Back in 2001, I had a modest dream of working for a company where I did not have to struggle to get into their offices. I made a decision to no longer pretend my disabilities did not exist. I was getting older, and climbing stairs became a big issue, and an actual danger of being injured whenever I had to use them. Even though I could walk, I made the difficult decision to ask potential employers if their offices were wheelchair accessible before I went to interviews. I would explain the reason, and I could almost hear the human resources person on the other end of the phone line tuning me out, and mentally moving on to the next candidate. Job interviews dried up to virtually nil.
Meanwhile, at the federal Employment offices, I asked if there were any agencies that assisted disabled people who are looking for employment. They told me I was overqualified for those agencies, since I had worked for 16 years in the computer business. I wanted to yell at them, “How does being overqualified help me find companies that are in buildings accessible to the disabled?” I kept quiet however, not wanting to make any enemies at this particular time.
A year later, my savings ran out, and I had to go on welfare. While applying, I asked for the $200 month extra per month that disabled people are allowed while on welfare. My government refused at first and I contested their decision. It was so confusing to be considered disabled (but overqualified let’s not forget) by one government agency, and not disabled by another.
I dug my heels in and presented my case to a panel of three experts: A doctor, a welfare agent, and a social worker. It would have been easy for me to give up in the face of these stubborn “experts”, as they tried to brainwash me into believing that I was not disabled enough to deserve a whole $200 extra per month. Put into perspective, that $200 would have purchased me a whopping ten round-trip taxi rides per month to potential job interviews. Whoopty ding-dong!
I would have laughed at them if the situation were not so dire. My whole body was shaking, barely containing the anger at the idiocy of it all. I kept referring them to my extensive medical records, which they had in their possession. Their reply throughout was “But surely, your disability does not prevent you from working.”
Exasperated, I said, “Look. That is not the issue, but rather, with my reduced mobility, my options are automatically much more limited in finding accessible buildings to work in. I keep telling you, there’s no magic pill or surgery that will help me fly up a flight of stairs. I’m not asking for a million dollars here, just $200 a month, which will probably be used to help me get to interviews, without dipping into the remaining $700 a month on welfare that I need to pay my rent and food with!”
Dead silence came from the other end of the phone after my passionate plea. I could almost hear the gears in their collective brains grinding, and smell the smoke coming out of their ears as they processed my words. “We see your point, and we will grant you disabled status for the purposes of your welfare claim.”
Woohoo, one battle won, one to go!
With my newly acquired disabled status in hand, I returned to the federal employment agency and pushed them to reveal this super secret information regarding job search agencies for the disabled. They introduced me to a group called I AM CARES. What bust that turned out to be! In one whole year, they found me one interview. The interview was for the lost/stolen card department for a major credit card company. Literally mid-interview the job opportunity morphed into a sales job. I told them I’m not a salesman, and the job was supposed to be supporting clients who had lost or had their credit card stolen. They said, “Oh, we’re sorry, every agent must participate in the sales program.” Not being interested in sales, I did not do well in the interview, and did not get that job.
One more year passes: As I operate my part-time business from home, my welfare payments dwindles to nothing when the money comes in, and carries me through the leaner months. I AM CARES finally contacts me to say, there was a company in the USA that they knew of who looked for job opportunities on behalf of people with disabilities. I thought to myself, “Why is my provincially funded job search agency passing me on to an American company?” Talk about feeling like a hot-potato being tossed around.
Lucky for me, the company they were talking about was Bender Consulting Services. In two weeks, Joyce Bender and company did for me what both my federal and provincial governments could not do: Put me in contact with a company that was friendly towards a person with a disability. I went to the interview, and very shortly after that, I was hired. I have been working for over six years for the same company, and have been promoted three times.
The lessons I have learned during this period of my life have been very valuable:
- Always fight for your rights, no matter the odds. (No on has the right to take that away from you.)
- Never give up. To quote a cliche: Quitters never win, and winners never quit.
- Never give up on your dreams. Though not all of your dreams may come true, the attempt to reach them will make you a better person.
- Be honest with yourself and potential employers. You will find more suitable employment more quickly that way.
- This seems a contradictory point, but, even though labels may be a necessary evil, do not labels define you. We are all so much more than what any individual (or government agency) thinks of us.
- Trust Joyce Bender and Bender Consulting Services when it comes to finding you a job. They have done for me more than any single group on the planet!
In closing, I just want to encourage each of you who live with a disability to continue to learn and grow, and be the best you can be. It is in this way that we will overcome our various labels, and prove to the world (and ourselves), that disability is only in the eye of the beholder!
For more information about Bender Consulting Services, click here: http://www.benderconsult.com