AJ was born in December 1991, he was 2 months early. His full name is Anthony Joseph after his grandfathers but the nurse in the hospital said that was too big of a name for a baby so they changed it to AJ and it stuck.
AJ has 2 brothers, Douglas who is 14 months older and Dominic who is 5 years younger. His mom is Lisa and his Dad is Doug.
Growing up, he was surrounded by extended family and great friends that always supported him in everything he did. When he was little he played soccer with his mom's help and basketball with his dad's. He ran track in Middle School with the help of his power wheelchair and scored a touchdown in middle school football.
When AJ went to Kohler High School, one of the best decisions he made was to approach the varsity coaches for both football and basketball and ask to be the manager. For the next 4 years he was the manager of both teams.
AJ excelled in high school both academically and socially, being involved in everything from choir to his true passion: sports.
AJ worked hard and went on to University of Whitewater where he currently is a Senior. His major is Broadcast Journalism with a Coaching minor. He is also the manager of the UWW men's basketball team and he loves doing that. In 2012 his basketball team was the NCAA Division III National Champions and he was a part of it. This summer, he is completing a co-op at Kohler Company back home. His work will focus on corporate social responsibility and stewardship. He will be collecting and communicating Kohler stewardship stories.
AJ hopes to graduate in the spring of 2016.
AJ took time out of his busy schedule to answer some questions about his school and life experiences, asked of him by TIG Southern Regional Coordinator, Brian Kenney.
Brian: Reflecting back to when you were in high school, what prepared you the most for being a college student?
AJ: My family, teachers and coaches best prepared me for being a college student. Being involved in athletics gave me a connection and having family and friends that didn't allow me make my disability an excuse for not succeeding really helped drive and push me .
Brian: How were you unprepared for school?
AJ: I always had mom and dad there to help me make decisions. I had people around me making me use the restroom regularly, having everything for classes, and telling me how to get around campus, etc. I learned the hard way about not planning my restroom breaks. I once got lost on campus looking for a building, when I was 5 feet away from it. I learned independence early while I was at UW-Whitewater. The best solution for lack of preparation is willingness to make mistakes and learn.
Brian: What are some of the supports available to students at UW Whitewater that you want to make people aware of?
AJ: UWW Center for Students with Disabilities can get students aids for classes and special help with homework. They allow you to use private testing rooms as an option for assessments. The testing center even assists with getting you a scribe or a reader, if necessary. They also provide access to a variety of assistive technology - Dragon Naturally Speaking and Kurzweil to name a few.
They have transportation available, where they will take you to and from class when weather is bad or if it is a far distance. You give them your class schedule in advance and they will set up pick-up times.
Brian: What have you learned up to this point that you wish you knew in high school?
AJ: I learned how to handle different situations - if you come across an obstacle you don't make excuses about it. When I was a freshman, I could have had all the excuses in the world, I didn't want to be there. I wanted to go back home and be with my friends and still be a Kohler kid. Towards the end of my freshman year, I changed my outlook. I got involved in the men's basketball team and surrounded myself with friends who supported me and helped me through things. I just learned to kind of grow-up and not only be independent, but also be accountable. I tell my friends all the time we don't have time to make excuses in life. It is time to be the person people can count on. If I wouldn't have changed my outlook, I probably would be the kid that saw himself as the one that wants to come home and be with my Kohler friends. Now I am the kid that says you can do whatever is best for you, nobody is going to judge you. Either way, just be the person you want to be and don't make excuses.
Brian: What are your strengths?
AJ: I would say one of my strengths is also a weakness sometimes. I am a very confident kid, but sometimes I can be more stubborn and that makes it more difficult for me to listen to other people's thoughts and opinions. The greatest strength in terms of displaying confidence, is the ability to overcome. I have Cerebral Palsy, was born 2 months early, I have had 9 surgeries… I could have said I don't want to do this anymore. I just kept going and kept fighting, I just said no I am not going to let it be an obstacle. I just made the most of my situation.
Brian: In what ways do you plan to improve?
AJ: One skill I really want to improve has to do with when I am in an uncomfortable situation. I will just stop talking. I will struggle being me, and this is where I need to display utmost confidence.
Brian: The Transition Improvement Grant (TIG) Team wants to help support people with disabilities as they transition from high school to their adult life. What is the best advice you can give people with various types of disabilities in regard to life after high school?
AJ: Don't let anyone tell you that you can't do it. Don't let anyone ever feel sorry for you and accept their pity. I have had both happen, and it should fuel you when someone says you can't go to college or you can't get a job. It should push you to prove that individual wrong. I am going to be the best I can be and if I have to overcome obstacles along the way, so be it. I am not going to let me stop me.