STRAIGHT TALK: My Life. My Advocacy.
By Kurt Vogel
My name is Kurt Vogel, I’m a student at Georgia Tech’s Expanding Career, Education and Leadership Opportunities (Excel) Program, a program for students with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD). Through Excel, I am a research assistant at Georgia Tech’s Center for Assistive Technology and Environmental Access (CATEA), which has helped me realize that I want to combine computer technology with helping people. I am also a trainee in the Georgia Leadership and Education in Neurodevelopmental Disabilities (GaLEND) Program.
This spring, I was invited to testify before the Georgia Legislature on two policy issues.
First, I testified at the Judiciary Committee for House Bill 343, advocating that the word “retarded” be removed from all legislation because it is not a very respectful word to describe people with I/DD. I explained that hearing the word “retarded” used about me, or someone with a disability, is personally insulting. Using the words “intellectual disability” or “developmental disability” is descriptive and connotes respect. I greatly encouraged the legislators to discontinue the use of the word and to bring Georgia in line with the language used by the federal government.
I then presented to advocates at GCDD’s Employment Advocacy Day on the importance of hiring people with disabilities. I shared my belief that people with disabilities want the same opportunities to have a job as people who do not. A study from the Job Accommodation Network showed that the benefits to employers who hire people with disabilities far outweigh the cost of accommodations.
Specifically, I stated, “I want you to see me as a gifted and capable employee. I have a passion for using computers and other technology to help me, and others with disabilities, get the kind of opportunities we deserve. I understand what it means to be labeled with a disability. It often means that people expect less of me. I want to encourage everyone who hears me today to have high expectations of me, and others with disabilities, because helping us achieve the self-determined life we want begins with all of us having high expectations of each other. I want to work together with people without disabilities because sometimes the best is brought out in people when they work together toward a common goal.”
I had never given much thought before to being a disability advocate. But having a disability myself has helped me realize the strength of my voice and that sometimes the most long-lasting progress is not made by taking quick, huge steps, but by taking gradual steps over time.
Having a disability wasn’t a choice and I will have it for the rest of my life and I want to be thankful for the opportunities it has opened for me.
So I want to leave you with one question:
Instead of seeing a disability as something that someone has or doesn’t have, can’t we start seeing disability as an ability that not many people have the opportunity to experience?
Kurt Vogel attends Georgia Tech’s Expanding Career, Education and Leadership Opportunities (Excel) Program. He is a research assistant at the school's Center for Assistive Technology and Environmental Access (CATEA) and a trainee in the Georgia Leadership and Education in Neurodevelopmental Disabilities (GaLEND) Program. Contact Kurt at