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

Kansas Youth Empowerment Academy Newsletter
Issue #31
May 2015
in this issue
:: Behind Julia's Glasses
:: Spotlight On: Jeffrey Hanson
:: Youth with Disabilities Making Music
:: Successful Music Artists with Disabilities
:: State and National Opportunities
:: KYEA Updates
:: Accessible Arts
:: Disability in Films and Movies
:: Famous Actors/Singers with Disabilities

paint brushes in front of a colorful canvas ART-- whether it's your passion or not your cup of tea, you have to give it up to those people who are talented in this area. And Kansas is brimming with artistic talent! There are so many youth with disabilities in our state who are painters, drawers, musicians, and even actors. And THAT is why we are dedicating this entire issue to "Disability and the Arts."

Have you heard of Jeffrey Hanson? If not, you will soon! Learn more about this awesome Kansas artist below who is getting national attention. Does this newsletter issue look a bit more colorful to you? Perhaps it is all of the artwork scattered throughout from youth with disabilities in our state. Read on for articles about musicians with disabilities, movies focused on the topic of disability, an overview of an arts organization in Kansas, and much more!

Of course we have also included a full update on all things KYEA... and boy do we have a lot to share! We are creating new programs, celebrating successful programs, and preparing for our annual fundraiser garage sale. Check out all of these exciting things below.

So, what are you waiting for? Read on and celebrate all of the awesome talent in our state!

- 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.


Being born in New York City, I was surrounded by art!  From street musicians /dancers to well-known museums, and, of course, Broadway! Some non-conventional expressions of art are the amazing skyscrapers, street graffiti and the beautiful parks, such as Central Park.  From Radio City Music Hall to the MTV studios, and the numerous movies filmed in NYC, it was no big deal to pass a celebrity on the city streets!  During that time, though, all I cared about was that a girl I knew was a regular on Sesame Street and I desperately wanted to meet Oscar the grouch and talk to a huge yellow bird!  By the way, I never got the hook up to meet Oscar or Big Bird :(. 

After moving cross-country to Kansas, I discovered that one form of art, my love for music, moved with me.  I remember listening to my mom's records with huge headphones on my ears, getting my first tape (Guns-N-Roses), my first CD (Grease soundtrack), and my first iTunes download (Eminem of course!). My life memories are all attached to music.  New Kids on the Block soothed my ears during my many hospital visits and in high school when no one wanted to date me.  Pearl Jam and Green Day were with me through bullying experiences in high school, while Limp Bizkit kept me company through an unhealthy relationship in my early 20's.  Eminem pumps me up when facing something scary at work, PINK gives me confidence attending professional meetings of my peers and the Rent soundtrack reminds me of my amazing friends and family.  No visual sight is necessary for this expression of art, just the ability to create visions in my head through the words sung and the musical notes played. What tunes are you groovin' to today?
Featured Youth Artist 
Spenser Acker, Topeka 


Chalk drawing that is different bright shades of blue. Some chalk that is pink, white, and teal has been broken and spread out on top of the blue smeared chalk.
Chalk drawing that is blue and orange. Blue chalk is on the left and orange is on the right, but the two have been somewhat blended together in the middle with a swipe of someone's hand. Some of the chalk is still thick with pebbles throughout.
To view more of Spenser's chalk drawings, visit
~  Art  ~  
Spotlight On! 
Jeffrey Owen Hanson, Overland Park


by Brittany Reynolds, ICON Intern    

If you regularly watch CBS Sunday Morning on television, you might have recently noticed a story on a Kansas youth! Jeffrey Owen Hanson has become a widely recognized superstar artist in our state and nationally. AND, the best part? He is a youth with a disability! We knew that he had to be featured in our newsletter, so read on to learn all about Jeffrey...

Jeffrey sits with one of his colorful paintings and another splattered painting behind him

Twenty-one year old Jeffrey Owen Hanson is a Kansas City young man who commissions not only vivid, 3D paintings, but also post cards, note cards, and even dresses. The difference between him and other artists is that Hanson is legally blind. He paints by adding a moldable plastic to a canvas and uses the ridges to keep track of where he is on the painting.   


Hanson started having vision problems at around the age of twelve and later, doctors found that he had the genetic disability Neurofibromatosis; a disability that resulted in a brain tumor, near complete loss of vision, and stunted growth. During his treatment, his mother would have him paint on note cards with water colors to distract him from his chemotherapy. As to not let these go to waste, she would use them as thank you cards. Her friends loved them, all eagerly asking if they could buy some.  


This is where Hanson's career started. He set up a stand in his drive-way where he would sell his custom made cards. Eventually, it grew into the incredibly successful business it is now. One of Hanson's paintings goes for about $4,000 right now. While he is in the business of selling his paintings for the money, the money isn't for him. He donates his profits to the Children's Tumor Foundation rather than spending it all on himself. He was able to raise one million dollars for the foundation before he turned 20!  


His work isn't just known in Kansas. Celebrities such as Warren Buffet and Elton John have at least one of Hanson's paintings hanging on their walls. Elton John was even kind enough to take Hanson on a trip to Dubai with him! Upon meeting Elton, Hanson surprised him with a $1,000 donation to Elton John's AIDS Foundation.  


Even with all the hardships and struggles Hanson has faced, he has not only kept a wide smile on his face, but also brings joy to everyone he meets. 


Learn more about Jeffrey by visiting his website!


View the CBS Sunday Morning clip 

Featured Youth Artist 
Emily House, Clearwater


Painting of a young girl on a swing that is attached to a tree. The tree and girl are painted black and almost appear as shadows against an orange and yellow sunset. The tree and nearby tree are filled with pastel colored flowers.
Painting of the quote, Don't Let Anyone Dull Your Sparkle. The words are in light pink. The background is jagged lines that are shades of gray. The whole painting is bordered by silver jewels, and the middle jagged stripe is jewels as well.
~  Music  ~ 
Youth with Disabilities Making Music: KYEA Alumni Show Their Talent!
Music is a form of art too! There are so many youth with disabilities across Kansas who have musical talent. Take, for example, the four young men below. These guys show that having a disability does not lesson your talent, but can actually contribute to your talent!

Nick playing the drums at the KSYLF Talent Show
KSYLF Alumni '09, Drummer
Nick Rice feels that he has a good sense of rhythm and that serves him well when he plays drums. Nick has been playing the drums since he was in 5th grade. In high school, he began playing in the marching band, pep band, and concert band. He then also played while at Colby Community College. Nick can play a variety of instruments, including the trap set of drums, a box drum, congas, bongos, tambourine, chimes and cowbell. Nick uses his talent by playing the box drum and chimes in a contemporary worship band at church, as well as at talent shows during Joni and Friends Family Retreats. Although Nick's Cerebral Palsy does present challenges to playing the trap set, he says that it does not stop him or slow him down!

John rapping with a microphone
JOHN DETERDING, KSYLF Alumni '06, Hip-Hop Performer 
If you see John Deterding on the sidewalk, he may just come right up to you and start rapping a verse. John has been rapping for 11 years, and uses his talent as a way of sharing his story with anyone that he meets. John performs Christian/Positive Hip-hop. He sees it as a unique way of sharing his voice that he can do with or without music. John's skills come from when he was a kid and used to read books a lot. By reading, John says that he gained a "very unnecessarily scary vocabulary." John has performed in talent shows, at open mics, parties, and just for random people on the sidewalk. Even though John usually has to sit down or wear a headset microphone when performing due to having Cerebral Palsy, he says that "having a disability just gives me unique experiences to draw from to write my verses."

Curtis standing near his keyboard
CURTIS DARNELL, KSYLF Alumni '13, Piano and guitar player 
It was very obvious when Curtis Darnell attended the KS Youth Leadership Forum that he considered himself to be a musician. And that he is! Curtis is multi-talented when it comes to music. He plays the piano and the guitar. Curtis showed off his skills at the KSYLF Talent Show by playing the piano, and even doing it while blind folded! More recently, Curtis studied music at Pratt Community College. One thing is for sure, music is definitely going to be a part of Curtis' life for a long time!

Corey rapping at the KSYLF Talent Show
COREY BOEHMER, KSYLF Alumni '12, Rapper 
If you visit Corey's Facebook page, it is obvious what his passion is... rapping! Corey enjoys rapping about many things, but most of all, he considers himself to be a Christian rapper. Corey has been rapping for many years and even showed off his skills at the KS Youth Leadership Forum talent show back in 2012. He has also showed off his skills at different events in Topeka, including open mic nights and the WU Idol. Corey hopes to continue rapping and would like to make it a part of his future. 

Even More Musicians!

Successful artists who happen to be people with disabilities
microphone We have musically talented people in Kansas, but did you know that there are many popular artists out there who have disabilities? Check out these names for proof!

Krip Hop
Emily Buresh
Left Stronger
Jake Nielsen
Rodel Sajor
Shane Michael Taylor (songwriter)
Mark Goffeney
Featured Youth Artist 
Monica Long, Eudora


Painting of an angel with dark hair, a pink dress, and white wings. The angel has her hands together as if praying.
News and Events


Opportunities in Kansas


- Are you a youth with a disability who could use some job experience over the summer? The Topeka Independent Living Resource Center is looking for summer interns to participate in their annual George Wolf Youth Internship Program. Students, ages 14-19, are invited to apply for this paid internship position. The goal is to give students with disabilities some job experience to add to their resume or a job application. Applications are due by May 29, 2015. Learn more 


- Families Together will be hosting their Family Employment Awareness Training in June in Wichita. Families, employees, employers, and entrepreneurs are all invited. This free workshop will focus on employment in the community for individuals with disabilities. Learn more 


- The 2015 Ms. Wheelchair Kansas and Little Miss Wheelchair Kansas were selected in March! To learn about the new Little Miss program and meet both titleholders, visit the Ms. Wheelchair Kansas website.


- Assistive Technology for Kansans (ATK) is looking for people to serve on their council. ATK works to provide all kinds of assistive technology to people with disabilities in our state. Council members give feedback on ATK services and learn about available assistive technology. If you use AT a lot, then this might be an opportunity for you! To learn more about this organization, visit the ATK website


- Are you interested in wheelchair sports in the Topeka area? Then get involved with the Green Machine! The Green Machine is a wheelchair sports club in Topeka that features the following sports: track, field, slalom, boccia, intro to basketball and FUN! All ages are welcome. For more information, contact Cathy Drobny at or 785-817-7085.


- Here's another wheelchair sports activity in Topeka! Kansas Accessible Sports is hosting a Sponsorship Appreciation Day this Saturday at 10 am at the Gage Park Accessible Field in Topeka. They are looking for many wheelchair softball players. For more information, contact John at


Opportunities on a National Level


CIEE and Mobility International USA are partnering to offer motivated and high-achieving U.S. college students with disabilities the opportunity to study abroad! Want to experience learning in another country? Applications are still open to students for 2016 programs. Learn more 


- How would you like to work for a national disability organization in Washington, DC and learn about programs for youth with disabilities in that area? The HSC Foundation, in partnership with NCIL, is now accepting applications for a paid fellowship position with the organizations' disability youth transition and collaboration work. This fellowship is ideal for a person with a disability who has an interest in youth career transitions and employment solutions. The fellowship starts in June 2015, and continues for 15 months. Applications are due by May 15, 2015. Check out full details 


- Do you know someone who has overcome lots of challenges related to their physical disability? Could that person benefit from a new customized wheelchair accessible vehicle? Then check out this amazing opportunity! Learn more 


- The ADA is coming up on its 25th anniversary! How has this important law impacted your life? The ILRU program wants to know! They are seeking opinions from across the U.S. on the impact to date of the ADA and what work still needs to be done. All answers will be delivered to policymakers on the 25th Anniversary. Fill out the survey   


- Television shows are not always accessible to youth who have visual or hearing disabilities. This fact is slowly changing, though! Youth with visual or hearing disabilities can now access free video-on-demand educational children's programs such as "Magic School Bus," "Bill Nye the Science Guy," and "Ocean Mysteries." Check it out 

Featured Youth Artist 
Brooke Ziegler, Wichita


Abstract painting on a canvas with layers of teal, orange, pink, white, and purple paint. Some of the paint is very thick and textured and has been places on the canvas in jagged lines or splotches.
Abstract painting on a canvas with a yellow and gray background. Different colors of paint, like blue, pink, and teal have been splattered across the canvas in random lines, some up and down, some across.
Facebook logo, a blue square with a white lowercase Check Us Out on Facebook!
Keep up to date on the latest KYEA happenings, help us connect with you, and meet other youth with disabilities around the state!


Be on the lookout for our June issue focused on summer fun!

KYEA Updates

Sharing all things new in our KYEA world...


KYEA Launches New Leadership Program, Faces of Change!   

Faces of Change logo with male and female head outlines on top of a globe KYEA is excited to announce our newest program, Faces of Change! Faces of Change (Faces) is targeted towards youth ages 16-22 looking to further develop their already existing leadership skills. This program utilizes community service learning as a way to teach leadership. All participants will have the opportunity to create and implement a Community Change Project. For the Change Project, participants will get to decide an area in which they want to see change in their own community, create a plan for change, and implement it with the support of Faces participants and volunteers. The program will last for seven months, and the participants will have monthly weekend meetings in Topeka. As always, with KYEA, this program is absolutely FREE to all participants! Applications can be found at Have questions? Call or email the Faces of Change Development Coordinator, Sydney Spyres, at (785) 215-6655 or  



KYEA to Host Weekend Workshop on Employment Success in Parsons  

Now Hiring logo Do you want to get a job and a paycheck someday? Are you not sure that you can work as a young person with disability? Well, we are here to show you that you can! KYEA is partnering with SKIL Resource Center to host a one-day workshop called "Now Hiring." The "Now Hiring" workshop is part of our new Empower Me! Series that takes KYEA across the state to empower youth. Our next stop... Parsons!

The "Now Hiring" workshop will take place on Thursday, June 4 from 10:00 am to 4:00 pm. It will be held at the Parsons Municipal Building in Parsons. This workshop is open to youth with disabilities, ages 15-24, who live in Parsons or nearby towns.

Come and spend a day with KYEA staff and your peers and learn all about how to be successful in employment! Hear from speakers, participate in group discussions, meet other youth with disabilities, and enjoy hands on activities, food, prizes, and more. KYEA will give you the tools to reach your job goals.

This workshop is free. To attend, you must fill out a registration form. Registrations are due by May 18, 2015.

Register today!
"It's My Life!" Workshop in Wichita Prepares Local Youth For Their Future
It's My Life logo with license plate, car, money, newspaper, and house Nineteen youth with disabilities in Wichita are now more aware of what it really takes to be independent and employed. Why? Because they attended our recent Empower Me! Series "It's My Life!" workshop! Our second EMS workshop was a great success and brought 19 more youth into the KYEA family.

KYEA partnered up with the Independent Living Resource Center for this one day workshop, held March 28. Attendees learned all about how to live independently, get a job, and take charge of their lives. They heard from a panel of independent people with disabilities; listened to presentations on housing, Vocational Rehabilitation, transportation, and advocacy; explored their knowledge of independent living; obtained lots of local resources; and even enjoyed some role playing that demonstrated soft skills in everyday life. At the end of the day, participants left with new friends, new resources, and a new sense of empowerment to take charge of their own life.

A big thanks to all of the youth who attended! Also, a huge thanks to the Independent Living Resource Center for partnering with us, hosting us at their location, and to the staff members who helped out at the workshop! Read all about our upcoming workshop above.

KYEA Fundraiser Garage Sale, KEE Equipment Drive Scheduled for May
Sale sign with price tags Are you feeling the urge to clean out your house? Would you like to donate some treasures to KYEA? We will take them! Our annual fundraiser Garage Sale is right around the corner, and we need lots of items. All proceeds from this sale go towards KYEA and helping us to fulfill our mission. So, you get rid of your items AND you help empower youth with disabilities... it's a WIN-WIN! We are gladly accepting sale donations of: decorative items, kitchen ware, used DVDs & CDs, small pieces of furniture, small working appliances, books, blankets, sheets, toys in working condition, etc. Please no clothing or shoes. We will be accepting these items at our Topeka office until Friday, May 22.

Guess what? If you don't have any of these items, you can still help by baking! We are also accepting donations of baked goods to sell. Just bring them by our office on May 28 or 29.

If you enjoy shopping at garage sales, then put May 30 on your calendar! Our fundraiser Garage Sale will be from 9:00 am to 2:00 pm in the KYEA parking lot (517 SW 37th St., Topeka). We will have a wide variety of items for you to browse through.

We are also partnering with the Resource Center for Independent Living to add an addition to the day! RCIL will be holding a Kansas Equipment Exchange (KEE) drive that day. KEE is designed to move medical equipment, such as wheelchairs, scooters, hospital beds, etc., that is not being used, to Kansans who need the devices. The program accepts donated equipment, cleans and repairs it if necessary, and then places that equipment with individuals who need it. To donate equipment that is in good condition, come on out to the KYEA Garage Sale and find the KEE table!

We hope to see you on May 30!
  graduation cap and scroll Congratulations to all of our alumni and volunteers who will be graduating this month. You've worked hard; now celebrate! The future is in your hands!
Check out a Kansas organization that ensures people with disabilities can enjoy the arts too! 

Colorful paint buckets

Mission: To foster creativity and provide educational opportunities for people with disabilities while hosting an inclusive environment for all to ENGAGE, EXPLORE and ENJOY the ARTS.  


Years in Business: Formed in 1988, located within the Kansas School for the Blind in Kansas City


Purpose: Accessible Arts works to ensure that people with disabilities have access to art programs. Their goal is to create an inclusive environment that is "accessible providing all the arts, to all the people, all the time." They have lots of art programs and classes where people can learn from resourceful instructors, as well as have adaptations for people of all abilities.  


Programs and Services:  

Epic Clay Studio- A ceramics studio that has professional instruction, clay, and needed supplies. 

Music Therapy- A program for students with visual disabilities. Uses music and music-related strategies to work on NON-musical goals.  

In School Art Education- Conducted at select schools. Staff design curriculum and provide structured and goal-oriented arts education. 

Shooting Stars- A performing arts program that introduces students to stand up comedy, skits, and plays.

Internships- Art related internships for college students. 


To learn more about this organization, visit the Accessible Arts website. 

Featured Youth Artist 
Jordan Byerly, Topeka 


Painted nails that are yellow with brown spots. The thumb looks like the head of a giraffe.
Nails that are painted teal with silver hearts on them.
~  Movies /Acting  ~ 
Disability in Films and Movies: 
Top 5 Movies That Positively Portray People with Disabilities

by Dallas Hathaway, KYEA Newsletter Writer  

Throughout the past several decades, disabilities have become an integral element within popular films. The following article will highlight the stories of what I feel are the top five movies that positively portray those with disabilities in our recent past. I hope you enjoy!

Gaby movie poster 5. Gaby: A True Story (1987)
This movie is a true story about the life of Gabriela Brimmer. During the first few years of Gabby's life, her doctors describe her as a vegetable. As time went on, one day, her care attendant noticed that she had control over moving her foot. Eventually, she learned to overcome many struggles, some of which included reading and writing. Although this movie was produced in the late 1980's, it is a great example of how individuals can thrive within the community.   

The Kings Speech movie poster 4. The King's Speech (2010)
In 2010, Hollywood released a historical drama dealing with a subject which is often overlooked in our society- speech disabilities. In the movie, Prince Albert quickly learns that he will become the next King of England. However, the prince struggles with a speech disability and has difficulty speaking in front of large crowds. His wife wanted him to be able to address the people eloquently, and hired a speech therapist to assist him. After developing a close bond, Albert and his therapist discover the secret to his success. Not only is this movie a great symbol of overcoming your fears, but it is also another example of how people with disabilities can be leaders in society.

What's Eating Gilbert Grape movie poster 3. What's Eating Gilbert Grape (1993)
Johnny Depp and Leonardo DeCaprio used this movie as a launch pad for their amazing acting careers. Gilbert is the older brother of Arnie, who lives with a intellectual disability. The two boys live with their mother who struggles to leave the house because of her obesity. Throughout the film, Gilbert is forced to provide for his family, while ensuring that his brother Arnie stays out of trouble. The highlight of this film, in my opinion, is perseverance. Gilbert sometimes faced difficult situations, but he never stopped protecting his younger brother.

Temple Grandin movie poster 2. Temple Grandin (2010)
This is the perfect movie for any animal lover. Young Temple grew up near her aunt who owned a farm. She quickly learned that she was very passionate about the well being of animals. Temple lived life with autism, and often struggled with everyday human interaction. As the film progressed, Temple showed everyone that the impossible is definitely possible. Eventually, she was honored as a valedictorian at her university. Although Temple was quiet, she demonstrated how anyone can overcome challenges and fulfill their dreams.

Forrest Gump movie poster 1. Forrest Gump (1994)
Forrest Gump grew up in the state of Alabama. Often times, he was ridiculed because of the way he interacted with others, and because of his physical disability. Shortly after the start of the film, viewers meet Forrest's mother who is his biggest ally. Despite all of his struggles, Forrest manages to overcome every obstacle standing in his way. After becoming a college graduate, Forrest is an influential element in the Vietnam War. In the end, Forrest became one of the most famous movies of the 1990's. He showcased how a person with a disability can take the lead on each opportunity presented in life.
Featured Youth Artist 
JennyLu Unrein, Topeka


Very colorful drawing of a girl's head and face. This girl has lots of hair that spreads out behind her and each strand of the hair is a different color. Her hair and neck are both a rainbow of colors.
Colorful drawing of a girly cow that is shades of purple and is wearing a pink tutu skirt, necklace, and hair bow. The cow is standing in a green grassy field with pink and red flowers. Above the cow, a bird is flying by with a banner that says, Darla the Diva.
To view more of JennyLu's work, visit

Famous Artists with Disabilities 
Actors and Singers Who Are Part of Our Disability Family

by Jordan Byerly, ICON Intern 
Famous people can have disabilities too. You have probably seen the people listed below on your tv or maybe bought their CD, but did you know that they have a disability? Whether they openly talk about it or not, one thing is for sure... these artists show that having a disability doesn't have to stop you from being a superstar!

Adam Levine1. Demi Levato- Bipolar Disability 
2. Adam Levine- Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disability
3. Sean Berdy- Deaf
4. Dorian Gregory- Juvenile Diabetes
5. Jamie Grace- Tourette Syndrome, ADHD, Obsessive Compulsive Disability, Anxiety Justin Timberlake
6. Justin Timberlake- Obsessive Compulsive Disability, Attention Deficit Disability
7. Mary Tyler Moore- Diabetes
8. Jamie Brewer- Down Syndrome
9. Justin Bieber- Obsessive Compulsive Disability
10. Katie Leclerc- Deaf
11. Russell Harvard- Deaf
12. Michael J. Fox- Parkinson's Lauren Potter
13. R.J. Mitte- Cerebral Palsy 
14. Lauren Potter- Down Syndrome
15. Teal Sherer- Paraplegic
16. Channing Tatum- Learning Disability
17. Stephen Hawking- Lou Gehrig's
People with disabilities do the same things as those without! 
Watch this awesome video, made by youth in South Carolina, to see how we really are all "the Same." 
YouTube screen shot of Effy Francis as she sits in her kitchen and is interviewed
Thanks for reading our newsletter this month! Learn more about KYEA, and consider donating, by going to our website at!

Let us know what you think about our newsletter! If there is anything that we can do to make our newsletter more accessible to you, please call us at 785-215-6655 so we can make the change for next time.

Carrie Greenwood
Kansas Youth Empowerment Academy