Dylan Rafaty and Laura Fricano

Dylan Rafaty: ‘You just wait’

Dylan Rafaty’s mother knew his time would come;  she knew he would overcome the can’ts and don’ts he faced

When Dylan Rafaty speaks, people listen. Engaging,  passionate, alive with optimism — traits the 23-year-old founder and CEO of DylanListed has leveraged to his benefit. But life wasn’t always easy for the young Texan with the big smile.

Born with a congenital hearing disorder that left him permanently deaf in one ear and 50 percent deaf in the other, Dylan Rafaty faced an uphill battle from the start.

“[The hearing loss] was diagnosed kind of late,” said his mother, Vesna Rafaty. “And because of that he was launched into special education classes where he stayed almost his entire education career.”

The classes became a part of Dylan’s life. Over the next several years Dylan showed marked improvement, sometimes managing to finish his homework in addition to his class work before the school day had ended.

“I was getting bored,” said Dylan. “I felt like I was capable of so much more, but wasn’t being challenged.”

Unfortunately the school system failed to recognize his progress and as a result, left him in the program until his junior year of high school.

“He overstayed,” said Vesna. “We could never figure out how to get him out of the classes and because of that he feels like he missed out on some things.”

  • A friendly face and an enthusiastic smile are trademarks of Dylan Rafaty. Photos by Steve Wheeler
  • Dylan Rafaty handles calls at the front desk at Lifetime Fitness in Dallas.
  • Dylan keeps the sign at the front desk cleaned and polished, a great example of his attention-to-detail attitude about his job.
  • Dylan Rafaty and his mother, Vesna, in the Marketplace at The Arc National Conference in Bellevue, Wash.
  • Dylan enjoys the friendship and support of Lifetime Fitness general manager Ken Bisel.
  • Lifetime Fitness promotes “a healthy way of life,” a message Member Services Director Laura Fricano and Dylan Rafaty convey to customers of the Dallas club.

This left Dylan far behind most of his peers, something he didn’t even realize until he attempted to enroll in classes at Collin College in Plano, Texas, where he was told he would first have to take non-credit developmental classes before enrolling in regular coursework.

Frustrated and confused, Dylan turned to his mother, Vesna for answers.

“He was unhappy, and I encouraged him to write about his life,” said Vesna. “He started kind of celebrating his life and something turned inside him. He was thinking about his journey and the writing became more than a memoir and evolved into a discussion based on his experiences in special education.”

What started as an exercise in self-exploration eventually turned into a 128-page book that Dylan titled, Occupy Special Education – Children Should be Seen and Heard, which he self-published in the spring of 2012.

The writing process not only allowed Dylan to analyze his life, it also empowered him, helping him to recognize the shortcomings of his educational journey.

“He had this unique experience, and I think it gave him a certain perspective and understanding of what students go through in special education,” said Vesna.

With his newfound sense of self-confidence, Dylan forged ahead, accepting invitations to speak at high schools and colleges across the country, using the opportunity to address the importance of identifying and nurturing each student’s true capabilities on an individual basis.

“Doing all these speaking engagements helped me to develop a true understanding of who I am,” said Dylan.

And while speaking out for others helped him address his own educational shortcoming, back home he was facing a new challenge. Making the transition from student, where your disability is sheltered, to working adult in the harsh reality of the real world wasn’t going to be easy. Dylan had been actively seeking employment for some time, but with little success, and once again found himself feeling frustrated.

“I had been struggling looking for work for the last three years,” said Dylan. “I was sitting in the living room watching TV with my mom and we saw a commercial for Angie’s List [a website that compiles customer reviews for service contractors], and I realized that there were people just like me, people that like to work, that want to further their skills, that want to succeed but nothing to assist them.”

That simple, original thought led Dylan to think about creating a platform for people with special needs who were seeking employment. After kicking the idea around for a few months, Dylan and Vesna founded DylanListed, a job website focused on serving people with developmental and intellectual disabilities.

“When Dylan suggested this idea I thought, ‘Surely this is already out there,’” said Vesna, who doubles as the company’s legal representative. “But we’ve really done our research and everyone tells us how important this is going to be for the community.”

The team is currently beating the sidewalk, searching for corporate sponsors and speaking to anyone who will listen to their story. And although the road to success may have its challenges, adversity is clearly nothing new to Dylan.

The smiling young man with glasses and a mop of curly hair looks right at you when he speaks, confidence and conviction in his voice.

“I like to work hard,” said Dylan. “In 10 years I would like to see a fully functioning website with a lot of users, advocates and mentors and having large and medium-sized businesses actively engaged in the community.”

Vesna smiles as she watches her son talk.

“There’s no question I’m proud of Dylan. He’s come such a long way, and I think his possibilities are virtually limitless.”

But deep down, she has known that her son’s time would come.

“He had a real struggle early in his life,” said Vesna, tears in her eyes. “And my mother-in-law told me when I was breaking down, she said in Farsi, ‘Saebr kon, saebr kon’, and what that means is wait, you just wait.”

And look at Dylan Rafaty now.

Jared Christopher is a freelance writer in Dallas.

Occupy Special Education

Children Should Be Seen and Heard

Occupy Special EducationDespondent after graduation from high school, hearing impaired student, graduate of special education, Dylan Rafaty, urged by his parents, decided to write.

What started as a memoir turned into an abridged celebration of his young, multicultural life and then grew into a critical look back at his journey in education, a significant part of which was spent floundering in special education in a school in a top school district in the country. Dylan contrasts the richness of his extracurricular life and support system with the angst of a persistent isolation in his special education classes.

He sheds some light into the causes behind his unexplained lack of progress in school. Writing from a too rare student’s perspective, Dylan makes some recommendations for improving special education and education in general. The tone is honest, spirited, and anticipatory, while Dylan’s message is just-in-time as more education cutbacks loom and buzz about education reform stirs. Learn more at occupysped.com.

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