Oct 13, 2020

Living a full life

A man wears a red shirt and an American flag bandana. He is smiling and has facial hair and glasses. He uses a wheelchair and has cerebral palsy
A man with cerebral palsy smiles. He is wearing a blue shirt and a tan hat
Years ago, a teacher told Matt Mason’s parents they should keep him home and enjoy that time because he wouldn’t amount to anything in life. “I wish I could go back to that teacher and say, ‘look at me now,’ because I absolutely proved her wrong,” he said.

Mason, 39, has cerebral palsy and has a full life. He has a bachelor’s degree in psychology, volunteers with his church, and lives independently. He credits the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which turned 30 this year, with opening doors and opportunities in his life.

He was in elementary school when the landmark civil rights law took effect and noticed almost an immediate difference. “Before the ADA, at my school, you were put in separate classes, no matter what your disability was,” he said. “After it was signed, I was the first person in my district to be put in mainstream classes. That was way different but I got an aide to help and I felt a lot more included in my classroom.”

Mason also helped increase acceptance for himself and other students with disabilities when he joined his mom for “Everybody Counts,” a program that helps teach elementary school children about physical and intellectual disabilities. “It was really neat because the students had a lot of interesting questions,” he said. “Kids are curious, and they were more likely to ask about my experience. I could talk to them on their level and make it not rude to ask questions.”

As he grew older, Mason developed an interest in psychology and decided to pursue his passion at Wright State University. College was a learning curve for him – not only getting around campus but also finding his voice to speak up and advocate for himself. One time, he recalls with a laugh, he was stuck in an elevator because he forgot to ask a fellow student to also push the buttons on the inside of the elevator. Luckily, he was able to yell for help and get out of that situation.

“I grew up really fast because I was used to my parents doing physical tasks for me, and I had to learn to ask other students for assistance,” he said.

At Wright State, he lived on campus, enjoyed attending his classes, and made friends, many of whom he is still close with today.

“Matt has such a positive outlook on life. He’s patient and he looks toward the future,” said Jennifer Morris, who has been his HCDDS service and support administrator since 2013. “He’s passionate about his interests and that carries through to different aspects of his life. He doesn’t see his disability as limiting—whatever obstacles needed to be overcome, he found a way. He didn’t become disillusioned and it didn’t deter him.”

Mason also loves music and helps run the soundboard at the Vineyard church, a gig he landed after talking to one of the pastors after a service. He uses an iPad connected to the sound equipment to operate the controls.

Sometimes he thinks about what his life would be like if the Americans with Disabilities Act didn’t exist. “I would probably still be at home, wouldn’t have graduated college, and would not be as social as I am,” Mason said. “Basically, the ADA made my life what it is and encouraged me to speak up when I need adaptations.”
    
  
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