In 1993, I knew that my future would never be the same when I sustained a spinal cord injury at the age of 17 years old. My best friend and I had already planned our futures - we were going to go to the same college, become roommates and I was going to become a nurse. It wasn’t until I met with a Vocational Counselor during my rehabilitation process that they asked me " What are you going to do with your future after you are discharged from the hospital? " I wasn’t even thinking about that yet because I was still focused on dressing myself. Besides having to deal with the fact that I had a disability at age of 17, my mind was spinning with all of the lifestyle changes. What was I going to do for a career now that I was a person with a disability who used a wheelchair? Could I even work a full-time job?
I did realize the first thing that is very important for anyone with a disability is EDUCATION! I had always planned to go to college but over the next few years of trying to figure out what I wanted to do; I switched colleges and majors and moved around trying to figure it all out. After feeling like I was just becoming a full-time student, I decided to take a year off and actually go to work. I found a place I could volunteer and told them I wanted to be treated as a part-time employee. Because I didn’t want to lose my social security benefits, I worked without pay but I didn’t want to be treated differently because I wasn’t taking home a paycheck. After almost a year of being an “Administrative Assistant” for a non-profit organization that provided recreational services for people with disabilities, I had more confidence in myself and my ability to work.
It has been ten years since joined the workforce and I have faced many challenges. I have faced discrimination, had to give up a great job because the insurance was terrible and have had to explain to people why I left in the middle of a meeting - I had a bowel accident. At one point I even had a supervisor ask me if I could appear “less disabled”. I still haven't figured out what they meant by that comment, I only know that it was hurtful. I do feel blessed with the different people and places I have worked. My employment has always revolved around the medical and disability community so I always have felt my work environment is very disability friendly and people understand personal issues, but it is still difficult at times.
Other people with disabilities that I know often ask me, “How do I work a full time job and handle everything?" I always have the same answer and I reply by saying, "I just do what I have to do, but it didn’t happen overnight. This journey is still going to be a lifelong experience and I will just keep going." I do feel very blessed because I have great friends, a very supportive family, a great job, and I just happen to use a wheelchair.
VARILITE® Marketing Representative and Wheelchair User since 1993