Friday, June 10, 2005


Disability can't keep woman from success in work, sports


June 8, 2005

Lisa Hannaman knows she's different. She was born with Down syndrome, a genetic disorder that causes mental retardation and abnormal facial features.

But that hasn't stopped the 29-year-old woman from achieving independence and success.

Employed as a part-time aide at Alcott Elementary School in North Clairemont, Hannaman cares for special-needs toddlers, some with Down syndrome, who are enrolled in an early education program at the campus.

She's been at Alcott five years, and her upbeat personality and dedication to her job have earned her a San Diego Unified School District employee of the year award. "She's been so inspirational. Sometimes parents will get sad and depressed when they have a child with a problem," said Lindsey Linden, a resource teacher for the program who nominated Hannaman. "Parents look at Lisa and they can expect their children can have a happy and satisfying life, too."

While many of her peers with disabilities live in group homes or with their parents, Hannaman shares an apartment with a roommate in Mira Mesa and takes city buses to work. Using the money she earns from her job and supplemental income from Social Security, she takes care of her own bills.

"She is totally financially independent," said Beth Hannaman, Lisa's mother, who is a special education resource teacher assigned to the district's early education program. "She doesn't have a lot of money left at the end of the month, but she is able to make all of her own payments."

Lisa Hannaman is also an accomplished athlete.

Since she was 10 years old, Hannaman has been active in a wide array of events sponsored by Special Olympics. This year, she competed in the Special Olympics World Winter Games in Nagano, Japan, where she won a bronze medal in figure skating and fourth place in pairs skating. It was her second time participating in world competitions.

She also runs track and line dances. In the summer, she is on a sailing team. In the fall, she plays soccer.

In addition, she is writing a book about her life, tentatively titled, "What it is like having Down Syndrome."

At Alcott, Hannaman is one of several aides who help supervise children in class and monitor them on the playground. Her job also includes setting out play equipment, snacks and lunches.

"I can't imagine the class without her," said classroom aide Karen DiCarlo.

She said Hannaman has a gift for connecting with children."

"She gets right down to their faces and talks to them. She's real good at communicating with them. She's very sweet."

Earlier this year, while Hannaman was in Japan, her co-workers nominated her as a district employee of the year. Three weeks ago, Hannaman was named the 2005 Classified Woman of the Year by the district.

The district employs about 6,800 classified employees who perform various support functions, such as being classroom aides, secretaries and campus security assistants.

During a ceremony honoring her, Hannaman delivered a speech that moved a packed audience to tears and standing ovations.

"I hope this award makes other people with disabilities want to work hard and follow their dreams," she said.

A couple of times a year, Hannaman speaks to parent support groups, physicians and social workers about her experiences and what she's been able to accomplish, despite her disability.

Crystal Pacheco, whose 7-year-old son has Down syndrome and who works at Alcott's program as a nurse's aide, said Hannaman is an inspiring role model.

"I have a lot of respect for her. I hope someday my son can do as well as she does," Pacheco said. "She makes us all realize that people with Down syndrome can live normal lives."

Hannaman's mother said while her daughter was growing up, she was not treated differently because of her disability. Around the house, Hannaman, the middle of three children, did her share of chores. She played on the neighborhood soccer team, participated in gymnastics and took swimming lessons.

"She knows she has a disability," Lisa's mom said. "The only time she ever used it as an excuse was when she was in fourth grade. She said 'I couldn't do math because I have Down syndrome.' That's the only time I heard her give an excuse she can't do something."

Hannaman moved out of her parents' house when she was 25, with some assistance provided by the San Diego Regional Center, a state agency that provides support services to people with developmental disabilities. The center helped her find an apartment and a roommate and teamed her up with a life coach, who visits her periodically to provide guidance and oversight.

Moving out was Hannaman's idea.

"My mother did not want to throw me out. I wanted to live on my own," she said. "I am really independent."

Eventually, Hannaman hopes to buy a condominium and get married. She's had a steady boyfriend for 10 years.

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