Diane Wieland

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In recognition of National Disability Employment Awareness Month, I interviewed a handful of Paraquad employees with varying disabilities and employment histories. The employees share their experiences with employment as people with disabilities.

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John Braddock
Independent Living Specialist

What is your disability? Cerebral palsy.

When did you enter the workforce? I entered the workforce in 2008 in a work experience program capacity. This is my first full-time job.

What were some challenges related to your disability that you experienced when you first started looking for a job? It was just having to go far out of your way to prove yourself. You have to appear twice as hardworking to put yourself in the same league as your non-disabled coworkers. Even if I proved myself, if anyone new came into the fold, regardless of position, you had to prove yourself to them too.

Have those challenges changed for better or worse? How? In my personal life, it’s changed for the better. I feel like people here at Paraquad judge you on your merits alone. However, not all people have that luxury.

What does inclusion in the workplace mean for you? Paraquad is the epitome of workplace inclusion. I say this because people with disabilities and people without are integrated in such a way that no one appears to be singled out despite having reasonable accommodations. Normalizing reasonable accommodations on the “local level,” if you will, is the key to workplace inclusion.

Karen Lister

Karen Lister
Billing Compliance Coordinator

What is your disability? Deaf (profound hearing loss).

When did you enter the workforce? Age 15 1/2 at Six Flags.

What were some challenges related to your disability that you experienced when you first started looking for a job? The challenges were mainly communication and hearing (people’s) attitudes. There was no interpreter provided during the job application, job interview, orientation or team meetings. There was also an attitude toward my deafness. I would be looked at differently when I began to talk. There was a lack of patience in repeating what was said. I was left out of conversations and meetings. People would pretend they understood me when they didn’t want to ask for clarification.

Have those challenges changed for better or worse? How? The challenges remain the same. There is still a lot of discrimination toward Deaf employees. Some employers refuse accommodations because they view it as too expensive. However, there is a growing awareness of the Deaf culture and learning basic sign language.

What does inclusion in the workplace mean for you? Inclusion is very important in a workplace where I can feel like I “fit in” and have the ability to communicate with coworkers that helps me succeed in my job. Without inclusion of communication, no one can fulfill their job. Inclusion means providing accommodations, such as a sign language interpreter, especially when it comes to important details within the job, projects and/or meetings. It also includes training the staff and supervisors about Deaf culture and how to interact with a Deaf employee.

Matt Brock

Matt Brock
Independent Living Specialist

What is your disability? C5-6 spinal cord injury.

When did you enter the workforce? 2011.

What were some challenges related to your disability that you experienced when you first started looking for a job? Knowing when to ask for accommodations and understanding reasonable accommodations. I didn’t want to appear to be asking for too much. I also needed an assistance with bathroom needs. The other issue was maintaining stamina throughout the work day.

Have those challenges changed for better or worse? How? They’ve gotten better because I’ve gotten more comfortable and more confident in knowing what a reasonable accommodation is and what is not. Working with people who are understanding of various needs and disabilities was beneficial. Having an attendant on staff has also been helpful.

What does inclusion in the workplace mean for you? Inclusion is nice, but feeling like an equal to others is much more important to me. Inclusion feels like having to bring your little brother along just because your mom asks you to, but Paraquad takes it to another level by understanding that everyone has something important to contribute.

Stephanie McDowell

Stephanie McDowell
Youth and Family Education Specialist

What is your disability? Visual impairment (blindness).

When did you enter the workforce? My first job was in a video store in 1997.

What were some challenges related to your disability that you experienced when you first started looking for a job? At my first job, there was a high turnover rate for the store managers, which meant that every time someone new came, in I had to prove myself. There was no upward movement because of that. The initial interview process was challenging because a lot of times they would focus on my disability rather than my qualifications related to the job. Sometimes getting the accommodations were difficult, particularly for the internships. Receiving the accommodations were not always efficient.

Have those challenges changed for better or worse? How? Those challenges have changed for the better, mostly because I have learned to advocate for myself and people are more educated about people with disabilities. I still find times when I need to prove myself as a professional. When talking with teachers or other social workers, they tend to talk down to me.

What does inclusion in the workplace mean for you? It means being able to succeed or fail just like anybody else. It means being able to do things that matter to me rather than being told what “fits” for me. It means getting the accommodations I need so I can be successful and understanding how to ask for them.

Michael Anderson

Michael Anderson
Peer Group Services Coordinator

What is your disability? T-12 spinal cord injury.

When did you enter the workforce? I was a volunteer at Paraquad in 2010 as a phone bank specialist.

What were some challenges related to your disability that you experienced when you first started looking for a job? One challenge was my negative thinking that I couldn’t do the job. Paraquad was the first job I had after my injury.

Have those challenges changed for better or worse? How? The challenge has changed. I know I can do the job, but now I have to prove to my employer that I can.

What does inclusion in the workplace mean for you? I feel like it gives you a sense of worth. I can actually earn a living and prove that I can be a productive member of society rather than collecting disability checks. Inclusion means being able to have a flexible schedule within reason. It’s also having more of a supportive work environment than competitive. We work together.

Diane Wieland

Diane Wieland
Youth and Family Manager

What is your disability? Cerebral palsy and a speech disability.

When did you enter the workforce? My first job was a socialization director in 1989.

What were some challenges related to your disability that you experienced when you first started looking for a job? People prejudged my disability. They did not expect me to succeed and expected me to be lazy and want a free ride. They had low expectations of my ability. People were afraid of my speech disability. They did not feel comfortable asking for clarification.

Have those challenges changed for better or worse? How? The Americans with Disabilities Act helped a little bit. For my first job, they wanted me to buy my own computer to complete my job. It was an ultimatum. But when I was employed by Paraquad after the ADA, it was refreshing when they asked what job accommodations I would need.

What does inclusion in the workplace mean for you? My number one goal was to be financially independent and maintaining a lifestyle just like everyone else regardless of my disability. I did not want to depend on anyone. Paraquad looks at people’s abilities rather than what they cannot do. We focus on strengths and enhance their talents. That’s what I love about Paraquad.

Anna Corbitt is the Youth and Family Specialist at Paraquad. She can be reached at acorbitt@paraquad.org.

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