Tennessee Kindred Stories of Disability

A collection of stories from individuals with disabilities, families, friends, and disability service providers in Tennessee



Justin (19), Intellectual Disability, Williamson County


"People started knowing that I had initiative and worked hard. I stood up for myself and let them know the real me. "

  • A Self-advocate's Perspective
  • Posted on 8/01/2013

My name is Justin. I was born in Greenville, SC. When I was really young we moved to Nashville. I spent most of my schooling here in Tennessee. I’ve always felt like I’ve had a difficult time in life. I’ve lost a lot of family members. When I was a year old, my mom’s father died. I never got to know my granddad. A couple months ago I lost a cousin in a car accident. It’s hard for me to think when I’ve got family members who are still grieving. I hope that I’m able to look past everything and notice how much I’ve done and how much I’ve accomplished. It’s a good chance for me to look at how much harder I need to work.

Middle school wasn’t necessarily challenging because my teachers were there for me. I had a lot of guidance from people. I had great teachers in high school as well. But it was a lot tougher. After a certain time, my TA stopped coming and I would have to dictate my own notes. I had to do a lot more on my own. All of the homework had to get completed independently.

Socially, middle school and high school were tough for me. I was by myself and alone. I had a lot of homework. People picked on me a lot, called me names, and I had to learn to still be myself. I had to learn how to fit in and not change who I was. Before long though, the school respected me. People started knowing that I had initiative and worked hard. I stood up for myself and let them know the real me.

I had a learning lab in high school where I got to sit down and be quiet so I could get my work done. That was really awesome. During high school I was also a part of the athletics club. They helped me to understand what teamwork is all about. That’s when I thought that I wanted to follow a job in athletics. Sports are what I want to be a part of.

It took me through middle school and high school to realize that college was something I really wanted to achieve. I really wanted to be a part of it. It was a dream of mine to come to college and be a part of a team.

I found out about Next Steps at Vanderbilt on the Internet. I had been looking at different college programs. I ran into Vanderbilt and immediately felt like this was the program for me. I really wanted to go to college to learn a lot so that I was able to get a good job. I felt that Next Steps was the program to help me learn the things I needed to know. I wanted to live on my own. And Next Steps helped me learn how to live independently.

My disability affects getting my work done. It’s hard for me to be punctual, to be prompt, to prioritize, and time manage. Next Steps has really helped me out with my assignments. I’ve been able to crack down on my work and get it in on time. If I’m late, the class is going to carry on. I’ve learned the consequences to my actions.

When I came here to Vanderbilt, I was able to use my experiences from high school. I don’t have as much guidance here, but I know how to take my own notes. I knew that I needed to be quiet and by myself to get work done. And I’ve been able to follow my dream of working with sports. I have worked with Health Plus which works with health and wellness for Vanderbilt staff. I hope that I will be able to work with Vanderbilt Football team during my time here.

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