Cal State Long Beach graduate Richard Devylder was born without arms or legs. He is now a presidential appointee in Washington, D.C., advising the White House on accessibility policies in the United States.
He recently finished working on a national policy in September that deals with accessibility and integration for people with disabilities on trains and metros.
Devylder also met President Barack Obama at the 20th anniversary of the American Disabilities Act reception.
As a child, he was placed in the foster care system because his Armenian family saw him as a product of sin. Devylder grew up with his foster family in Whittier.
At 7 years old, he began to realize he was disabled.
“My foster family helped me in accepting my disabilities,” Devylder said. “Looking back, I asked my parents to throw away the fake arms in the trash … they were heavy and they caused my skin to break out in rashes.”
Devylder remembers his foster parents as being instrumental in helping him make his own decisions when it came to his disability and learning how to do things on his own without prosthetics.
“Some parents insist, but my parents said if they are easier to use without them, then that’s good,” Devylder said.
When Devylder was in the first grade, his parents made the decision to take him out of public school.
“It was more like baby sitting,” Devylder said. “There was no structure for learning because it was special education. They didn’t have the same curricular as other students. It wasn’t an educational opportunity because my issue wasn’t learning, it was the physical.”
Still, Devylder learned how to adjust to the classroom.
“Kids did it with their hands, and I did it with a pencil in my mouth,” Devylder said.
During Devylder’s adolescence he developed a love for athletics.
He discovered swimming was his favorite form of exercise, and basketball was his obsessive past time.
“I always loved sports,” Devylder said. “My parents got me my own cable box in my room because they didn’t want to watch with me.”
Devylder transferred to CSULB from Biola University with a 2.0 GPA.
He said he remembers speaking to the now Director of Disabled Student Services David Sanfilippo. According to Devylder, Sanfilippo asked him, “Why should I take a chance on you?”
Devylder made his case that his low GPA was a result of not being able to take proper notes in his classes due to his disability.
Once Devylder was admitted to CSULB in 1990, Disabled Student Services paved a clear path for success for the new student.
Devylder credits CSULB for directing his path he is on today.
At CSULB, Devylder said he was launched into dealing with disability and civil rights.
During his undergraduate studies at CSULB, he began to work with Disabled Student Services, and credits his communication professor for helping him make a decision to work for the Southern California Rehabilitation Services and Independent Living.
“Having a degree was critical — No. 1 — because I needed to show people I had the intellect, and No. 2 that I had the ability to finish the program,” said Devylder, who graduated from CSULB in 1992.
After college, Devylder went on to be appointed by two governs in two different jobs with Gov. Grey Davis at the California Department of Rehabilitation and Arnold Schwarzenegger as an adviser to the Secretary of the California Emergency Management Agency.
In May 2010, Devylder received the call for the position of a lifetime.
“I got a message on my phone, if I wanted to go to D.C. and work for administration,” he said.
In his new position as adviser for Accessible Transportation, U.S. Department of Transportation, Devylder has many opportunities.
“My role is to advise on national policies and proposals to the secretary,” Devylder said.
Devylder is a man who has never let adversity get in the way of his dreams.
With a work schedule of about 60 hours a week, Devylder said, “I am going to do this as long as I can. The thrive is that I have one of the greatest jobs in the country, that I can impact transportation and accessibility and equality for people with disabilities.”
Devylder advises students to be flexible in terms of a career.
He said, “Think big in order to achieve and go places where you want to go.”