Chris Beard, the director of Compliance and Internal Audit Services at BYU-Hawaii, spoke to prospective teachers about his experience as a person with a disability on Feb. 9. Beard, who has suffered with Cerebral Palsy since birth, spoke about the effects of having a disability and the role that it has played in his life.
With his specific condition, he demonstrated how “it affected mainly fine motor skills and speech” by taking a quick walk around the front of class and writing his name on the board, tasks that ordinarily prove little challenge for others. Beard shared the struggles of his early life; how teachers would not allow him extra time on tests, how he had to roll a typewriter around his high school campus, being bullied, struggles with friends and dating.
However, Beard said he has not let this condition define his life. He said, “We’re all different and no one is better than anyone else.” Beard focused his message on advocacy and standing up for those in need. Through his life experience, Beard said he has become who he is today through advocates who have played a major role in his life.
Speaking on these influences, and how students could become advocates for others, he shared, “No matter what type of child or learned adult … be an advocate for whomever you’re working with. … Advocate for individuals, for their needs, but also stick up for them as a person and realize that everybody is human. We have thoughts and feelings. Don’t shut someone out just because they’re different. Learn from individuals. Be a better person because of them.”
Tavia Thompson, a research assistant to Dr. Barbara Hong who works in the special education program at BYUH, shared insights she learned from Beard’s comments. “It was really inspiring to see how much intelligence, experience and insight he had.” Thompson added one of lessons she learned that day was simply, “Don’t judge people by how they look. He talked about how we as people need to learn to be more accepting and not judge what we’re seeing without knowing. I wish everyone could be more like that.”
Thompson said she related to Beard’s talk as someone who has worked with people with disabilities, including her sister. “It is easy to assume that if there is something wrong physically there must be something wrong mentally. It always hurt me to see how mean people can be when they really don’t know and expect everyone to be like them.”
Students were given a few minutes at the end of the presentation to ask questions. When asked what helped him to be successful in life, Beard highlighted three distinct people who have impacted his life.
The first two are his parents, who were determined to never give up on him, according to Beard. Beard said about their determination, “I had parents who took the attitude of, ‘This is my child. I don’t care what my child has. We’re keeping him and we’re going to help him the best we can.’”
His third role model growing up was a physical education teacher who saw him for who he was. His teacher also happened to be the men’s basketball coach. “He had the forethought and the inspiration to see that I needed to have interaction with others and to get involved in something,” said Beard.
Through this teacher, Beard became the manager for the high school basketball team. Beard expressed his love for this job. “It was the best time of my life … He helped me with the social aspect and opened up the social part of my life.” Beard commented how his life began to change as he made friends and became a part of something much bigger than the disability he once felt restricted by in his life.
Beard has served as the director of Compliance and Internal Audit at BYUH since 2014. He is married and has three children who he said he loves spending time with them. Beard graduated in the top 15 of his graduating class in high school. He then went on to earn his bachelor’s degree at Castleton State College. He has since worked in the casino and hospitality industry before working with the Church Education System for the past 10 years.
NOTE: This article's online publication was delayed because it was featured in the March. 2018 print issue.