Meena Dhanjal Outlaw is one of our blog contributors that enjoys sharing information and stories about living with a disability. She suffered a severe spinal cord injury over 20 years ago that left her significantly paralyzed and has found ways to adapt and live an enjoyable life with her husband and children.
Here, Meena shares five things she learned after finishing physical and outpatient rehabilitation and deciding to go back to work. She talks about some of the new barriers those with a disability may face when seeking employment and some things to consider.
1. The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA)
We have had many laws changed that help companies in The United States understand what it means to accommodate a person with a disability. We also have laws in place making it a crime to discriminate against a person with a disability within the workplace. However, if you are like me and have applied to many jobs for which you are well experienced and qualified, you will also find that much more work remains to be done for change. Ultimately, this hurts all of us when it comes to economy and self-sufficiency.
As a mother raising young children, I had to think very quickly about what I would do, considering the employment market was not working for me. After my spinal cord injury, I applied to two hundred seventy-nine jobs. Out of those, I received seven callbacks for interviews.
Since I was so new in my injury, it never even occurred to me to mention I was in a wheelchair when setting up interviews. One company felt so bad that I could not get up their mounds of steps they instead took me to lunch for my interview. The interviewer was genuinely disappointed. I was completely qualified for the position, but the building was built before the ADA law had been put into place and could not accommodate my disability.
Most interviewers were gracious, but I kept running into the same problem whereby either the building wasn’t conducive, or the law didn’t apply. I even tried going back to my previous field of IT recruiting and found that my new physical image was preventing me from getting past the front door. I quickly received an education in hidden discrimination.
2. Finding Your Niche
Eventually, I was hired by a company, but I soon understood it wasn’t my physical limitations that I wasn’t ready to handle; I lacked proper mental stability to face the ‘real’ world I encountered.
That is when I decided to go back to school and get into a field that would suit my lifestyle as a busy mother.
I always loved writing and was also very good at it from a very young age. Nonetheless, it wasn’t something I pursued early on, but now that I was home twiddling my thumbs, I had nothing to lose. I accepted an opportunity to enroll in a college program to learn how to write for children and teens. Before then, I had already self-published a memoir and began working on a children’s book.
When I had my spinal cord injury, I was on Social Security disability benefits. Under the ticket to work program, I was allowed to work for nine months before deciding whether I could successfully exist in the workplace without the benefits being disturbed.
Eventually, I was earning as much as a part-time employee as a writer, and now, with the books I have published and the blogs I write, I am grateful that it is more, and I can call myself self-employed.
3. Going Back to School to Learn Something New
It isn’t unusual to return to school after having a debilitating injury and be retrained to focus on what one can do with the new limitations. Many disabled people become attorneys and doctors or find the computer industry to be suitable.
I found that my writing was my therapy. Even better, I was earning while bringing awareness regarding issues within the disabled community that often forgotten.
So, if work is on your agenda, remember that larger companies are more regulated now and are, by law, equipped to accommodate you. Also, many colleges and training programs will help you find a job after you complete your course. Therefore I advise you to get to know your counselor well!
4. State Vocational Rehabilitation Agencies
Another resource is the State Vocational Rehabilitation Agencies, which will help you prepare for, obtain, maintain, or regain employment. Every state in the United States has a vocational rehabilitation agency. These agencies are beneficial when it comes to meeting your employment goals.
5. Think About Transportation
Transportation can be an issue and if you cannot afford a vehicle. You may consider residing in an area where public transportation is available. I live outside the city limits and have recently gained assistance in having a modified minivan equipped with hand controls and a ramp since I have been using a power wheelchair since late 2014.
Since I work from home, I now have a modified desk to write, an automatic door to assist in getting in and out of my house, and proper modifications on my vehicle, allowing me to easily go outside of my home to perform the necessary functions of my job.
For more information on going back to work, I recommend you log into the Social Security Administration website. There is a wealth of information available on how to get back into the workforce that I found very useful.
About the Author
On January 23, 2000, Meena suffered a spinal cord injury that left her a T12 paraplegic. She worked hard to grow and push past adversity and challenges and even went back to school for a four-year diploma in writing for teenagers and children.
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