August 10, 2011 Featured Emerging Leader
Transition and Employment Projects

One of the goals of the Rural Institute Transition and Employment Projects is to expand the vision of what is possible for youth and young adults with developmental disabilities to learn, live, work and play in their communities. We have been capturing stories of Montanans under age 34 who have a developmental disability according to the Montana definition and who have creatively organized their supports to:


  • Live in the community (on their own or with family or friends) and/or
  • Work in the community (including owning their own business) and/or
  • Access inclusive education (high school, college, community classes) and/or
  • Participate in recreation and leisure activities that are inclusive (that is, alongside people without disabilities)

Each month or so, we share one of these stories with Listserv members. You may also read about Montana's Emerging Leaders in our Featured EL Archives, 2009 EL Showcase [PDF] and 2010 EL Showcase [PDF]. To nominate yourself or someone else as an Emerging Leader, visit the Rural Institute Transition and Employment Projects web site.

Isaac speaking at Denver conferenceIsaac - Written by Isaac Baldry, MT-TIRC Advisory Board member and Emerging Leader


Hello, my name is Isaac Baldry.     I live in Miles City.   I graduated from Custer County District High School in May of 2010. This is how I usually start my speeches, by introducing myself, so I thought I would start my article the same way.  I was asked to write about what makes me an Emerging Leader.  So that means I get to tell you about two of my favorite activities.  I work as a public speaker and my favorite hobby is gardening. Being a speaker is scary enough for some people, but I speak differently than most.   You can't tell when I am writing but if you were listening to me speak you would hear that I use assistive technology to communicate.  I am labeled as non-verbal but that does not keep me from communicating. The first time I was asked to speak in public was for Special Olympics. I was to say the Special Olympic oath but I added a little more and my speech was about two minutes.   As soon as I finished, I turned my chair and ran away. When I stopped and turned around, I realized everyone was standing and clapping for me.   It was then I knew I could do this. I was proud of myself.  That was five years ago.  I still get nervous, but I have a lot more confidence because I am a speaker.    

I have been fortunate enough to get two jobs speaking this spring. Although I have spoken in front of large groups before, I usually did not get paid very much.  Nikki Sandve from the Office of Public Instruction spoke to me about presenting at CEC, the Council for Exceptional Children conference, again this year like I had done last year.   I told her I did not like presenting at CEC because I did not get paid last year as a presenter. Every year CEC likes to have a young person come and speak about their experiences in special education.  I was lucky that Roger Holt from PLUK, Parents Let's Unite for Kids, suggested me for that speaker.  Nancy Marks called me to ask if I would be interested. She spoke with mom and I on the phone to see if we would be interested in doing a keynote presentation together. I told her I would think about it, and then emailed her a couple days later; this was the beginning of January. We started emailing back and forth to work out what I was going to do.  I wanted to know if I was going to be paid as a keynote speaker.  She emailed back that they would pay me...what were my fees? I had never done that or been asked what I charged.  I emailed Roger for suggestions. He helped me come up with a fee to charge, $200. And we talked about that I would need them to cover my expenses: travel, lodging and food for me and my assistant.   This is where I moved mom out of the speech and into the role of my assistant. 


CEC agreed to all my fees. I thought I was going to have to negotiate.   Next we worked on what I would speak about.  The theme was tools, and they wanted me to talk about my successes in school.  Roger and I decided to film my presentation so we could show it to people who were not able to be there but wanted to see my speech. It was a really big room of people, around 500 people they told me after I got on stage.  I was scared up there by myself with everyone's eyes looking at me.  I decided to just start talking and get it over with. Everyone was eating lunch, but it got really quiet in the room when I got into my speech.  People listened to what I had to say. When I was all done they gave me a standing ovation. I wanted to get off the stage, but the camera Roger had set next to me was blocking the ramp.  Right away people started asking Roger if they could have a copy of what he had recorded to show others.  That evening by dinner, Roger sent me a link to where he had uploaded my speech to the PLUK YouTube.  I wanted to show my grandma who couldn't come earlier.  We watched it together. I just thought Grandma was going to see it.  Roger explained anyone could view it from YouTube, and asked me if that would be okay.  I was kind of excited to be on YouTube and emailed the link to a few other people.  So far 226 people have viewed my video. 


Some of the people who viewed the video are from the PEAK parent center in Colorado where I had gone a couple years ago to speak about the technology I use.  Within a couple days, they were calling to see if I would do a keynote at the Region 5 PTAC (Parent Technical Assistance Center) Conference in Denver in June.  I told them I had just started doing keynote presentations, and would need help figuring out how to do this out of state. They asked what I had charged at CEC and what arrangements I would need.  They wanted me to speak for an hour so they doubled my fee to $400.  They took care of my hotel and arranged for me to fly there and back.  They told me to keep track of my other expenses, and I could turn them in to be paid after the conference.


It was a short flight to Denver and I was excited to fly again. Pride Mobility who makes my wheelchair helped my mom arrange for a power chair to use in Denver. That way I could travel with my push chair, and nothing would happen to the chair I use every day.  My presentation did not go as I had planned.  I brought my ECO, my computer, and the iPad with communication apps.  I was going to use all of them in my presentation and demonstrate my technology.   I called my speech "I Want to be Heard" because I was going to focus on communication. Everything set up fine and worked for the sound test.  I started my speech on my ECO like I usually do. Within a couple sentences, I noticed it was not speaking correctly. It was skipping words.  Roger filled in while my assistant (mom) and I tried to fix my ECO.  I started my speech again.  Pretty soon it was skipping the last word, and mom would have to fill in the blank.  Then it started skipping whole sentences.  I had to go to Plan B...good thing I always have a Plan B.  I had to do all of my speech on my computer with WYNN.  (Roger recorded that speech and also all the problems that day.  He put it up on the PLUK YouTube.  Only 15 people have seen that video but it is really long at 52 minutes.  It took me two times to watch the whole thing.) As soon as I finished speaking, four people came up and asked if I would be available for their conferences.   Now I will have to follow up with them, and maybe will have a few more jobs:  two in Denver, one in October 2011 and one in February 2012;  one in Fargo, North Dakota in April of 2012; and one in Spearfish, South Dakota in June of 2012.  Bronwen from PEAK who had helped me with arrangements told me I will have to start charging more and asking for a bigger motel suite. 

Now it is summer and I get to spend time outside with my gardens.  I started gardening a couple years ago.  In high school biology we grew plants as one of our projects.  Watering all the plants daily was a job of mine.  At the end of the school year I wanted to bring my plants home.  We purchased a horse feeder bunk for me to use as my first garden.  It was high enough I could reach into it and have my legs underneath.  I wanted more garden space.  I found on the internet how to build raised garden beds.  I convinced my mom to let me build garden beds along the sidewalks.  Lucky for me we live on a corner so I have long sidewalks.  Now I needed help building.  I went to the lumber store and ordered what I needed.  Good thing they deliver.  I paid my older brother to construct the beds.   Now I needed dirt.  We called around and asked where we could get a truck load of dirt.   Muggli's Construction came and dumped a whole load on the corner.  No charge, just wanted to help me with my project.  We had a mountain of dirt but tired backs from building the gardens.  Neighbors saw us trying to move all that dirt and jumped in to help.  In about two hours we had filled four gardens: two 8'x4'x2', one 9x9'x1' and one 9'x9'x2'.   The next year I got my brother to build me to more 4'x8' beds.  I grow mostly vegetables, but no broccoli or zucchini.  Last year I tried eggplant and celery; that worked out well.  This year I am trying a blueberry bush.  So far this year I have eaten strawberries, peas, and potatoes from my garden.  I have a ton of lettuce but I can't eat salads. Mom and anyone else can have lettuce.  Writing about my gardens makes me want to go outside.  I think I better go check my plants.

Isaac working in his lettuce bed



Kim Brown
MT Transition Listserv


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This publication was produced by the University of Montana's Rural Institute Transition and Employment Projects, which is funded in part under a contract with the Montana Council on Developmental Disabilities. The representations, if any, contained herein do not necessarily reflect the opinion of the Council.