In 2007, when James was 33 years old, he had a big decision to make. James got a letter notifying him that he was at the top of the residential waiting list. If he wanted to leave his parent’s home, he needed to move right away or go back to the bottom of the list. He took the leap.

It did not go well.

Unfortunately, the house was far from his family in Maryland and wasn’t set up for him as a person who uses a power wheelchair. There were stairs in the home and the lift caused him to be dropped more than once. Worse, “they didn’t treat me well, but I endured it.” Despite the lack of care, the program seemed reluctant to let him go.

His struggle to control his own destiny was emblematic of the ways systems can harm people with disabilities.

A senior director at Aspire had known James from a previous program that James had attended after graduating from the Ruxton school in 1993, and they had a close relationship. She was eager to offer James the opportunity for a better life. After some negotiation, James was able to move to an Aspire program.

James was very clear with the Aspire team about his needs: he wanted male staff who treated him well and good equipment that would keep him safe. The Aspire team opened a home customized for him and close to his parents. Aspire connected James to a former schoolmate and friend who became his housemate along with two others, and the agency has provided his residential supports ever since.

Over the years, housemates have come and gone. When another former schoolmate moved into his house, they formed a brotherly bond after a short time. Two years ago, they moved into a new home that provides James the ideal space for him and his creative projects: a large bedroom divided into a work area and a sleeping area with his own deck and bathroom. In addition to James and his friend, two women also live in the home. The household is very active and the foursome does a lot together.

James’ parents are in their 80s now and are still very engaged and supportive of him. He and his father started a doormat-making business several years ago called Mats with a Meaning. They are beautiful handmade doormats with various designs that last more than 10 years. His work is in demand and he’s always back-ordered. Since joining the Aspire community participation program, Day Options, he’s also begun painting and has new projects planned. Creative pursuits are a true passion for James.

James is determined to tell the accurate story of his life and the stories of the people around him. He is an active member of Voices of US and the newly formed Aspire self-advocacy group. “I want to be a big part of that,” says James. Members of the groups focus on educating the community and empowering people with disabilities.

James has met with lawmakers to help them understand the critical role that DSPs play in his life and the need to pay them a living wage. For many people with disabilities, ableism can get in the way of being heard. People can inadvertently silence James if they don’t give him the time he needs to express his thoughts. When James is forced to rush, speaking becomes physically challenging. James’ advocacy work demonstrates how the simple accommodation of more time can make all the difference.

James still has a close relationship with the senior director and they meet regularly. His agenda is focused on sharing the accomplishments of DSPs that deserve recognition and appreciation. James states, “I’m very comfortable where I am.”

Samples of James’ artwork and doormats:

Stories of Impact

The Art of Being James