What do I do here at Paraquad? I started my job at Paraquad back in April, just about six months ago, and it’s taken me most of that time to figure it out myself.
By title, I’m the youth and family specialist. My job includes working with the youth at Paraquad, particularly between the ages of 14 and 24. I help them figure out what they want to do after they graduate high school.
Oftentimes, youth with disabilities are overlooked as having any potential. I’ve heard it myself as I went through school: “Why do you want to go to college? What kind of job can you have?”
When the typical 16 year old is deciding on her future, she doesn’t have to worry about those questions. When a youth with a disability is deciding on their future, it seems like she is met with so much opposition.
I understand that a lot of it is out of protection for the person. We, as people with disabilities, need to have a plan because we are not afforded the freedom of spontaneity. We do have to look at what colleges are most accessible. We do have to figure out a living arrangement, especially if we need any personal assistance. We do have to plan our schedules around bathroom times and distance between the buildings.
On the other hand, if college is not in the future for a person with a disability, the planning then moves to employment. The standard job search is enough of a terrible and daunting experience. Try adding a disability to it.
How do I go to a job interview and show them that I have the potential to be a valuable member of the organization and not just a diversity requirement?
Once I get the job, I need to know what my rights are as a person with a disability. What if the bathrooms aren’t accessible? How do I ask for certain job accommodations like a videophone or a computer program that reads the screen?
Primarily, my job at Paraquad is to help the youth answer these questions. I inform them of their rights as people with disabilities. I let them know that maybe their parents were misguided when they said that it would be impossible to go to college. I present them with options and, most importantly, my own personal experiences.
I remember that I never thought about going to college until the summer after my junior year of high school. I was talking with a man who said it would be completely possible for me to attend college. He said he had a roommate one year who had a disability and he had a personal attendant meet him throughout the day. I had never heard of such a thing.
From that conversation, I did my own research. I talked to all the wrong people and, eventually, all the right people. My dad was extremely supportive throughout the process.
However, I had a lot of resources at my disposal. I have a strong sense of self-advocacy and I’m outspoken. A lot of the youth in the youth group don’t have all of that. They’ve been told “you can’t” for so long that they believe it.
In my job interview for this position, I remember stating that I wish I had something similar to this youth program when I was growing up. It took me so long to identify as a person with a disability, which put me at a disadvantage with planning for my future.
The youth program is so important because it helps people with disabilities, at an earlier age, recognize who they are and then express to other people what they need.
Anna Corbitt is the Youth and Family Specialist at Paraquad. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.