Advice from a Transition Network graduate
When Sam Robinson moved from Salem to Madras in 2016, he was surprised to find fewer options and services for independent living in Jefferson County. He’d recently graduated from the Salem-Keizer Transition Program, and was proud of the skills he’d learned. Robinson’s family moved to Madras to help care for his grandfather and Sam enjoys living near his father, uncle, and grandfather. But he soon learned that the support services, the public transportation, and the social opportunities were not at the same level as in Salem.
Instead of simply accepting the situation, Robinson has stepped up as a disability advocate, for himself and for others in the community. He’s tackled issues in transportation and social club activities, and has drawn attention to the lack of services throughout Jefferson County for people with disabilities.
“I’ve learned a lot about how to be independent, and how to communicate as an advocate,” said Robinson. When asked what advice he might have for Transition Network students who are following in his footsteps, Robinson had five lessons to share.
Lesson #1: Communicate, communicate, communicate!
Whether it’s a phone call, an email, or a simple conversation, communication is the key to self-advocacy, according to Robinson. After leaving Salem, he reached out to people he already knew, and they helped connect him to a new network in Madras. The more people he talked to, the more he built his community.
When Robinson sees a problem that needs improvement, he gets involved. “I ask a lot of questions, “ he said. “Participating on committees is hard work. You may be asked questions you are not ready to answer. It’s all about trying to find ways to improve a situation.”
Robinson hopes to be sharing helpful information online, as well. He’s working on creating a website to help connect the advocacy community in Jefferson County. Through the website, he plans to raise awareness of the resources that are available, and communicate the need for the resources that are missing.
Lesson #2: Make friends inside and outside the disability network
Communication is important for advocacy, but Robinson also sees it as the key to forming relationships. “If you can communicate in any way, then you can make friends,” he said.
One of the projects Robinson took on in Madras was to revive a social club for people with disabilities. The previous organizers had retired, and the club had faded away. Robinson began organizing some events, and getting others on board to help. Now, the club hosts game nights, casual get-togethers, and even a dance party. About a dozen people attend each month.
Outside of the social club, Robinson sees value in having a variety of friends, from all the different parts of his life. “My friends from high school and from church are the ones who push me forward. They like to see me do new things and go new places,” he said.
Lesson #3: Get to know the transportation system
“When I was part of the Transition Program in Salem, I learned how to use public transportation, and that gave me a lot of independence,” said Robinson. Learning to use the bus system was a personal goal, outside of the Transition Network program. Last year, Robinson traveled by bus to Utah with a friend. That trip gave him a lot of appreciation for the regional bus system, which allowed him to visit new areas.
In Madras, the Dial-a-Ride system helps people get around town, but regional transportation is limited. Robinson is hoping to change that. He participated in a Jefferson County advisory committee on transportation needs, giving important feedback on the transportation needs of people with disabilities. The committee’s work goes to the Statewide Transportation Improvement Program, to help plan transportation projects across Oregon.
Lesson #4: Recognize your challenges, and learn where you’ll need help
“You have to know yourself, because you can’t work around your disability until you really understand it,” said Robinson.
Robinson explained that he didn’t really understand his own challenges until his late teen years. Once he recognized the things that were more difficult for him due to his disability, he knew what questions to ask and what services to look for in his new hometown.
To find answers to those questions, he turned to Full Access High Desert. Their Advisory Committee was able to help him with information about employment, transportation, and other support services. This was one of the first steps in building his support network in a new town.
Robinson had one last piece of advice for anyone advocating for change: don’t give up on your dreams!
He explained, “I’ve observed many people who have dreams, but they don’t fully follow them. They don’t communicate what they want to see happen. Sometimes there are things we can’t do, and some things are harder to do. But when there is something you really want, you can learn to get around the challenges. Don’t give up if you really want it.”
— By Suzanne Johnson