Advocates with disabilities hope for extra on anniversary of ADA

GRAND RAPIDS, Michigan (WOOD) – Nick VanderWall knows what the colors green and blue look like, but hasn’t seen them in many years. At the age of 12 he lost his sight in a hunting accident in northern Michigan.

“I have probably 140 to 150 pellets left in me,” he said.

At the time he was unfamiliar with the Americans with Disabilities Act, but has since realized how many opportunities it offers him.

“I could go to school and not have to go to special schools or go to a resource room,” he said.

VanderWall earned a degree from Michigan State University which he believed had the best program for people with disabilities, which led to study abroad in Ireland.

It was the very activity that took away his sight that later helped VanderWall see all he could achieve. He was invited to a special youth ranch.

“They gave me the chance to actually hunt, and I shot an eight-point deer. It really opened my eyes that even though I am disabled, if there is a will, there is a way, ”he said.

Patrick Parkes is the Business Development Coordinator at Disability attorneys in Kent County. He also has a personal understanding of the importance of ADA as he relies on a wheelchair.

He has spent his adult life creating change and showing business and government executives how innovation instead of compliance can be a business asset.

“The market for people with disabilities is roughly the size of China. You think about how that expands when you add all family members and caregivers, ”said Parkes.

He is encouraged by all of the conversations that are taking place now about inclusion.

“The challenge for us then is to remind people that disability is part of this conversation. I think the most important part of this conversation is that it is a minority that anyone can join at any time, ”said Parkes.

He pointed out that at least 80% of Americans will have a long- or short-term disability at some point in their life, and that innovative thinking can benefit everyone, not just those with permanent disabilities.

VanderWall has accomplished more in the aftermath of his accident than he ever thought possible, including becoming a husband and father. He has a three-year-old girl with a son on the way in the fall.

“(My daughter) will say, ‘Dad, take care of me! I’m going down the slide! ‘ and things like that … so she gets it, but she doesn’t do it at the same time, ”he said of the time with her at home.

VanderWall is currently interning with Disability Advocates of Kent County but is hoping to find employment.

“I just have to keep moving forward and things will come to me or I’ll open up opportunities,” he said.

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