MOUNT VERNON — Thriving in the face of adversity is an important lesson for everyone to learn over the course of their lives, but those who survive with disabilities learn this lesson early. Ron Peugh, a federal worker with Defense Finance and Accounting Services in Columbus, spoke with students at Knox County Career Center students Friday morning about the importance of diversity and understanding in the workplace.
Peugh, originally from Mount Vernon, was born with Cerebral Palsy, a condition caused when his umbilical cord became wrapped around his neck in the womb, his mother Carolyn explained. Due to the condition, his body is spastic, meaning that his brain sends signals that makes his body tight and rigid.
This disability, she explained, is just physical. Although he has issues with his speech as well, which prompts Carolyn to act as his interpreter, his mental capacity is completely unimpeded by the condition.
Peugh explained that October is National Disabilities Month. As of right now, the unemployment rate amongst the disabled community is 82 percent, he said.
Growing up in Mount Vernon, Peugh had no way to attend classes, he said. There were classes offered to disabled individuals while he was growing up, except for those with a mental disability at New Hope, but as he had a physical disability, he could not access those classes. He instead attended classes through the Mansfield City Schools, where he excelled so much academically, he tested out of high school math in the third grade. Peugh returned to Mount Vernon for high school and became the first disabled person to graduate from the current Mount Vernon High School building.
Carolyn explained that with many disabled individuals, choosing to enter physical school was difficult back then, due to facilities not being handicap accessible and a lack of resources. This prompted many handicapped individuals to choose not to go to school at all. Due to his hard work and self-sufficiency, Peugh graduated high school to a 10-minute standing ovation from classmates and their family members, she said.
Peugh attended college at Wright State University where he studied computer science. This university offered classes and programming specifically for disabled students and a tunnel system Peugh could utilize during the winter and in inclement weather.
Through Wright State, Peugh entered a co-op program for employment opportunities. He went on 30 interviews without being awarded an employment opportunity, he said. He finally was hired by the Wright-Patterson Air Force base with the strength of his resume, as they did not see his physical appearance before he was hired.
Peugh is self-sufficient, living, working and traveling on his own. He has visited 53 countries and 49 states in the United States, with the only one missing being Hawaii. He explained that his favorite place to travel to is China, despite the fact that he was once robbed while there. Peugh also attends many cruises, and will be leaving for another tour of the Caribbean on Dec. 1 with a friend.
He explained he wanted to come in and talk to students at KCCC to make them aware that those with disabilities are really not that different from able-bodied individuals.
“People who are different are really the same,” Peugh said. “Just because you’re disabled doesn’t mean that you have different feelings or needs. I want to make them aware, since this is a vocational school, it’s good for them when they’re out working that they might run into someone with a disability. You will run into some people, that’s just a part of life.”
KCCC junior health technologies student, Evan Boatwright, explained that he thought that Peugh’s talk was very necessary for people to hear.
“I thought it was awesome,” Boatwright said. “I love learning about people and just because they have a disability doesn’t really make them less of a person, it’s just something that’s different. And honestly it’s not even a bad thing.”
Boatwright was so moved by the experience that he extended an invitation to Peugh to attend one of his basketball games at MVHS this winter season.
Carolyn explained to the students during Peugh’s talk that more inclusive opportunities are needed for handicapped individuals, which stuck with KCCC senior building trades student Kathryn Priest.
“I thought it was very informative to all the people that don’t know,” Priest said. “One thing that I really took away, and wrote down because it was such a good tip, because I’m all about equality for everyone, but you [Carolyn] said, ‘the world doesn’t have to revolve around them, just make it more convenient for them.’ That was just, WOW. You don’t have to change it, just make it more convenient.”
Peugh explained that it is OK to be curious about those with disabilities and to ask questions about their experience.
“He has to be this, because he couldn’t live if he wasn’t, but he’s a firm believer that you’re given one life,” Carolyn said. “And this happens to be the one he was given. And it’s not a punishment, it was just the way that it is.”