Speeding Toward Her Goals
Growing up, Hillary McFadden did not enjoy eating out as much as she might have because there were no braille menus available for her to review and choose her meal.
Blind since infancy, McFadden said, “As a blind individual, eating out can be overwhelming because we constantly have to ask someone to read to us what is on the menu.”
As a young adult, McFadden decided to do something about the situation and start her own business at the same time.
“I came up with the idea of creating braille menus for restaurants that did not have any menu to accommodate people with visual impairments,” she said. “I met with a few of my favorite restaurant owners, explained my concerns, and pitched my accommodating ideas.”
Several of the establishments she spoke with were excited about her idea, and now, they have become very satisfied clients.
“Being a business owner is cool because I get to create my own itinerary of restaurants I would like to do business with,” McFadden said. “It’s rewarding to be paid for services I am rendering in the community.”
Of course, she has also been faced with rejection.
“There were times I pitched my idea to restaurants [owners] who were not interested,” she said.
However, for her, the excitement of visiting a restaurant that is using the menus she created, and witnessing someone ordering from those very menus, definitely makes it all worthwhile.
What makes the story of this young entrepreneur even more remarkable is that McFadden is not only blind, but also on the autism spectrum. She works with Keystone Autism Services’ Adult Community Autism Program, which, according to the folks at KAS, offers “one of the nation’s leading innovative programs to support individuals with autism spectrum disorders as they seek to be included in the community.”
With their support, McFadden has been able to create her own job when few opportunities for traditional employment exist for someone like her. According to a recent report entitled “The Case for Inclusion,” released by the ANCOR Foundation, only 17% of Pennsylvanians with intellectual and/or developmental disabilities work in competitive employment, working alongside those without disabilities and earning market-driven wages.
“I’ve been a participant with KAS since August of 2010,” McFadden said. “I enjoy working with the people who support me at KAS. They help me achieve goals so that I continue to become more independent in my everyday life.”
McFadden is not all work and no play, though. She is also quite the accomplished speed skater, a sport that perhaps might not seem like something in which someone with visual impairments could excel. She recalls that when “speed skating was announced at school, I wanted to try it but was told no.”
The summer following that announcement, she attended the W.I.N.G.S. program for the blind in Maryland, and it was there she learned that “the sky is the limit and I can do anything I put my mind to.
“So that next school year when speed skating was announced, I stated I was interested in trying,” said McFadden.
This time was different, though. When she again was told that she could not participate, “my mom and I fought hard for me to be part of the speed skating program,” McFadden said. “Eventually they gave in and allowed me to speed skate.”
She has been excelling in and enjoying the sport ever since.
McFadden has participated in the Special Olympics winter games and the winter state games. Training is hard work and takes a lot of time and dedication, but it is all worth it because, as she said, “I love how it makes me feel free on the ice, and I love going fast.”
As a young woman who owns her own business and participates in a highly competitive sport, McFadden wants others who have been identified as having ASD to be encouraged and to keep “striving for what they want to achieve in life,” she said. “It may be challenging, but fighting for what makes you happy is key.”
As far as what she wishes people would take the time to realize about those with ASD?
“People with autism are very smart,” she said. “We may have challenges expressing what we want or need, but we are consistent and goal-driven individuals.”
Although she admits she is not quite yet where she wants to be in life, McFadden also said, “I will continue to work on accomplishing my goals and being a role model for those who are visually impaired and individuals living with autism.”