Lenape Tech student won't let disability curtail dreams
March 26, 2014 10:55 AM
by ELLEN MATIS
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Though 17-year-old Dakota Branan, of Spring Church, was born without legs and has very limited use of his hands, he’s determined to follow his dreams.

Dakota, an 11th-grader at Lenape Technical School, has big plans for his future — he wants to go to college to study computer programming. He’d like to attend either California University of Pennsylvania or Carnegie Mellon University.

A wheelchair-accessible lift van would make his dream even more of a possibility.

According to Darla Grafton, who has been Dakota’s helper since he started kindergarten, he can only travel when his dad, Ron, is available to help him. The family has one regular van, which his father has to help him into daily. His mother, Stacie, is unable to lift him into the van.

Through an online voting contest that Grafton entered him in, Dakota is eligible to win a lift van through the National Mobility Equipment Dealers Association, a nonprofit organization whose mission is to expand mobility options for those with disabilities.

[PHOTO:  Dakota Branan, a 17-year-old Lenape Technical School student, has been entered into an online contest to win a wheelchair-accessible van that will help him go to college.  (Submitted photo)]

“The transportation for his family will definitely help,” said Grafton. “I’d love to give him the opportunity to give him some freedom.”

Everyday tasks that many people take for granted, Grafton said, Dakota struggles with. But none of these challenges ever get him down.

“Every challenge that I came across during my time growing up, I overcame it,” said Dakota. “That’s how I still am today.”

Dakota said that he lives by the motto “can’t never did anything,” which he picked up from his fourth-grade teacher.

“I overcame all of my challenges through life and never give up.”

Something that hasn’t been a challenge for him is working with computers — something he’s really passionate about. In school, he’d like to study computer programming.

An electronics, robotics and computer programming teacher at Lenape Technical School, Eric Longwell, has worked with Dakota quite a bit during his time there.

“When he came (to the school) he came to the shop, and that’s just been something that’s worked well for him because he can handle a keyboard and computer really well,” said Longwell.

The school, Longwell said, has dealt with any physical challenges that Dakota has had. A lot of times, students in Longwell’s classes work with partners, which is a big help to Dakota.

“We’re trying to work on making a couple of pieces of equipment that are assistive,” said Longwell, like a soldering iron that he can use with only one hand.

In an essay that Grafton submitted to NMEDA for the contest, Dakota was described as having “the most charismatic personality.” He’s always upbeat and pleasant, Grafton said. In the 12 years that she’s been his helper, she’s “never seen him in an angry or discouraged mood.”

NMEDA, which is holding the contest as a part of National Mobility Month, offers many different types of mobility solutions, including minivans with different types of entry, trucks and specialty vehicles, hand controls, steering aids, lifts and ramps.

According to its website, more than 18 million people in the United States and Canada have mobility issues, but mobility solutions are available for them to enjoy active lifestyles.

Voting for the contest runs through May 9, and the winners will be announced in June. As of press time today, Dakota had tallied more than 1,600 votes. To vote for Dakota to win a lift van, visit http://bit.ly/1nX65M4.

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