Conor’s Story: From Self-Advocate to National Advocacy Award Winner

‘This Is Me’

Conor Waterman says he has always embraced his visual and hearing impairment as part of his identity.

“If you don’t know who you are, you can’t fully express yourself,” he says.

“I’m honest and upfront about my disability because I’m not trying to hide anything – this is me.”

Conor also has a form of cerebral palsy.

“He has to work ten times harder than everybody else,” says Conor’s dad, John.

“But that’s never stopped him from following his passions.”

An Award-Winning Attitude

“If you put your mind to it, anything is possible,” Conor says.

“It’s what you do about a situation that makes a difference,” he says, “Without determination, it won’t happen.”

Conor should know.

He was recently selected as a winner of the Council for Exceptional Children’s 2018 “Yes I Can” award, an award sponsored by Pearson.

Each of the award winners is recognized for contributing to the community in one the following categories: academics, arts, technology, self-advocacy, school and community activities, and transition.

Conor was recognized for self-advocacy.

“It’s what you do about a situation that makes a difference,” Conor says. “Without determination, it won’t happen.”

Learning to Speak Up

John Waterman says Conor began advocating for himself at an early age.

“He’s been meeting with teachers and participating in his Individualized Education Program (IEP) since he was in kindergarten,” John says.

Eventually, Conor began sharing his story and his disability with classmates—even demonstrating how his adaptive hearing technology works.

Now a sophomore in high school, Conor feels comfortable expressing his needs and reaching out to teachers for additional support.

“Sometimes it’s something as simple as asking for fonts to be enlarged,” Conor says.

“In life, nobody is going to hold your hand – so you have to find your voice,” he says.

Impacting Others

Conor has also put his passion for advocacy to work outside school.

“I grew up watching my dad run an organization dedicated to helping disabled individuals,” Conor says.

“He was my mentor,” he says. “He encouraged me to start speaking up on behalf of others.”

At the age of nine, Conor testified before Michigan’s House and Senate. He spoke in favor of a bill called “Complete Streets” to make sidewalks safer for pedestrians.

The bill was successfully signed into law.

A few years later, Conor returned to the State Capitol to advocate for an expanded driver’s education curriculum to include bicycle and motorcycle safety.

His testimony helped pass that legislation, too.

“As a parent, it’s amazing to see how empowering these experiences have been for Conor,” John says.

“He has become a role model in our community,” he says.

The Next Big Stage

Conor is setting his sights on even bigger things.

“My real drive has always been to make my school and community better,” Conor says.

“After college, I’d love to extend that to improving our state as a Michigan Senator or Representative,” he says.

Setting an Example

Last month, Conor and eleven other “Yes I Can” recipients traveled to Tampa to receive their awards.

Conor says it was a great experience to meet other exceptional students who made such a positive impact on their communities.

“Everyone had an amazing story – and I felt like we could all relate to each other,” he says.

Conor hopes the award inspires other young students with disabilities to pursue their passions – no matter how challenging they may be.

“There’s no secret sauce,” Conor says.

“You have to find the confidence within yourself to pursue what you love, even if it seems impossible,” he says.