Disabled 17-year-old looks beyond his limitations

Justin Klein-Edgerton

Courtesy Of the state Employment Development Department

During the last week of July, 55 disabled students from all over the state attended a youth forum held in the capital city. Among them was Butte County delegate Justin Klein-Edgerton. The 17-year-old from Oroville, who is starting his senior year at Durham High this fall, says the 17th annual Youth Leadership Forum for Students with Disabilities was one of the best parts of his summer. The leadership forum helps youths cope with their disabilities and teaches them how to reach their full potential. Justin, who has cerebral palsy and is hard of hearing, found this phone interview to be his first chance to try a new technology that would allow him to speak in his own voice. Using a video phone, an interpreter signed the questions to Justin and he answered himself instead of having the interpreter speak to the other person on the line. With confident, well-understood speech, Justin described his experience.

Tell me about your time at the forum.

Well, we learned about personal leadership and played lots of activities. We shared our experiences and feelings. We discovered things about our disabilities, and we learned how to deal with it.

What was the highlight of the week?

The best part was when we met the leaders with disabilities. We went to a convention center and had lunch. We sat at tables, and the leaders shared their experience. There was one who used to be a doctor at UC Davis until he went to work at a hospital in Sacramento. Another one is a teacher. They talked about their experiences being disabled and why they chose their jobs.

Are you often around other people with disabilities? How did it feel to interact with so many other students with disabilities?

I was worried at first. Before I came to YLF I didn’t know anyone like me except a friend I met at school. But there were so many who feel the same way as me, and I learned about them and we got to hang out.

What is one of the most important things you took away from this experience?

I learned about the history behind everyone’s disabilities and where we came from and all the history that I never learned about before.

Has learning about this history made it easier for you to cope with your disability?

I feel different but almost kind of the same. I’ve been hard of hearing my entire life. Now it’s easier, and I’m more confident in myself. I’m glad I went to YLF.

Is there anything I didn’t ask that you’d like to mention?

It doesn’t matter if you’re disabled or not. We all have limits in our lives. But that doesn’t mean we can’t do things we want. We can. We can make goals and achieve them and overcome anything.