by Tyler Greene, First Cong’l UCC, Waterloo

Hi… I’m Tyler.

Last year, I was privileged to receive the National Disabilities Ministries Award at our UCC General Synod in Hartford. What an awesome trip that was! The worship service with about 10,000 people was just breathtaking. I wanted to tell everyone about it, but I didn’t have the words to describe it.

I received the award because of my passion for spreading the message of Ability Awareness. (And I’m going to take this opportunity to exercise that passion right now.) Ability Awareness is simply the skill of recognizing that what a person, any person, CAN do is much more important than what he/she can’t do. That simple concept has been used mostly by people interacting with students who have disabilities of some kind or another, but it really applies to anyone… because we ALL have abilities, don’t we?

Ability Awareness is being communicated mainly through a short DVD I created, with a lot of volunteer help, as part of my Eagle Project for Boy Scouts. Originally, it was to go to the 365 school districts in Iowa to be used for training teachers and administrators.

But before I could get them delivered, something strange and wonderful happened. God put his finger right in the middle of my project, and it went places I never imagined. I started to get DVD requests through my website from all over the country. In six months the DVD was being used in all 50 states and in a year it was also in 18 countries and territories. Wow! God had a job for me alright!

It has been two years since the DVD was made, and I have had requests for over 5,500 DVDs. They are being used by colleges and universities as part of their regular curriculum… and they are being used by schools, businesses, youth organizations, non-profit organizations, service providers, and on and on for orientation training, workshops, classes, and conferences. It’s unbelievable… and wonderful!

In that time, I have learned that the world seems to be ready to hear about Ability Awareness. There are so many incredible people out there who really care about others, aren’t there? I have been asked to speak at trainings, workshops, and conferences from Boston to Missouri. I must admit it’s somewhat intimidating standing on stage in front of several hundred teachers, but the response to Ability Awareness has always been very positive wherever I go.

This summer one of my opportunities was to go to Washington DC. My Congressional representative, Bruce Braley, and Iowa Senator Tom Harkin invited Congress to see my DVD, listen to me say a few words about Ability Awareness, and then ask questions. Katy Beh Neas, a VP of Easter Seals, hosted the reception which was a celebration of the 18th birthday of the ADA and also the opportunity for me to showcase Ability Awareness. Besides members of Congress, many organizations were there who have offices in Washington DC. It was an awesome day, a great audience, and a great place to spread the message.

There have been a few organizations besides our UCC that have honored my mission and recognized the importance of Ability Awareness. The Iowa Chapter of CASE (Council for the Administrators of Special Education) awarded me the first annual “Tyler Student Achievement Award” and scholarship, a namesake scholarship award now given annually to a student. I was really touched by their gesture and generosity. My efforts in Ability Awareness and Self-Advocacy were also recognized by the National CEC (Council for Exceptional Children) at its annual conference in Boston. Twenty-eight “Yes, I Can” awards were given to recipients from around the world. Senator Ted Kennedy received a “Yes, I Can” award that day, too. It was very exciting to be sitting on the same stage with him. And I received a congratulatory letter and signed book from him. That was way cool! It’s been great to have those special opportunities to spread the message of Ability Awareness.

My mission has opened doors for me and given me opportunities to serve in other ways. I was asked to be the first student member of the Iowa Special Education Advisory panel, which I’ve done gladly for the last two years. Getting into the legislation and budgets of education was a real eye-opener for me.

I still serve, also, on the KASA (Kids As Self Advocates) National Task Force. There are eight of us from around the country that meet via conference call monthly to discuss issues related to disability rights and advocacy.

I’m also on the YMCA ‘Together We Play’ Advisory Board to help promote community programs that welcome everyone and are prepared to serve everyone TOGETHER. That’s really important! And I now am also a member of the Community Partnership Advisory Council that assists in the programming of medical and therapy services offered to people with disabilities and their families in Iowa. I’ve met so many awesome people in these groups!

This two-year journey is just the beginning and it has been incredible! I was a junior in high school when it all began, and now I’m in my first year of college. So marching band, theatre, karate, and Scouts are behind me for the time being while I immerse myself in new college activities. It’s hard! It’s been a tough transition for me, but I love it! And once again, I’ve found that there are lots of awesome people who care. Isn’t that why we are all here … to care for each other? I think so.

The people who really know me and care don’t see the wheelchair, the cerebral palsy, the obsessive-compulsive disorder, or my other challenges. They see me … Tyler. They see what I CAN do, not what I can’t. They practice Ability Awareness, whether they realize it or not.

They’re the ones that inspired my Eagle Scout project, the short training DVD called “I’m Tyler … don’t be surprised”. It’s the beginning of what I hope will be a long journey. And it was a project originally funded by my church family at First Congregational Church UCC in Waterloo, Iowa. I guess lots of life journeys begin at church, don’t they? Mine did.

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