developmental disability

Interview with Mae

Mae in red chair

Interview with Mae

Beate: Mae, would you please introduce yourself?

Mae: I’m Mae and I love to swim, go to movies, exercise and get massages. I am a kind person and I am very nice to be around.

B: Mae, can you talk about your disability and how it affects your life?

M: I have schizophrenia and autism.The medication (for schizophrenia) makes me hungry but I like to eat healthy. We all have things we need to work on but sometimes I forget about things and people have to tell me what to do instead of me taking the initiative.

B: You will be aging out of high school in November. Are you excited or nervous and what do you hope to be doing?

M: Probably get a job walking or training dogs or working with flowers. I’m excited to be going to job training.

B: Why is it important to you to get a job?

M: Because then if I can buy stuff I’ll be all set. I can buy my own furniture and food. If I can get money I’ll be prepared for the real life

B: When you are ready to move out of your Dad’s home what are your plans?

M: I want to live in a beautiful home with friends and have my own bedroom.

B: Do you think that you will need some support to live on your own?

M: I wil probably need support with hygiene like reminders to brush my teeth and hair and get showered. I know how to cook spaghetti and eggs.

B: Do you have a message that you would like to share with others?

M: That I hope to have a good life.

Rickey’s Story


Rickey works part-time at Golden Corral. Although he is a hardworking and dedicated employee, he is at risk of loosing his job because he cannot consistently get to work. His family does not own a car and there is no public transportation in his community.  Rickey’s story embodies the difficulties families face when they are living with economic challenges in addition to caring for a member with a developmental disability.

To view the full story visit


Barometer markedDecatur Baseball Team-1

I wish to extend a huge thank-you to the Decatur Baseball coaches, players and parents for supporting my project, Real Stories, Real People. This past Monday evening I was asked to throw out the first pitch. This was both an honor and a humbling experience. My pitch soared sky-high and plopped down short of home plate. As I walked off the mound towards the dugout I was intercepted by one of the graduating seniors with an envelope which contained a very generous donation for my project. Despite my lackluster performance this was an evening that touched my heart and will always be treasured. The game ball sits on my desk, scuffed from bouncing in our red Georgia clay; a reminder of a special evening and a remarkable group of young men.

To make a tax-deductible donation visit my website at

Rickey at Golden Corral

Rickey at Work-1 Rickey at Work-2

Recently, a friend of mine told me about a remarkable young man, Rickey, whose story is inspirational. I followed up with her lead and met Rickey and his family. As I listened to Rickey’s grandmother talk about the joys and challenges of raising Rickey and his two brothers, I came to the realization that there was more than one story that demanded to be told. This first story is about Rickey. Rickey is 23-years-old and aged out of Eagle’s Landing High in 2012. In his last year of high school he participated in an innovative job training program at the Success Academy. The Success Academy is part of the Henry County School system and offers students with developmental disabilities, ages 18-22, assistance in transitioning from school to work in their community. The Success Academy opened three years ago and has placed 100% of their students in competitive paying jobs each of the last two years. Rickey has a job at the Golden Corral in McDonough, Georgia. Jon Russell, a psychologist at the Success Academy who was dedicated in placing and supporting Rickey at the Golden Corral, arranged the opportunity for me to observe Rickey working a couple weeks ago; it was a magical experience. The moment Rickey walked into the restaurant he was greeted enthusiastically by his fellow co-workers. The manager approached  Rickey with a warm smile and after Rickey slid his apron over his head, the manager tied it behind Rickey’s back. Rickey then proceeded with a ritual he carries out before he clocks in. He zoomed around the restaurant to give his co-workers hugs. Although, the employees were incredibly busy, their faces lit up when they saw Rickey.  They immediately stopped what they were doing to say a few works and embraced him in a big bear hug. Rickey then grabbed a snack, an ice-cream cone and plate of fries, before beginning his shift. Once Rickey clocked in I could barely keep up with his pace as he cleaned the buffet tables of stray food, swept the floor and lent a hand wherever it was needed. Rickey worked steadily with an air of confidence and pride and of course a smile on his face. What I witnessed was both remarkable and unremarkable. It was remarkable because 80% of adults with intellectual disabilities are not employed. It was unremarkable because Rickey is a young man who was indistinguishable from all the other employees at Golden Corral. No one would have known that he has had to work extra hard to get where he is and that he has overcome many challenges in his lifetime. He could have been an individual who had languished at home after aging out of high school, but because Rickey is a determined young man and the Success Academy believed that his gifts and strengths would be valued in the workforce, Rickey has a job.

Stay tuned to learn about the tour de force behind Rickey, his grandmother, Donna.

Supported Employment

Patrick in baseball stands-1

The legislative session in Georgia is coming to a close. Support to fund additional Medicaid waivers was nominal. After learning that the House approved no funds for supported employment I was disheartened. Fortunately, a week later, the Senate voted to appropriate $980,000 for supported employment. If approved by the Conference Committee, these funds will provide support for 125 people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (DD) to work in an integrated setting. Supported employment is critical in helping people with developmental disabilities find and keep a job. A job coach works closely with their client in finding a job that is of interest to the individual in addition to a job that utilizes the individual’s strengths and gifts. Furthermore, a job coach trains the employee, works with the employer to provide job adaptations and accommodations, provides on-the-job coaching and ongoing follow-up and support. Over 80% of adults with intellectual disabilities are not employed. An estimated 63% of people with a DD, ages 18-64 who are unemployed want to work. Last summer, I photographed Patrick working at a Gwinnett Braves game. Funding for a job coach made it possible for Patrick to secure this job. In the absence of support Patrick would have been relegated to sitting in the stands instead of doing what he valued most, working and taking home a pay check.

A Father’s Joys and Worries

Pat and Ryan-1

Pat Stewart, as shown above with his son, Ryan, shares his thoughts about being a father to his two sons, both of whom are living with a developmental disability.

The most wonderful thing about being a dad to Aaron and Ryan is enjoying the unconditional love and innocence that they give on a daily basis. It is hard to express the emotional bonds I have with my sons. I always want to be with them. Not knowing what the future holds for them is most difficult. I am not able to control what happens to them as adults, particularly after Diane and I pass on. That is the single greatest stress I have each day.


Double the Love and Twice the Challenge

Stewart Family Portrait-1

When Diane Stewart contacted me and inquired about my project and possible collaboration I was immediately captivated with her family’s story. Diane and her husband, Pat, have two sons. Aaron is 21-years-old and aging out of high school in May, and Ryan is 18. Both boys have cerebral palsy, use wheelchairs, need maximum assistance with all personal care with the exception of feeding and are on the short term waiting list for a Medicaid waiver. The first time I photographed at the Stewart home my goal was to document their evening routine knowing that this would provide the opportunity to capture compelling shots of the challenges Diane faces in caring for her sons. I photographed Diane single-handedly getting these strapping young men, who are twice her size, fed, toileted, bathed and dressed for bed. To say that I was amazed at her abundance of energy, patience, physical stamina and playful demeanor is an understatement. This past weekend I returned to capture the morning routine and to create a family portrait. After many attempts to get all four of the Stewart’s to look up with flattering expressions, Aaron and Ryan tired of this tedious undertaking and started to joke around. Not knowing whether I had captured a good family portrait, Diane and I  viewed the images on the LCD screen on my camera. When we got to the family portrait I posted above we simultaneously blurted out, “That’s it!.” This image embodies the spirit of the Stewart family. Although the Stewart family story is one of unimaginable demands it is also a story about love, joy and the ability to make the best out of a very challenging situation.