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Success Stories >> Jonathan Herring’s Story

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Jonathan Herring is active in the community and focuses on helping others, especially youth with disabilities. He lost his sight at age fourteen due to a brain tumor. Jonathan worked hard to regain the skills and self-reliance to return to DC public schools and earn his diploma.

Health and Disability

I had a normal life until I went into the hospital on my fourteenth birthday and learned I had a brain tumor. I had just started high school. Operations in 1998 and 2000 completely removed the brain tumor, but I've been blind since then. I also had some health scares from allergic reactions to medicines, so I am grateful to still be here. I'm also proud of recovering from diabetes by sticking to the right diet.

Schooling

When I got sick, I was out of school from the third week of the school year until February. When I got back, I found everything was different. People didn't treat me the same because I was disabled. I was told to sit at the back of the class. It was rough. My mom went down to DCPS and got in touch with a lawyer, and they helped me get the assistive technology that I needed. When it came time to graduate, they told me I didn't have enough credits, and they said I had to repeat some classes. I was sent to the Maryland School for the Blind in Baltimore. I had to learn mobility skills, walking with a cane, Braille and things like that—kind of get reacquainted with life in a different manner. Braille was like learning a different language until I got it down. And I also learned to use technology such as JAWS and MAGic. Still, that wasn't an a great experience for me. I couldn't go to my church because of the transportation schedule. It was better when I was able to change the pickup to Mondays, even though I had to get up at 4 a.m. I stayed during the week, and they tried to teach us living skills like cleaning and washing clothes. I knew most of those things, and I wasn't being challenged. I felt I was in an awkward position. Everybody was on a slower pace there than I was and I got stressed out, so I decided I would come back to the DC Public Schools and get my high school diploma. They told me I needed only five credits to graduate, so I earned them and got my diploma in 2005.

Accomplishments

The thing I am proudest of is a poem I wrote after getting sick in 1998, which I got to read to President Bush and a group of people at the White House in 2001.

Advocacy

My mother was an advocate for me when I was younger. She was my greatest supporter, but I have learned to advocate for myself. Since high school I have been helping children with disabilities access the system get what they need while they're in school. I'm advocating on their behalf because it was hard for me. I want it to be a little easier on them. I've also helped several people at Maryland School for the Blind come back to DC schools and get their diploma. I make a lot of phone calls and help people find resources such as daycare. I've helped people get grants for assistive technology, which can be expensive. I recently wrote a paper for a grant to continue my work helping people get assistive technology and related training. I wanted to make a computer trouble-shooting service more accessible to those with disabilities. I didn't get the main grant, but they did give me a cash award. Before the year is out, I'd like to start an advocacy committee that would deal with local legislative issues so that teens and young adults could learn to advocate for themselves with the DC City Council. I'm looking for a place where we could meet. I have a core of half a dozen who are interested, but we would like to have several times that many people. Everyone considers me an advocate, but I just love to help people.

I'm not employed right now because of recent health problems, but I am seeking a job. I have also thought about going to college for training in special education.

Leadership

I love elections and work the polls every year. I am on several boards in the disabled community, including Georgetown University's Community Advisory Council, the Parent Advocate Leaders, and the Male Caregivers Advocacy Support Group. I'm the Chaplain of the Development Corporation of Columbia Heights and on the Governance Committee of the National Youth Leadership Network.

Advice

My advice to all young people is to keep on keeping on. There will be stumbling blocks. You have to pick up and do for yourself because others won't do it for you. I always say, "I don't let my disability handicap me." If you can't speak up for yourself, you have to find someone to be a mouthpiece for you.


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