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Check out Benjamin's award-winning film "Thumbs Down to Pity" on YouTube.
I am the son of Mark and Kathie Snow, and am a 28-year-old college graduate who started life in Texas. Our family moved to Colorado in 1991, and I loved growing up in a small mountain town. But in December of 2013, we moved back to our native state (and to a larger city) for better job opportunities for me and to be closer to my dear old grandmothers and other family members. We're now enjoying warmer weather, too!
My parents noticed that from an early age, I developed an extraordinary talent at doing voices and mimicking the way people talk. This talent grew out of my watching my favorite show, “Thomas, the Tank Engine,” on TV and videos, listening to the great Ringo Starr (the drummer for the Beatles) narrate the stories with his very pleasant and distinctive British accent. Once I learned to read, I read my Thomas books with a British accent as if I were Starr himself. From that time on my mimicking talent continued. In the years since then, I’ve kept my parents laughing while doing impressions of Elvis Presley, James Earl Jones, Bill Clinton, Sean Connery, and others. And one of my parents' favorite is my imitation of Darrell Hammond's imitation of Sean Connery on "Saturday Night Live"—a third-generation imitation!
Because I have difficulty writing with a pen or pencil, my Mom and Dad got me on the computer when I was four, and I began writing plays—my own versions of my favorite stories. I printed four copies, assigned roles to everyone in the family, and we “performed” my plays around the kitchen table.
When I was young, I liked the “Thomas” stories because I enjoyed listening to Ringo Starr’s narration. However, I generally didn’t like most of the imaginary tales written for young children, like stories with talking animals. Instead, I liked true stories of real people, like biographies of U.S. Presidents and people like Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Edison, Martin Luther King, Jr., and others. My preference for real-life extended to television, too. From the time I was very young, I liked watching the network news, along with “Jeopardy” and “Wheel of Fortune” instead of kids’ shows or sitcoms. Today, I continue to enjoy reading biographies and watching news and documentary programs.
My talent for doing voice impressions also developed my passion for wanting to be an actor. When I was in elementary school, I told my parents I wanted to be the first James Bond who used a power wheelchair, and I wanted them to make my chair like Bond’s car, with all the fancy gadgets! My Mom suggested that if I wanted to be an actor, I might want to take drama classes and learn how to be an actor. So, I did, and I performed in several plays. I was the Wizard in The Wizard of Oz, King Tuba in a Japanese Kabuki production, a pirate in Treasure Island, and more. It was great fun, and because of my great skills in memorization and mimicking, my drama teachers often told the other students, “Be more like Benjamin!”
Eventually, I decided I didn’t want to be an actor; I really loved writing better. In 2003, at age 16, I took my first college class, on how to use voice recognition software. My parents got the software for me so I could write more efficiently. I’ve always loved movies, and I discovered a new passion: writing movie reviews.
In June 2006, my Mom told me about a film contest she read about in a newspaper. “Film Your Issue” was a national competition that invited young people to submit a short film on an issue of importance to them. The deadline was coming up, so I got busy—writing, directing, producing, and starring in a 60-second film entitled “Thumbs Down To Pity.” My film focused on Hollywood's inaccurate portrayal of people with disabilities onscreen, and in the film I tell people who make movies, “Enough with the stereotype—it's worn out!” The title of my film was a salute to one of my idols, film critic Roger Ebert, and his famous “thumbs up” or “thumbs down” recommendations of new movies.
My film was selected as one of the 35 semi-finalists, from more than 330 entries. The semi-finalist films were then judged by a large jury panel, which included journalists (Walter Cronkite, Brian Williams, Anderson Cooper, Judy Woodruff, and more); actors (George Clooney, Philip Seymour Hoffman, and others); politicians (including then-Senator Barack Obama); and many others. And my film was selected as one of five national winners!
The 2006 Film Your Issue winners, accompanied by their guests, were honored at an awards ceremony at the United Nations in New York City. We also won a variety of prizes—laptops, cell phones, and more—and had the pleasure of meeting many leaders from the business and news industries who were sponsors of the event. My parents and I had a great time, and did some sightseeing while we were there. Among the winners, as well as all the guests and dignitaries at the awards ceremony, I was the only person with a visible disability. I know that my participation in the event helped teach others that people with disabilities have many abilities and can succeed in ordinary activities just like everyone else. A few months after the New York event, the winning films were showcased at the Sundance Film Festival, and we all had a great time there, too! In the years since I won the 2006 Film Your Issue contest, my film has won other awards and has been shown at many international film festivals. In the Spring of 2009, it won Best Public Service at the Moscow Film Festival in Russia. Hundreds of organizations have purchased my film, and several universities and government offices use it for training purposes.
In August 2009, I graduated from Pikes Peak Community College, with honors, earning my Associate's degree. After my first year, I was inducted into Phi Theta Kappa, the national academic honor society for community colleges. I've done well in several writing classes—my passion. For one assignment in a magazine-writing course, I wrote an article about scoliosis surgery—something I have personal experience with. I polished the article and it was published in San Diego Family Magazine.
In May 2012, I earned my Bachelor's degree in Interdisciplinary Studies (focused on political science and film/media studies) from Arizona State University, graduating Magna cum Laude. In the summer of 2014, I earned my Master’s Degree in Social Change Communication from the University of Illnois/Springfield.
In January 2010, I submitted an essay on the importance of healthcare reform for a scholarship award and I won! See more at www.1800wheelchair.com/pages/scholarship-winter-2009.aspx. In the summer of 2010, I was awarded another scholarship, too.
For one of my Fall 2010 classes, one assignment was to create an interactive online portfolio, to demonstrate how a student's previous experiences are related to possible future career goals. Click here to see it.
For my Master’s thesis, I researched how smartphones and tablets can increase the autonomy of people with developmental disabilities, and created a website to share my project with others: www.beingautonomous.com.
Both of my degrees were earned via online programs at the universities, and I really enjoyed my online education — I could stay up late and sleep in instead of getting up at 0-dark-thirty for an 8 a.m. class! But seriously, online classes were the best fit for my learning style.
Long ago, my parents helped me learn that having a disability is not a barrier to success. I use a power wheelchair and other assistive technology devices, and I wouldn’t change a thing about my wonderful life!
I was included in elementary school, where I was just “one of the kids.” When I was younger, I played T-ball on the Park and Rec league, along with my classmates from school; was in Cub Scouts; and took karate and drama lessons, as well as a Red Cross babysitting course. When my sister and I went to middle school, our family decided homeschooling would be best. This decision wasn’t based on my having cerebral palsy or on special education issues; it’s just what my sister and I wanted. Our family loves to travel; I’ve visited almost all 50 states, as well as several European countries. Accessibility hasn’t always been easy, but we figure things out and make it work; we’ve had lots of interesting “adventures” in that regard. I’ve always lived a “normal” life—I don't know any other way to live.
I started getting involved in disability issues in my early teen years. I served on the Youth Advisory Committee to the President’s Task Force on the Employment of Adults with Disabilities in 2000-2001, and my Dad and I traveled to Washington, DC for several meetings. I was featured in a film about assistive technology produced by the Rocky Mountain ADA Center; appeared in a U.S. Department of Education poster about accessibility and accommodation in computer labs; was a national winner of a U.S. Department of Labor essay contest when I was 13; and won a C-SPAN essay contest when I was 18.
During the last few years, I’ve been invited to present at conferences about youth leadership, assistive technology, and other topics. At the present time, I’m working on a new film about the importance of assistive technology for people with disabilities.
Let me know if you’d like to purchase my “Thumbs Down to Pity” DVD ($13.00 includes shipping and handling), if you’re interested in my presenting at your meeting, or if you’d like to know more about my new assistive technology film.
It’s my hope that all people with disabilities can live the lives they want to live, and not be put away in “special” places!