Shawn Aleong dreams of one day launching a business that will include and advocate for people with disabilities.
“I would love to be able to walk outside and see people with disabilities with other people that don’t [have them], together,” Aleong said.
Aleong’s first step in achieving his dream is making the most of his education. The freshman legal studies major will study away in San Francisco in Spring 2019 and hopes the trip will increase his financial knowledge so he can help others with disabilities succeed in the technology and finance industries.
Though still in the works, Aleong’s future business named the Devon Group will hire individuals with and without disabilities. He said the company will create training programs on inclusion and appropriate work environments for people with disabilities, in addition to helping them find housing.
The trip, organized through the Fox School of Business, will take Aleong to San Francisco for an immersive course on digital and alternative financial services like artificial intelligence, the digital finance ledger Blockchain and Bitcoin, a digital currency.
“I hope that I can learn so much about Bitcoin and smart contracts and all those things…so that I can figure out a way to better serve people with disabilities and minorities,” said Aleong, who is diagnosed with cerebral palsy, a movement disorder.
Aleong, 30, said he is particularly passionate about inclusion for people with cerebral palsy.
Aleong launched a GoFundMe campaign in September to raise money for his studies in California. So far he has raised almost $900 toward his $3,000 goal.
James Lammendola, a legal studies in business professor who previously taught Aleong, said Aleong’s work stood out in the class of almost 200 students. Aleong took Lammendola’s Law and American Society course in Fall 2016 as a continuing studies student, before he enrolled at the university.
“I see in Shawn those good qualities that I consider citizenship,” he added. “Someone that cares about what’s going on in the world, knows it affects him and his loved ones in some way and he’s trying to find a way to contribute to that.”
Aleong first came up with the idea for his business in 2015, but his internship last summer at Disability Rights Pennsylvania — an organization that advocates and provides resources for people with disabilities — inspired him to start laying the framework.
“I want to make sure intellectual disabilities are heard loud and clear,” Aleong said.
He added that by creating a model of integration, he hopes to set an example of inclusivity for corporate America.
“Being honest, being humble, being a leader and using these tools to help others is the greatest business,” Aleong said.
No stranger to social justice, Aleong has advocated for people with disabilities for more than six years. He serves as the deputy director of government affairs for Temple Student Government and sits on the board of advisers for Temple’s Institute on Disabilities and the board of directors for The Arc of Philadelphia, an organization that advocates for the rights of people with disabilities.
Aleong is also a member on the city’s Police Advisory Commission and is a member of the NAACP.
He frequently speaks at events on campus about disability awareness and said he hopes to eventually serve on the board of a major business.
“[Shawn] in no way, shape or form allows his disability to cause him not to be a champion for himself,” said Charlie Leone, the executive director of Campus Safety Services. “What he needs and the opportunities that are here, he goes for them. He’s a great role model for us.”
Aleong credits Temple with his love for advocacy, adding that his participation in the two-year Academy for Adult Learning program in 2012 changed his outlook on life. It prompted him to enroll at Temple in 2018 and pursue his legal studies degree with an entrepreneurship minor.
Aleong believes there is a lot to improve on in how society views people with disabilities, but he’s grateful for the resources the university provides him with. To accommodate his disability, Temple has set Aleong up with a peer note-taker during lectures and a reading and writing coach.
The most important message Aleong wants to send, though, is for the world to know the strength of people with disabilities.
“It’s not disability, it’s ability,” Aleong said. “In fact, it’s not me that has a disability, it’s society.”
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