My Journey With The Athens County Board Of Developmental Disabilities

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By Andres Munoz
I was adopted from Dallas, Texas and brought to Idaho when I was three and a half years old, after going through a traumatic brain injury at the age of 10 months. The brain injury left me with memory problems, cerebral palsy on the left side of my body, and a lack of depth perception in my right eye. I am fortunate that I still have great verbal skills.
I don’t know much about my birth parents, other than that they were from Mexico. But my adoptive parents always taught me to look at my disability as a good thing. I grew up being treated as equal by my family, and it is important to me not to be “babyfied.”
Growing up, I had a lot of anger. I was mainstreamed in school in the 80s and 90s, and was bullied a lot, especially in middle and high school. Before the bullying started, I liked school. But once I started being treated like garbage, I became more concerned with protecting myself than with learning.  I felt very alone, other than having the support of my family.
Toward the end of high school, I got a job in Idaho, working at a grocery story. My parents taught me to tell people at jobs to treat me as if I am one of them, and that is how I was treated in the work-world. I wasn’t fast enough to be a cashier, but I thrived as a bagger. Most people don’t realize how much goes into bagging, such as where the bags come from and how they get to the checkout lines.  Eventually, I was promoted to stocking shelves in addition to bagging.
Also toward the end of high school, in 1999, I welcomed a beautiful daughter into the world.  After having a child, I had to learn to stand up for myself more than ever before. I moved into my own apartment, but it was hard to make ends meet. Each week I was concerned about how I would pay for my rent, groceries, and seizure medication. Ultimately, I ended up in a men’s shelter.
This was a very difficult and confusing period in my life, but it—along with experiencing bullying—also led me to the advocacy work that I do today. My daughter was adopted by her maternal grandparents, which is something I still struggle with even now. I also had the opportunity to move to Athens with my family, which I couldn’t really turn down, seeing that I was otherwise homeless.
Almost as soon as I moved to Athens, in the early 2000s, my mother connected me with the Athens County Board of Developmental Disabilities (ACBDD). PersonnelPlus, a program of the ACBDD, helped me find a janitorial position at ATCO, and I have been working there ever since. The ACBDD also helped me connect with my residential provider, Havar. Thanks to the ACBDD, Havar, the support of my family, and my own advocacy skills, I have been living independently for over a decade.
When I moved to Athens, it was the encouragement I received from my Habilitation Specialist Steve Koch through the ACBDD and my residential providers through Havar that helped me the most. They answered my questions and helped me feel sure of myself. In June of this year, my Havar staff helped me legally change my name back to my birth name. This was a personal goal of mine in my ACBDD Individual Service Plan, and I was able to achieve it.
Currently, in addition to holding my janitorial position, I am a leader of the PersonnelPlus Advocacy and Advisory Council (PPAAC), operated through the ACBDD. Through my work with this Council, I have been able to make a number of personal, local, and statewide changes. During the Stimson Avenue Project, I successfully advocated with my fellow-advocates to have wheelchair accessible curb cuts put in the sidewalks. I am proud to say that I have received many awards for my advocacy work.
When I first joined the PPAAC in 2003, I already knew about advocacy, but was so full of anger, I could only focus on myself. Over the years, I have slowly calmed myself down, with the help of my support system. There are times when I wonder if I am doing the right thing, because I don’t always know if I am making a difference. But then there are times when I can see the results of my actions.  One huge accomplishment was when the PPAAC successfully led a statewide project to have the term “Mental Retardation” removed from the name of all Boards of Developmental Disabilities statewide, due to the stigma and history of bullying attached to that term.
Seeing changes like this made as a result of my advocacy work, I know that all of my struggles have been worth it.