Philly Rising: Temple student living with disability defies stereotypes and limitations

Antionette Lee
January 24, 2020 - 8:01 am

PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio) — Shawn Aleong knows a thing or two about taking advantage of opportunities. 

The Temple University student got his start in higher education from the Academy for Adult Learning, which provides an authentic college experience to young adults with intellectual disabilities. 

"My disability is not a curse, it’s not a handicap. It’s a gift," Aleong said.

Aleong, has cerebral palsy, which causes him to have challenges with his speech and motor skills. But he hasn’t let that hold him back from life or his goals. 

"Once I realized that my disability was not a curse but an ordained blessing, I said to myself, 'I got to change the system,'" Aleong said. 

He says in the academy he began to evolve and his passion for advocacy began to grow. 

Aleong recalled being in a store. He was about to purchase a pair of shoes when he noticed the cashier treated him differently from the others in the store. 

"I see how they treated people without a disability, and I see how they treat me. I said to myself, 'This has to change.'"

That experience stuck with him and helped fuel his motivation in the fight for equality. 

He still had a yearning to learn and grow after graduation, so he enrolled at Fox School of Business, where he’s now a legal studies student. He hopes to attend law school next so he can continue to inspire progress for disability rights. 

"Everything I do is not just for myself, but it’s to set a pathway for other people," he said.

Aleong has built quite a name for himself by defying the odds of living with a disability and using his voice to advocate for others. 

"I have spoken for Bob Casey, Mayor Kenney, and I'm always going to Harrisburg or Washington, D.C., to advocate for those who cannot advocate for themselves."

His passion and public speaking has also taken him as far as California and Arizona. Next month he'll travel to New Hampshire for the Democratic primaries to speak with politicians about disability rights. 

"I always believe that if you want to change the system, you have to be the change that you want to see. You cannot wait on society to pick and choose what they want to advocate for."

Aleong credits his mother Janice Wertz for being his biggest supporter, despite societal limitations. 

"I thank God for my mom. She told me that you can do whatever you want to do, as long as you put God first and have a strong will. She said, 'Baby, you can be whatever you want to be,' and boy was she right," said Aleong.