference will cover various topics related to transitioning from school to adult life. Sessions will be available for youth and parents. Read more...


Opportunities on a National Level


- If you had the power to choose, how would you spend 1 trillion dollars? State your answer in a video and you might win a film festival. Read more...

- The Youth Action Council on Transition is seeking youth leaders and adult partners for a national training and youth leadership and advocacy opportunity. Participants will help improve youth transition outcomes.


AAHD Scholarship Program- For students with disabilities majoring in public health, disability studies, disability research, health promotion or a field related to disability and health. Read more...


Disability Awareness Scholarship- For all students who have an interest in promoting disability awareness. Read more...  


Anne Ford and Allegra Ford Thomas Scholarships- For graduating seniors with learning disabilities who are pursuing post-secondary education. Read more...  

Being EQUAL to the Task!
Profiles of people who prove that people with disabilities can do anything...


by Dezarae Marcotte, ICON Intern   

Some jobs are just not meant for people with disabilities. FALSE! People with disabilities can have a variety of different jobs. Even if you think a certain task is not possible, there is probably a way to do it. Read on for five people who prove that we are all equal when it comes to living a full life!
Anthony Robles during wrestling match Anthony Robles
Anthony Robles is one of the top division one wrestlers in the United States. He was born without his right leg. Within his career, he has faced many obstacles and never let them stop him. This year, at the national championships, he was in a very close match, but unfortunately, lost. Robles is still going forward and training to win that title hopefully next year.

Abbey Curran
Abbey Nicole Curran
Abbey represented Iowa for the Miss. USA Pageant in Las Vegas in 2008. Curran was born with Cerebral Palsy. She was featured on shows like The Ellen DeGeneres Show, The Early Show, and CNN Headline News. Abbey now runs her own non-profit pageant organization for young women. She wants young women with disabilities to know they are equally important and can be a pageant queen if that is what they desire.

Richie Parker sitting on his blue restored vehicle Richie Parker
Richie Parker was born with a disability called "bilateral Amelia," which is a condition where limbs do not grow. Richie was born without his arms, but has always been determined to make any of goals and dreams come true. Parker is an engineer designer for NASCAR and has been for eight years. He also drives himself around in his restored classic dream car- an Impala SS. Did I mention he restored it from his teenage years all by himself? With no arms he uses his feet for majority of his everyday life. Parker doesn't see himself as anything other than a proud man accomplishing what he wants in life.
newspaper Be on the lookout for our November issue focused on giving thanks!
Disability Mentoring Day...
get out and job shadow!
Disability Mentoring Day logo What is Disability Mentoring Day? 
A program that promotes career development for students and other job seekers with disabilities through hands-on career exploration, job shadowing, and internship or mentee/mentor relationships. Disability Mentoring Day is sponsored by the American Association of People with Disabilities (AAPD) and there are events held in cities all across the U.S. Kansas has events in over 30 counties around the state.
Why should you get involved? 
Because you want to work someday! DMD is the perfect opportunity to explore career options for yourself. Have an interest in a certain type of job, but you are not sure that it is right for you? Then participate in your local DMD, go to an actual job site, and get hands on experience in that job! DMD allows you to job shadow in order to explore a career that you might be interested in. Participants experience a typical day on the job and learn how to prepare to enter the world of work. DMD is also a lot of fun. Many DMD events involve resource fairs, speakers, giveaways, free food, and more!
Participate in your local DMD! 
DMD is held in various cities throughout Kansas. To find out when DMD is being held in your city, visit DMD 2013. All you have to do is sign up and attend the free event!
For more information about Disability Mentoring Day, visit the Kansas DMD website.
KYEA and Shawnee County Transition Council hosting Shawnee County DMD
Shawnee County
Disability Mentoring Day

Thursday, November 14, 2013
Applications due by: October 31, 2013
  • Observe a workday by job shadowing!
  • Learn about possible internships!
  • Hear from an empowering speaker!
  • Meet other youth with disabilities!
  • Obtain resources, free food, giveaways, and more!
Not from Shawnee County? Find your local DMD...

Spotlight On Youth Employment!

Brenna Koch, KSYLF Alumna 2007
Employee at Zimmerman & Zimmerman Law Office
by Amber Meaux, ICON Intern
Brenna sitting at her desk with a computer  

Youth with disabilities are making their mark in the workplace! Although the statistics show that youth with disabilities are working less than their peers with disabilities, many are out working part time and full time jobs, and loving it! Brenna Koch is a perfect example. She is successfully, competitively employed and loves her job. Read on for her story...


Brenna Koch, KSYLF Alumna 2007, is visually impaired and works in the accounting department at Zimmerman & Zimmerman Law Office. She has currently been promoted to head of the department. Brenna has been working at Zimmerman & Zimmerman for a year now. She is very excited about this job! When asked if her disability affects her job in any way, she replied that, with her accommodations, she is able to complete her tasks and function well. Brenna states that she is blessed to have this job. Her employers are very understanding and flexible with her when it comes to making the accommodations that she needs to be successful in this job.

computer mouse
Helpful Websites: Businesses Owned by Youth with Disabilities 
Did you know that you can own your own business? Have an idea, skill, or product that you can produce? Start a business! The websites below feature businesses specifically owned by youth with disabilities in Kansas.
Produces quality natural products using pure ingredients from beehives.
Provides colorful, unique handbags.

Jeffrey Owen Hanson
An artist with a visual disability. Creates colorful paintings.

JennyLu Designs
Sells a variety of products (prints, stationary, jewelry, etc) based on the artwork of owner Jenny Unrein.

Produces old-fashioned, homemade Gourmet Kettle Korn in a variety of flavors.
Just a Few Tips...
A few things to keep in mind if you are a person with a disability in the workplace... and you want to keep your job!
by Johnna Godinez and Julia Thomas
Man with Down Syndrome working at a computer 1. Be open and honest.
If your co-workers have questions about your disability(s), be willing to be open and honest when answering their questions. The more we are able to share and communicate about ourselves, the better others will know about our disabilities and how to interact with us. Communication breaks down the wall of fear and ignorance.
2. Have a good attitude.
Having a good and humble attitude gets you noticed and having a bad attitude can get you fired. Keep negative and defeating language to yourself. No one wants to work side by side with someone who is always complaining about one thing or another.
3. Be on time.
Depending on our disabilities, sometimes it takes us longer to get ready in the morning, or we have to depend on public transportation. If you know that public transportation is sometimes late, take an earlier bus or schedule your ride half an hour earlier than usual. Using your disability as an excuse for being late on a regular basis is not acceptable. Plan ahead.
4. Remember that we all have to accommodate one another in a professional setting.
A colleagues' need for you to respect their requested accommodations is no less important than the fulfillment of your own need for accommodations. Music may distract you, but it may help someone else keep focused.
5. Always use person-first language when speaking about people with disabilities or when referring to yourself.
Your disability is a part of who you are, but it isn't all that you are.
6. Watch your tone of voice.
You might not know that you may sound condescending or rude. Oftentimes, people don't recognize how their tone of voice affects the workplace environment for the worse. It may be a facet of your disability, but it is your responsibility to recognize it and work on changing it. We all have to learn how to work and play together.
Being EQUAL to the Task!
Stevie Wonder Stevie Wonder
Stevie Wonder has been singing and writing songs since the age of 11. Wonder was born with an eye condition called Retinopathy of Prematurity. Wonder was born six weeks premature and the blood vessels in the back of his eyes were not fully developed. As a result, Stevie went blind shortly after birth. This never stopped him from his passion of music. He played instruments like the piano, harmonica, and bass drums, as well as sang in his church choir. At age 11, he was signed to Motown Records where he has been making hit singles throughout the decades. Stevie states, "Just because a man lacks the use of his eyes, doesn't mean he lacks vision."

Bonner Paddock Bonner Paddock
Bonner Paddock was born with Cerebral Palsy, but wasn't correctly diagnosed until age 11. Throughout his years, he tried to live as "normal" of a life as possible. To prove to the world and to himself, he made a goal he was determined to accomplish. As an adult, he accomplished his goal of reaching the summit of the tallest freestanding mountain, Mt. Kilimanjaro. He was the first person with Cerebral Palsy to do so (without any assistance). This achievement later on was documented in the film "Beyond Limits." Paddock's whole reasoning for his outstanding accomplishments is to prove that life beyond limits is possible.
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Carrie Greenwood
Kansas Youth Empowerment Academy