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Ryan Advocates for Himself and Others

With 245D Services, Ryan and Noreen navigate the road to recovery

As a high schooler in Massachusetts, Ryan was an active and athletic teenager. He played lacrosse, football, and rugby and was very keen on physical fitness. But in 2014, his life took a drastic turn.

Ryan was involved in a car crash that left him with a traumatic brain injury, stunting some of his cognitive functions. The following year, his family moved to Minnesota, and Ryan’s mom Noreen dedicated herself to accessing services that would put her son back on a path to fulfillment and independence.

Noreen helped Ryan file for a Community Access for Disability Inclusion (CADI) waiver and then started 245D Waivered Services with Accra.

To hear more about Noreen and Ryan’s story, check out the video below.

Noreen and Ryan on a walk in the winter

Navigating the Homecare Labyrinth

Between paperwork, medical appointments, therapy and numerous activities of daily living (ADLs), Ryan and Noreen have a lot on their plate.

“We’re navigating the medical field, we’re navigating the educational field, we’re navigating the work field, we’re navigating the social aspects of things,” Noreen said. “I mean, we’re always navigating, trying to look up and find out who to talk to and what questions do we ask.”

Through Individualized Home Supports (IHS) Without Training, part of the 245D program, caregivers like Noreen can provide cueing, guidance, instruction, assistance with ADLs, or help with coordinating community living activities.

Noreen assists Ryan with setting up appointments with his neurologist, occupational therapist, physical therapist and other providers. Before the appointments, she reminds Ryan of questions to ask, and afterward, she helps him follow through on his health and wellness game plan.

“I just think it’s a wonderful program because it’s important, and who’s going to work their hardest for a person that might have a disability? Well, it’s people who love them,” Noreen said. “And I think that Accra is there to back us up on that.”

Following His Dreams

Now working part-time at Dick’s Sporting Goods, Ryan lives in his own apartment with the company of his dog Freyja. A six-year-old sweetheart, Freyja spends a lot of time napping, but she makes for a great walking buddy in the warmer months. Ryan loves to stay active; he works out regularly at a family fitness center and hopes to soon start playing sports again, some new and some old.

“I’m looking forward to getting back into lacrosse once I get the okay from my neurologist and I’m off of my medication,” Ryan said. “But I found out about ultimate frisbee, and I’m looking forward to doing that this summer.”

Due to his cognitive deficit, Ryan is not back behind the wheel of a car yet. But he can use funds from his waiver program toward rideshare services, like Uber and Lyft, to get around, whether he’s going to an appointment, to the gym or class.

Ryan has resumed his education, taking classes at a local community college, where he joined the Multicultural Club and Spanish Club. He particularly enjoyed a class on paleoanthropology, and as he studies, he’s training to become an underwater archaeologist.

Ryan has taken many scuba diving lessons, and accompanied by fellow divers including his dad, he’s helped clean up Square Lake, north of Stillwater, by collecting garbage from the bottom of the lake.

“I love scuba diving,” Ryan said. “I hope to make money as an instructor someday, so I’d like to keep up with my training.”

Ryan scuba diving as a kid
Ryan kayaking
Ryan on a sailboat

Becoming an Advocate

Gaining independence after a traumatic brain injury is no easy feat. Almost a decade after the accident, memory remains a challenge for Ryan. His direct support staff will text reminders to him and Noreen, and Ryan uses apps on his phone that help him with his memory.

As his cognitive capabilities keep recuperating, Ryan sometimes needs to work at his own pace in school. He signed up for an online class and on the first day, he discovered the course would be on a strict and unforgiving regimen.

“I wouldn’t have extra time for a test even though that was spelled out in my IEP that I can have extended time on a test if I needed,” Ryan said. “I realized that I had to drop the class or suffer a poor grade. I felt hurt by such an affront.”

This experience inspired Ryan to join Partners in Policymaking, an advocacy and leadership training program to give people with disabilities and their families the resources and skills to communicate effectively with elected officials. Ryan is currently watching videos and studying how to advocate for himself after the injury he suffered and support people with various disabilities.

“I have a means of both achieving my goal and helping others achieve the goal that they have set for themselves,” Ryan said.

Starting in the fall, Ryan will attend monthly in-person sessions with other members of the program. The sessions will cover the history of the disability and self-advocacy movements, inclusive education, supported living and competitive employment. While Ryan is learning how to navigate the obstacles before him, he understands that not everyone is as fortunate as he is.

“I’m supposed to be able to heal from this brain injury to a large extent, but there are some people who are born with disabilities that will never heal,” Ryan explained. “What I’m doing now is learning how to advocate for those such as myself who have suffered disabilities and how to ensure a brighter future by gaining knowledge of our political system.”

As Ryan learns about advocacy, pursues his passion for scuba diving and starts playing sports again, he gains more independence each day. And he and Noreen are grateful for how Accra has facilitated Ryan’s progress.

“I just feel appreciated by Accra because they think what I’m doing is important,” Noreen said. “Accra supports me and supports my efforts to help my son. I mean, what better gift could I get?”