About James Rapp
I was born in South Korea and was adopted by the American family in 1990. I have had cerebral palsy since birth. I use my wheelchair to get around and communicate using a communication device. Even though I have a disability, I can do many things independently with or without the help of my personal assistant.
Before I graduated from Spotsylvania High School in 2000, I had a lot of experiences in student leadership roles for the Physical Disability Department at Falls Church High School. I was a Student Government Association Representative for all four years from 1996-1999 and a Student Body Officer from 1997 to 1999. After completion high school in 2000, I attended vocational training in the accounting field at Woodrow Wilson Rehabilitation Center (WWRC) (November 2000 to June 2002). During my vocational training, I had an evaluation to receive my own communication device and worked with counselors on my future living plan. I also had some opportunities to speak to WWRC faculty members and Fishersville Baptist Church congregations on both physical and spiritual aspects of disabilities. In 2001 I taught a couple bible study lessons to the WWRC Bible Study Group and began to develop my own web ministry. I completed my training at WWRC with the Student Internship Program at Mountain Valley Corporation as an Accounting Clerk in Waynesboro, Virginia.
In June 2002, I moved to my own accessible apartment in Fredericksburg, VA with the help from my family and the Fredericksburg Department of Rehabilitation Services (DRS). It was located in an accessible apartment beside the disAbility Resource Center (dRC). After the transition to my own apartment, I tried to find a job in the accounting field with the help from the DRS. Even though I had some good interviews during the summer of 2002, I didn't find a job due to my disability and the lack of college education. I found my first job with the help from my personal attendant at a Goodwill Retail Store in December 2002. I worked there as a T-grader for five months and received termination notice. Then I worked for one of the Christian churches in my area as a bookkeeper/administrator for a year. During the next three years, I struggled to find another job that would pay my living expenses. I had income from SSI and Food Stamps but that only helped me pay about 50 percent of my monthly expenses. In the meantime, I volunteered at Christian Family Counseling with the help of my church. I helped to develop a business website, create documents, forms, newsletters and brochures. I also did some bookkeeping. Even though this community volunteer work was satisfying, it helped me little to meet my monthly bills. I have, however, kept in touch with this organization since leaving in 2007.
In 2006, I began to participate in one of the advocacy groups at the dRC weekly called the Empowerment Group. In February 2007 I began to volunteer at the office in the Community Action Specialist field and did this for the next seven months. In this field, I created a monthly newsletter, worked with the staff on the weekly group agenda, and participated in teleconference calls for the Community Action Specialist. In September 2007, my voluntary work turned to a part-time job. Since then, I have worked as Youth Mentor for high school students with disabilities and as a Community Action Specialist (CAS) for adults with disabilities.
As a CAS, I co-facilitate the Ability Team for adults with disabilities and their families, caregivers, or anyone who is interested in system change that will create a more inclusive community. In this group we learn about self-advocacy as well as legislative advocacy and exercise it in the community. For example, team members participate annually in the State Center for Independent Living Lobby Day and the National Council on Independent Living Lobbying Conference to advocate for the disability community. We also communicate with our legislators individually about health care, public transportation, employment opportunities, education, and Medicaid Waiver programs. In addition, we facilitate awareness and outreach events in the community such as our Bluegrass Gospel Jamboree.
In Youth Leadership Team meetings, my co-worker and I work with students with disabilities from local high schools to teach them how to advocate for themselves. The teens, aged 16 through 21, meet weekly during the school year and discuss disability history and awareness, voting, elections, and self-advocacy relating to education, employment, health, transportation, and recreation. Like the Ability Team, the teens are involved in legislative advocacy and visit their legislators in Richmond yearly for Lobby Day.
One of the major issues people with disabilities face is isolation from their community. Both the Ability Team and the Youth Leadership Team encourage people with disabilities to speak for themselves. My co-workers and I also encourage members to become more involved in their community and to create positive change so that people with disabilities are employed, participating in educational opportunities, and involved in the social and recreational life of their community.