For me, growing up as child and eventually into an adult living with Cerebral Palsy, a wheelchair user, with a severe panic disorder, I always knew this goal was attainable for others, but I’d be lying if I said I thought I would ever find myself in that position.
After all, here I was a full-grown adult quickly approaching his late 20’s, a degree in hand, years of volunteer service, an artistic background, and most importantly a heart driven to make a positive difference. Yet, the one strike against me was that I had no official prior work experience. To make matters worse, every organization I had reached out to for help with finding employment turned me down… so, how can that change, if no one will give you an opportunity?
The answer for me was hidden within a single phone call and the belief in me from a group of, at the time, total strangers, which has changed the course of my life forever. After reaching out to Michigan Rehabilitation Services and explaining my situation, I was eventually matched up with Disability Network West Michigan, where I initially took part in what I only know how to describe as introductory meetings and from there not only did become a volunteer where I completed all different types of tasks such as designing, phone calls, sorting paperwork, etc.
Along with that, I also participated in programs known as ‘Job Club’ and ‘My Choice My Voice’, which helped me begin to learn about various topics that I had never been shown or worked on before such as resume building, community resources, and interview skills, but most importantly helped me work on developing my self-confidence as an individual. Over the course of the year, I continued to develop my skills as a volunteer. I even received the Steven Silky Volunteer of the Year Award for my efforts, and was eventually hired as Disability Network West Michigan’s Graphic Design Specialist.
Overall, while it may not have happened overnight and there were definitely some difficulties along the way, which can be expected with any major life change… it’s all been worth it. Even on those days when I felt myself begin to slip throughout this process, I had an amazing team of individuals (now fortunate enough to call them friends) there to support me. Not because they had to, but because they genuinely wanted to see me succeed and I can’t begin to express how empowered that support can make someone feel. I truly feel like I experienced all the trials and tribulations I have, not only to better prepare me for where I am today, but to have more tools at my disposal to help others who might be on/or about to start this same journey. Just because people living with disabilities might do it differently, use an alternative approach, or require an accommodation of some kind, doesn’t mean we can’t be just as effective (if not more so) than any other perspective hire.
Last, but not least, if I could leave you with any advice… it’s that if I can, you can. I know, it sounds overly simple, but it’s true. Success is rarely ever a straight path, but that’s okay, so long as it’s your path. Keep going, you never know where life is going to take you!”