Preparing for Tomorrow Today

by Alyssa Quintero on March 1, 2006 - 9:41am

QUEST Vol. 13, No. 2
Scott Hatley
Scott Hatley

As we race through the 21st century, instead of looking in the rearview mirror, Scott Hatley is thinking about tomorrow. He’s the man with a plan and a solution. Here’s Hatley’s Incight.

Hatley, 26, has Duchenne muscular dystrophy, and is the founder and executive director of Incight, a nonprofit organization that helps young people with disabilities to advance their education, find employment and become integral members of their communities.

Located in Portland, Ore., Incight provides scholarships, internships, empowerment skills training seminars, and mentors for high school and college students with disabilities.

“Our ultimate desire, in terms of changing the statistics, is for people with disabilities to be giving back to society as opposed to ‘taking from it.’ The goal is for them to be successful and productive in their life, education and career,” Hatley said.

After graduating with honors from the University of Portland in 2001 with a bachelor’s degree in organizational communications, Hatley decided he wanted to help young people with disabilities attain their educational and professional goals.

In 2003, Hatley devised the concept behind Incight — providing youth with educational and professional resources for self-empowerment. The program’s mission — promoting higher education and employment — begins with high school freshmen.

“I thought that we could really serve more people, specifically youth with disabilities, to help them realize what’s possible and to help push them to follow their dreams and passions. From there, Incight was born.

“There are 54 million Americans with disabilities, so it took us a little while to figure out our focus,” Hatley explained. “We thought that it would be best to focus on youth because they are underserved in many ways and don’t have as many resources specifically geared toward them.”

Is that spelled right?

Did the spelling of Incight throw you off? Well, good, because it’s supposed to do just that.

Hatley derived the name Incight from two words: incite, which means to spark a passion, and insight, which means having intimate knowledge.

“We just fused the two words together, and having it as a misspelling actually makes it more memorable for people.”

Incight also uses the catchword handicrap in its training seminars.

“We define it as anything that keeps a person with a disability, or without, from living beyond their boundaries or succeeding,” Hatley explained.

“Handicrap” mostly refers to limiting attitudes that people have about disability, including the viewpoints of people with disabilities.

Some of the biggest challenges, especially for high school students, center on social isolation and lack of self-confidence, Hatley said.

The term is an attention grabber, and it encapsulates a life-changing philosophy and provides students with a new perspective as they confront their “self-imposed barriers.”

“We’re challenging youth to move beyond their boundaries and get out of their comfort zones,” he said.

For example, Hatley grew up wearing leg braces and “really embarrassed by my disability.” He worked hard to hide the braces from the other kids.

“I would go into my classroom, take them off, and hide them under a table or in my backpack,” Hatley recalled. “I just didn’t want anybody to know, but as I realize now, the kids had to have known.”

Hatley added, “It was ‘handicrap’ and poor thinking to let that dictate how I was living. I realized that it’s okay to be different. You may have a disability, but it doesn’t mean that you have to not set goals for yourself or not follow your dreams.”

The mission is clear

With two full-time staffers, including Hatley, one part-time person and several volunteers, Incight has devised a campaign that first targets high school students. In particular they try to reach those freshmen, sophomores and juniors who aren’t necessarily looking at college, because they lack the financial means to go or believe their disabilies will stand in the way.

In 2004, Incight provided four students with college scholarships. In 2005, the organization awarded 31 scholarships after receiving 390 applications from students in 44 states. Hatley’s goal is to award 60 scholarships in 2006.

Most of the scholarships are $750, but Incight has awarded some for $1,500.

“If you have a disability, it’s especially easy to not think there is a possibility. We need to help change that mindset to help increase the number of people going to college,” Hatley said.

Additionally, Incight has created a series of empowerment skills training programs for students.

Through the empowerment program, students gather in a group and interact with guest speakers who have overcome adversity as a result of a disability, and have gone on to succeed. The students also learn about handicrap and “the boundaries they set up in their lives.”

“We want to challenge their beliefs and boundaries,” Hatley said. “We need to train more people with disabilities and help them realize that if they want to get the job they want, they have to put the effort into it and work on any weaknesses.”

Hatley explained, “The other part [of the seminar] is helping to get them out of their comfort zone. A lot of people with disabilities get stuck in their own little box and don’t venture outside of that as much. We’re working to help give them a new perspective so that they can overcome new challenges.”

Incight staff works closely with high school transition and special education staffs as well, and with various companies to educate them about people with disabilities.

Under development are a corporate connection program to help students transition from college to the job force, and a mentoring program to connect Incight scholarship recipients with business professionals as they move toward employment.

Incight, which relies primarily on individual contributions and grants, has raised over $130,000, including contributions from Nike and the Christopher Reeve Paralysis Foundation. Hatley’s goal for 2006 is $250,000.

Pursuing the dream

For Hatley, his dream and life’s mission are clear: making Incight a success by helping students attend college, earn degrees and find employment.

“Everybody needs to have some reason to get out of bed every day,” he said. “I really want to give back, and I’m able to do that by being able to share this experience with others, and by inspiring them or motivating them to realize that anything is possible.”

Hatley, who received the 2004 MDA Personal Achievement Award for Oregon, also was a finalist for the 2005 MDA National Personal Achievement Award. In 1984 at age 4, he received a diagnosis of Duchenne MD. He uses a power wheelchair for mobility.

“I have pretty significant challenges, but at least I still have the opportunity to make a difference and follow my dreams,” he said.

He asserts to Incight clients that it’s up to each individual to change his or her mindset in terms of what it’s possible to accomplish.

“The important part is to always strive for something, figure out what you’re passionate about, and just go after it,” Hatley emphasized.

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