Meet our Featured Emerging Leader!
Emerging Leaders

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 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)
As we receive them, we share these stories with Transition Email List 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.

Perfection Is Impossible, So Go with It
  By Chris Hayes
Photo of Chris sitting in coffee shop

I'm Chris and I'm writing my own story, so I'm choosing to go off script in terms of the interview questions. My life was affected by a traumatic brain injury. An injury that left me unable to see, speak or move. Over time and with therapy I was able to recover these abilities to a degree, bur still nowhere close to the Chris I once was. My vision has mostly returned, but I track things more slowly. My voice is a constant struggle as my mouth is unable to say the things my brain wants to say. This makes communication very difficult for me, but eventually I can get my point across, just not in the way I want.

Having a keyboard as a means to communicate is very useful for me because it allows me to express myself freely. A keyboard is an instrument that I take full advantage of as I graduated from the University of Montana with a degree in English with a focus on creative writing. A keyboard is also the means by which I am able to write an autobiography, which is currently in the editing phase. 

The most trying part of my disability, though, is movement. I use a wheelchair and have the ability to walk with assistance. My fine motor skills are greatly reduced from what they were, so on my trusty keyboard I do a one-finger hunt-and-peck to type everything. I've learned to be pretty fast with my one finger but it is still very time consuming.

Apart from a keyboard or my wheelchair, the biggest help I get is from my family and close friends. Through their love and support I have been able to live semi -independently for the past four years because they help with the things that are difficult or dangerous for me to do.

Upon completing high school, I needed to test my abilities to live semi-independently, so I took a two-week hugely helpful course on the subject in Missoula. At first I was overwhelmed (typical early onset jitters and such), but by the end, after I figured out a number of helpful tricks to make life easier, I was thinking, "I got this." I learned a considerable amount by being forced to figure out things for myself on the fly. Yes I was monitored and all, but I had to figure out what adaptive material worked for me, because in the end, that is the goal. Especially considering the alternative was relying 100% on family and others. Full disclosure, family and others help with a lot still today, but I live semi-independently which is all-around a good thing. 

A few years after that course, I made the choice to leave home and continue my education in Missoula. At first I was scared and shockingly overwhelmed but slowly I started getting the feeling of "I got this" again and Missoula became home. I had some much needed adaptive gear, but more than that, I had good people who were willing to help. Finding the courage to ask for help with my voice limitations was the biggest support I've learned in all the years since the brain injury. I'm continuing to try and get better at the skill, but it's a slow process. With a positive attitude and acceptance I can get there eventually.

I have learned to just go with it in terms of living on my own with a disability over the past four years of semi-independent living. I can try to plan out everything to ensure things happen as I see them, but with my limitations, there are things that are out of control. I've learned that is impossible to plan life so why even try?  My life is definitely difficult, but made so much easier by just going with it. In the end the big take-away in life is how we live our life; everything else is immaterial if you think about it. So my message to all: don't try to control life, make mistakes, because perfection is impossible, so go with it.

Photo of Chris riding bicycle

This project is funded in whole or in part under a contract with the Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services. The statements herein do not necessarily reflect the opinion of the Department.

Rural Institute Transition and Employment Projects
Like us on Facebook