NORTH FORT MYERS, Fla. - For Casey O'Halloran, a disability shouldn't be part of your identity. Casey, who was born with Down Syndrome, is opening up his life to show everyone that those with disabilities really aren't that different.
"The biggest and most important thing is my independence," 32-year-old Casey O'Halloran explained.
He took us on a tour of his tastefully decorated bachelor pad, showing us how he, just like everyone else, gets up, gets ready, takes care of his cat then heads off to work.
"I want to send a message to people with disabilities: this is what you need to have, right here," Casey said pointing to his surroundings.
Besides his work at the Lee County Courthouse, Casey is running a business that advocates independent living for people with disabilities.
"I have some friends who used to be living in a group home, they're on their own [now]. I am very proud of that," he explained.
Also proud, his mom, Judy O'Halloran. But she told us it took her some time to realize that her son should have a normal life.
"...projecting ahead, he's not going to do this, he's not going to do that, he's not going to do all the things his brothers will do. And I would say probably when he was about a year-and-a-half, I thought you know, he's not going to do those because I don't expect him to do those... so at that point, we just changed our minds and said he's going to do everything his brothers do," Judy recalled.
And doing everything his brothers do includes working at the courthouse. Both of Casey's older brothers and his dad, are lawyers.
"He's definitely a role model, probably much more than I realize because he's just doing what we always expected him to do," said Judy. "So when people... talk about the things that have been accomplished over the years, it takes me back a little bit because it's Casey. He's supposed to be working... he's supposed to have lived up to his potential."
Judy also passed along some general advice to parents out there who may be bringing up a baby with special needs.
"None of us as parents have a guarantee in life of what our children are going to face. So if we look at that child, at that infant as being that wonderful, miracle that they are and realize that it's not the stereotype of what society has told most of us," she said.
And changing the stereotype is exactly what Casey is aiming at.
"I don't use Down Syndrome as a disability. I do have a disability called, 'the gift' and that's what I am," he said.
His mom sees a long road ahead.
"When we change our attitude about what people with individual disabilities and challenges can do, then I think that will happen. It's not going to happen in my lifetime I'm afraid because it does take us a long, long time," she said.
But if Casey has anything to do with it, changing the public's attitude may not take such a long time.
"Everybody likes a hero, right? I am Charles Xavier. Why did i pick him? Because he's the one who created the X-Men. I'm Casey O'Halloran and I created my own called, The Legend of the Independent Men," he told us.
Casey's road to independence didn't happen overnight. He's worked hard for the Lee County Courthouse over the last 13 years. Just like anyone else, he also has a large group of support, from family to friends to co-workers, and to services he relies on like a 'support coordinator' and a 'living coach.'
For more information on Down Syndrome, click on the links below.
National Down Syndrome Society
National Down Syndrome Congress
Down Syndrome Foundation of Florida