How a Positive Attitude Benefits an Army Administrator With SMA
By Rebecca Hume | Tuesday, August 8, 2023
5 Second Summary
Quest for Success explores the different paths that individuals with neuromuscular disease have taken to reach their potential and pursue dreams. This series spotlights individuals from our community and shares their journey to independence and accomplishment.
Ken Yorgan has worked hard — and taken a few chances — to build a life he loves and a career with the US Army. He found his path to success by embracing the support of encouraging mentors and ignoring false limitations set by others.
A can-do perspective
The 59-year-old is one of three children in his family born with spinal muscular atrophy (SMA). He began using a wheelchair in third grade, and his parents were strong advocates for his inclusion. They taught him that he could do anything he set his mind to. Ken spent his childhood swimming, playing stickball, and attending MDA Summer Camp.
Ken recalls his fifth-grade teacher, Mr. Griffin, including him in soccer games at recess, bolstering Ken’s belief that he was as capable as other children. In contrast, his sixth-grade teacher refused to allow him to participate in recess in an effort to keep him “safe.” This experience taught him never to allow someone else’s mindset to act as a barrier in his own life.
Ken graduated from high school early and moved from Texas to Pennsylvania to live with his aunt and uncle. They both encouraged him to try things outside his comfort zone, from tubing down the biggest waterslide at an amusement park to living on campus at college.
Independence at college
The Office of Students with Disabilities at Edinboro University (now PennWest Edinboro) provided Ken with a slew of resources, including access to personal care attendants, meal aides (one of whom is now his wife, Susan), accessible transportation, and an accessible dorm room on a floor modified for students with disabilities.
Ken studied speech communications and worked at the college radio station. “College was an amazing experience,” he says. “Those four years were the most fun and formative years of my life. Meeting other people with disabilities and learning their stories was an opportunity to grow and learn more about myself as well.” Ken embraced the opportunity to connect with new friends and even started a wheelchair football team.
After graduating, Ken worked with an organization that connected potential employers and individuals with disabilities. Later, he accepted a position designing ads and writing commercials for a large RV, motorcycle, and car dealership in Pennsylvania. Although Ken thrived creatively in his role, a Florida vacation changed the path of his quest for success.
Changing plans and taking risks
Ken Yorgan has lived in Orlando since he fell in love with the city on a Florida vacation.After falling in love with the city of Orlando during a vacation, Ken quit his job, packed his car, and drove to Florida with no plan and only $3,000 in his pocket.
Ken now drives a modified van, but at the time he drove a car without modifications and was able to transfer independently using a portable wheelchair. He lived in that car for two weeks while searching for an apartment and going to job interviews.
Ken chose to tell potential employers about his wheelchair before interviews, both to ensure that interview locations were accessible and to discern any negative assumptions.
“I wouldn’t want to work for an employer who hesitated to hire me because of my wheelchair,” Ken says. “But I also have the opportunity to change some of those biases in the workforce. People might have a preconception, but when you get in front of them and do your job well, most of that goes away.”
In Florida, Ken worked as a cruise travel agent for more than 10 years, bringing confidence, charisma, and creativity to his role. Ready for a change in the early 2000s, he went back to school for an associate degree in IT.
A new career
A friend working as a contractor for the Army informed Ken of an open position at the IT help desk. Ken interviewed and accepted the role. Over the years, Ken pursued every training and certification available to him. He worked his way up to his current role as the Network Administrator for the US Army’s simulation training program.
In his role, Ken provides email and server support to more than 1,300 people and oversees system security. The Army provides some accessibility accommodations for him, such as a lanyard with a push button for automatic doors. For high-security areas that require badge clearance, Ken contacts someone in the office to assist him with the keypad and door.
Living the life you want
Ken believes that having people in his life who encourage him to challenge himself is a key motivating factor in his success. But he’s also motivated by a desire to prove doubters wrong. “Never underestimate the power you have,” Ken says. “Believe in yourself. You can do it — and don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t.”
Rebecca Hume is Senior Specialist and Writer for Quest Media.
Disclaimer: No content on this site should ever be used as a substitute for direct medical advice from your doctor or other qualified clinician.