Teen honored for effort to help disabled

Fisher, 17, recognized for pushing redesign of council chambers

Howard County

October 03, 2003|By Laura Cadiz | Laura Cadiz,SUN STAFF

Nearly two years ago, Jason Fisher wheeled himself to the back edge of the Howard County Council chambers during a budget hearing and told County Executive James N. Robey: "All people should be able to have equal access to voice their opinions in the county."

Then a sophomore at Centennial High School, Fisher was attempting to persuade the county to make the Banneker Room more accessible to people with disabilities. He was unable to reach the room's front speaking well because of stadium seating. The county listened to the concerns of Fisher and others, and the room was redesigned last year.

Fisher's dedication to helping disabled people overcome obstacles was among the qualities that gained him the notice of the county's Commission on Disabilities Issues.

Yesterday morning, the commission gave Fisher - who uses a wheelchair because of cerebral palsy - its Youth Award. Six other awards were given to county agencies and individuals.

The Banneker Room "is a lot better," said Fisher, now a 17-year-old senior. "I helped change it."

Robey told a crowd of about 200 at the awards breakfast at Ten Oaks Ball Room in Clarksville that the county had been making progress to ensure that it created an environment in which people are treated equally.

He pointed to the Banneker Room's redesign and the closed captioning of Gtv, Howard County government's information channel.

"Everyone deserves the right to participate in government, and all these steps are starting to make that possible," he said.

Donna L. Reiff, former chairwoman of the access subcommittee of the Commission on Disability Issues, was one of Fisher's nominators, and said his disability does not get in the way of his success. He is active in the school's National Honor Society and Spanish Honor Society, was named Student of the Month three times and is a Life Scout.

After he graduates from high school, he wants to attend college to pursue a career as a lawyer or a psychologist.

"He has a disability that does limit him," Reiff said. "It makes a lot of everyday activities more difficult, and he needs to take more time, and it takes more energy, and he needs more assistance than a lot of other kids. And despite that, he's just excelled in so many ways, and he does it with good humor and a great personality."

`Typical teen'

Fisher is an editor at Centennial High School's student newspaper, where he writes movie reviews and editorials.

He also is a speaker for the Disability Awareness Program, talking to students at local schools.

"I show them that I'm still a normal person even though I have a disability," he said.

Joyce Lehrer, the county's disabilities services coordinator, said one of the main qualities that makes Fisher stand out is that he is just a "very typical teen - with a disability."

"He wants to do all the same things that everyone else does - he wants to go to the prom, he wants to go to college," she said. "He's an extremely bright kid."

Goal of inclusion

The county has been holding the awards breakfast annually for the past nine years to recognize citizens and organizations that have helped incorporate people with disabilities into the community.

"It's a chance to recognize people who have furthered the goal of full community inclusion ... in everything - jobs, housing," Lehrer said.

The other award recipients are:

Accessibility Award - Program: Howard County Library. The library system recently obtained a collection of American Sign Language resources. The library also expanded programs for the hearing-impaired, such as presentations in ASL for deaf and hearing audiences.

Accessibility Award - Physical: Howard County government. The county was honored for its "tireless efforts in creating physical accessibility in buildings, grounds, sidewalks, roadways, paths, parks and other facilities and structures." Robey and retired County Council Chairwoman Mary C. Lorsung were singled out for their financial support for the Banneker Room's redesign and the closed captioning of Gtv.

Individual Achievement Award: Anne Wade. Wade, of Westminster, recently retired after nearly 20 years as the founder and coordinator of the Disability Awareness Program. She has had a hip replacement and severe arthritis but continues to support groups and people with disabilities.

Employer of the Year: Sunrise Assisted Living. Atholton High School nominated the facility for hiring and supporting students and adults with disabilities. Sunrise trained students to assist the dining room and kitchen staffs.

Ralph Mulloy Advocacy Award: Don Bard. Bard, of Hickory Ridge, founder and executive director of the Lazarus Foundation, worked toward the inclusion of students with disabilities into the technology age by creating a program with Atholton High School staff. Students - including those with Asperger's syndrome, autism and emotional problems - dismantled computers, learned about testing components, installed software and then rebuilt the computers.

Service Provider: Howard Transit, County Transportation System. The commission highlighted the transit system's recent achievements: additional bus shelters, improved accessibility to shelters, purchase of two additional low-floor buses and four Paratransit vehicles, expansion of the Automatic Vehicle Locator system and issuing bus schedules in Braille, audiotape and compact disc formats.

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