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By Liz Grandin,
When instructor Michael Taylor tells a student, "I know what you're going through, but you can do this" he speaks from personal experience. A graduate of the Cerebral Palsy Research Foundation (CPRF) School of Adaptive Computer Training himself, Michael has met each of his own challenges head on and today works to help others to do the same.
"I want to give each student who comes through this school the same support and inspiration that was given to me. I want to see others excel, to overcome the obstacles that have been put before them and to achieve their very best."
The School of Adaptive Computer Training (SACT) began classes in January 2000 with a mission to enhance the computer technical skills and marketabililty of people with special needs. Located in Wichita, Kansas, the school matches the right technology with a person's individual ability to maximize computer technical training. The end goal levels the playing field in the IT market and opens the door of opportunity for careers and life-long independence. So far, the SACT team has seen an 80 percent success rate in career placements among its graduates.
Taylor, whose life was transformed by a disabling illness, is just one of the school's many success stories. Today, he applies what he's learned to help others.
In a paper he wrote to help his classmates understand his journey toward overcoming his disabilities, Taylor wrote: "My personal appearance is an unwilling reflection of true-life circumstances. The image I remember is one of a muscular athletic man with dark hair and green eyes full of spirit, soul and confidence. Through hard work and relentless determination, I believe many of these qualities have returned. It is yet to be realized, but a full comeback may be possible. I will leave what you see in me now as a reality, and what once was and might be again to your imagination."
In December 1994, Taylor became sick and had to leave his job. A viral infection, known as vistibular neuronitis, had severely damaged a nerve in his brain, causing paralysis and severely affected his vision. "It was an extreme illness and it came on very fast," said Taylor, a Wichita native and father of two. "Basically, I had to learn to do almost everything all over again."
After 18 months of intense therapy, and without much hope from doctors that he would be able to walk again, Taylor regained his mobility. From the beginning, he was advised to apply for social security benefits, as reentering the job market didn't appear to be a viable option. A single parent of two young girls, though, Taylor was determined to prove them wrong.
"I never really believed that I wouldn't walk again," recalls Taylor, "and I think that's why I was able to come back, because I couldn't accept it - although it did end my competitive involvement in tennis and baseball."
Before his illness, Taylor was very athletic - both on the job and in his personal life. As a lab technician he worked with crop harvest and spent much of his time on site.
"It wasn't the normal lab tech job where people mix chemicals - it was very physical," said Taylor. "My illness completely ruled out that kind of work."
The extreme dizziness is something Taylor lives with and continues to work around. After many years of rehabilitation therapy, he began searching for a job.
"I wanted to get back and make something of myself," said Taylor. After looking for a job on his own, Taylor sought help at the Independent Living Resource Center. "My story seemed so fantastic that I thought they might not believe me," recalls Taylor. "After confirming my disability, the counselors set in motion the events that allowed me to apply to the SACT."
In March 2000, Taylor was referred for his first interview with the SACT admissions team. During his interview, he told them that he believed he could successfully complete the program.
"I told them I could do it and they believed in me - that's all I needed . . . a chance."
Using zoom text to assist him in class, Taylor exceeded even his own expectations, becoming the first student to acquire each globally recognized certification available through the SACT. He also began assisting as a part-time instructor. Only days away from graduation, he was asked to join the SACT team on a full-time basis.
"I knew as soon as they offered the position that I wanted to do this," said Taylor, who admits that the offer came as a surprise. "I remember sitting in the break room thinking about what was I going to do with these certifications when the director invited me to his office. He offered me the position, and told me to take a couple of days to think about it. The next day I accepted."
Since graduation in June, things have turned around for Taylor and his girls. The SACT has given him an a sense of increased freedom to do more with his family, as well as, "personal and family pride."
Things many parents take for granted are signs of success for the Taylor family: "Simply being able to buy school supplies for my girls really made me feel good."
While reflecting on all that's happened since his illness, Taylor said that the SACT experience has given him "power to open the doors that lead to greater possibilities financially and socially as individuals and as a family unit. Things are getting better and better - it's not all financial, but it sure helps."
Being a SACT graduate has also made him a better instructor and he has learned a great deal from his students.
"Because of the special kinds of students I work with, I have insight that others may not have," said Taylor, who found a new perspective on the challenges both teachers and students face when he took his place at the front of the room.
Probably the most important job he's tackled since becoming a SACT instructor has been getting his students to believe in themselves beginning with the very first day of class. Taylor knows how tough the national certification exams are and said he "doesn't dare take a break in leaning on his students to keep them focused. I was able to teach myself to believe I could do it and now, I have to teach others to believe in themselves, too. When people believe in themselves, they'll succeed."
Certain project costs of the SACT have been underwritten by the Kansas Department of Commerce & Housing, Kansas Community Service Program. Additional funding by the U.S. Department of Education Rehabilitation Services Administration are provided through a more than $1.1 million grant awarded to the Cerebral Palsy Research Foundation of Kansas, Inc. About 74 percent of the PWI funds, about $394,000, are financed by non-federal sources. The SACT of Wichita is accredited through Cowley County Community College.
The CPRF School of Adaptive Computer Training website can be found at: http://www.cprf.org/sact.html
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