A father and adult son stand together, smiling, in front of a black train with green hills and mountains in the background. To the left of the train is a yellow building. Jose Velasco is thankful for the incredible journey of fatherhood. The father of two did not foresee the life he and his wife, Deya, and their son and daughter created, together. This Father’s Day, Jose reflects on nearly three decades of being a dad and how disability has rewarded his life in ways he had not imagined when the family began their autism journey. Each day of that journey, Jose has only wanted one thing.

“The single biggest thing we want is for our kids to be happy,” he said. “Seeing the resilience my son has demonstrated has been absolutely phenomenal. I’ve learned so much about kindness.”

Jose’s 27-year-old son is named in his father’s honor. Jose, Jr. is on the autism spectrum, a diagnosis that has presented challenges along the way, while instilling determination and a growing realization that disability does not minimize ability.

When asked to describe his best memories with his father, it is clear there are just too many. Jose, Sr. has always been there for his son.

“Where to begin … I think it goes all the way since I was born,” Jose, Jr. told The Arc. “He is the equivalent of my best life-long friend. We have done great things together, from flying on a biplane, to riding numerous trains (steam, diesel, old and new) to high-adventures in the Rocky Mountains, like hiking and white water rafting. Spending a lot of time together has been one of my favorites things, including various journeys around the U.S. and Mexico.”

Jose, Sr. is a member of The Arc of the United States Board of Directors. He is program director in the Business Process Intelligence organization of global software company SAP. He is also ambassador of the company’s Autism at Work program, which has provided more than 600 employment opportunities for people on the spectrum. But Jose is most proud of his title as dad.

“Seeing Jose, Jr. succeed, happy, and how he has inspired people,” he said describing the greatest rewards of being Jose’s father.

This spring, Jose, Jr. accomplished a major achievement. After several years of setting goals, persisting, and working hard, he graduated from Austin Community College earning an Associate of Applied Science degree in Computer Information Technology – Computer Programming – Software Testing Specialization.

“He worked so hard for that. He worked really, really hard,” said Jose, Sr. “It was a reward for my wife and me, but for him as well.”

“The equivalent of winning a race. It was two-year degree, it took me close to 7 years and it felt great to have finished something I started,” Jose, Jr. said with pride.

Jose, Sr. is a disability rights advocate not only for his son, but – for all. He joins The Arc and other advocates who are urgently calling on Congress to act to fund $400 billion for the Medicaid home and community-based service (HCBS) system, increase wages for the direct care workforce, and create more of these jobs.

For years, the service system that people with intellectual and developments disabilities and their families rely on, Medicaid, has needed an update. People are stuck on waiting lists, the direct care workforce is underpaid, and too often, unpaid family caregivers are filling in the gaps in service. The COVID-19 pandemic has magnified these problems and exposed the cracks and gaps in the care infrastructure when it comes to supporting people with disabilities.

Jose, Sr. is hopeful this investment by Congress would help secure a life of opportunity and independence for his son in the future and the disability community as a whole.

“There are very high hopes from our IDD community for the HCBS investment to take place. Expanding access to services, the creation of direct care jobs, and an increase in wages are cornerstone elements of a sustainable platform to deliver quality services that so many people need.”

Being a father to a child with a disability has taught Jose many life lessons.

In high school, Jose, Jr. went out for the wrestling team. He fell in love with the sport but the skills didn’t come naturally. After several early elimination losses, Jose, Sr. and his wife felt heartbroken for their son and lovingly suggested that he help support the team as a student assistant. But, Jose, Jr. – determined – taught his parents a valuable lesson.

“He said ‘you guys don’t get it. I want to be a wrestler,’” Jose, Sr. explained.

Jose, Jr. started training and working out and it paid off.

“He won. The gym went crazy. It was the beginning for him of something special,” Jose, Sr. shared holding back tears.

It was in that moment Jose, Jr. decided he wanted to go to college.

Today, Jose, Jr. works for the Internal Revenue Service. He started a new position earlier this year and has risen to the challenges of the new role.

This Father’s Day, Jose, Jr. has this message for his dad:

“This is what I would put in a card for Father’s Day: Dad, all I want to say is thank you. Thank you for being my father, for raising me, teaching me, and protecting me.”

Like father, like son. Jose, Sr. is also thankful. The rewards of disability and fatherhood are immeasurable.

The post A Father’s Love: The Rewards of Disability appeared first on The Arc.

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