Living with a disability symposium draws participants from northern Nevada | RecordCourier.com
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Living with a disability symposium draws participants from northern Nevada

by Merrie Leininger, staff writer

People from Douglas County and surrounding areas living with disabilities found solace and hope from each other Thursday at the third annual Living with a Disability Symposium at the Carson Valley Inn.

Brett Doney of Reno was the keynote speaker. He told the group that with the help of technology and a helper animal, his capuchin monkey, Max, he lives by himself and travels to speaking engagements.

“I work with people who have new injuries and let them know they can still get out and about. After the initial shock wears off, technology enables you to go out and enjoy life,” Doney said.

He said he uses a voice-activated microphone to power his wheelchair, turn on lights, open doors and do many other activities he would never be able to do by himself.

Doney is a C-3 quadriplegic. He said the vertebrae right below his ears was broken 12 years ago, when he was 25.

He can move his head and shrug his shoulders, but has no feeling below his neck.

“The technology wasn’t there. I had to go out and find it. I had to learn to adapt,” Doney said.

About 50 people attended the symposium, coming from Dayton, Carson City and Douglas County. Douglas County School District sponsors the event.

Doney said when he spoke Thursday to the group at the symposium, he saw participants begin to hope that they will be able to live on their own, too.

“Every child here today, their eyes lit up when they saw me and heard me talk about life on my own,” Doney said.

“With my level of injury, they are awestruck that I can do that. It is a shame a lot of this is costly. That’s why we are pushing for Medicaid and Medicare to cover it, because we know it can improve the quality of life for so many people.”

Doney showed a video of him and Max, who was provided eight years ago at no cost through an Boston organization called Helping Hands. Max knows voice commands and can bring Doney anything he motions for with a laser pointer. Max can open the refrigerator and put videotapes in the VCR. Doney said they have a father-son relationship and the video showed Max often hugging Doney.

Trevor Snowden of South Lake Tahoe spoke to the group about his desire to continue to participate in sports, despite the fact he is in a wheelchair.

Snowden participates in 4-wheel mountain bike races and is designing a bike with Jan Karpiel of Karpiel Mountain Bikes in Reno.

Snowden competes all over the country and hopes to make the U.S. Disabled Ski Team this year.

“The moms were happily shocked, I think. They want their kids to go out and do things, but they didn’t know they could still do extreme sports. That’s why we stress safety,” he said.

Parents Shaw and James Lamb of Gardnerville were there for the third year with their son, James Jr., 12.

“We learned about Movers and Doers activities (through the Carson City Recreation Department). They take kids and adults to stuff like movies, bowling and basketball for very little cost. We will probably get James hooked up with bowling. He loves bowling,” James Lamb said.

He said his son enjoys attending the symposium to meet other people with disabilities.

“He’s found a role model in Trevor (Snowden). He thinks he’s the coolest one here. He’s met a lot of kids here he hasn’t seen since preschool,” James Lamb said.

Ryan Smithson, 22, of Washoe Valley, spoke to the group about his work to become a personal trainer, even though he is also in a wheelchair.

“I told them don’t give up on their dream,” Smithson said.

Smithson has completed his certification from the National Federation of Professional Trainers and is looking for a job in a gym.

Colleen Nestroyl of Gardnerville was at the symposium for the second time and took her son, Mike, 11, who has cerebral palsy.

“I got to meet somebody else with a child just like my son. It was really great, because I’ve never met anyone with a child at the same level as Mike,” Nestroyl said.

Kristin Robison is an occupational therapist for the Lyon County School District. She took three children, two whose parents also attended, on their first trip to the symposium.

“They loved it. It’s neat they get to meet other kids and get ideas of what they are capable of. It’s wonderful they get to see other kids all day like them and see other people who care about them,” Robison said.

Paulette Irving and Lori Lillo work with the Douglas County School District and have organized the symposium every year with physical therapist Nora Dunn.

“I feel our outreach is really working,” Irving said. “There are a lot more people from other counties. We are connecting more kids with agencies and activities and disabled programming. Having them sit there, ‘pal-ing’ around and talking about cool, rad things, it’s great to have something like this really happen.”