State, county officials advise parents

Graham Sisson shared his own story with the parents attending the Transition Fair. (Reporter photo/Christine Boatwright)

By CHRISTINE BOATWRIGHT / Staff Writer

ALABASTER – Parents of disabled children attended the Shelby County Transition Fair Feb. 25 to learn about what the county can offer their children, who are on the brink of graduating high school and entering a life beyond education.

The Arc of Shelby County partnered with the Shelby County Board of Education to hold the Transition Fair at the Shelby County Instructional Service Center.

Superintendent Randy Fuller welcomed the parents to the fair.

“This is something very important to our school system,” Fuller said. “We talk about transitions every day, and this is right on time. We embrace your partnership with our school system.”

Karen Driver, a family advocacy and social worker with the Arc of Shelby County, said she encourages advocacy within families with disabled children.

“We’re working on self-determination with these children,” Driver said. “We want them to learn to advocate for themselves. When these children graduate from high school, there’s a gap. The families feel like they’re spinning their wheels, not knowing what to do next. We want to offer the family choices.”

The transition project began with grant money from the Walmart Foundation. The foundation supplied a $3 million grant to The Arc on a national level, and the Arc of Shelby County is the only Arc in Alabama to receive money from the grant, Driver said.

Keynote speaker Graham Sisson, the executive director of the Governor’s Office on Disability, was in a car accident in 1982 and will spend his life in a wheelchair. As a man who relates to those with disabilities, he encouraged parents to advocate for their children.

“What we try to get for people with all disabilities is choice,” Sisson said. “Be proactive; be a diplomat. We all look alike to the general public. We’re all diplomats for each other.”

Sisson reminded the parents this country is a democracy, and in being so, systems change incrementally.

“Some things we’re advocating will take years to change. Don’t be discouraged by a lack of instant results,” Sisson said.

He said expectations for people with disabilities are low, and, as parents, they need to have high, reasonable expectations for their children.

“I don’t have all the answers, but we’re trying to take small steps,” Sisson said. “Everyone can do something; we need everyone to do something.”