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Last semester, I attended the CUNY IT Conference to learn about new innovations in Assistive Technology and Accessibility Information. I was just waiting for some colleagues and looking at my nametag when there was this realization that I’ve done alright (amazing what a simple nametag can do).
The backstory is that I am a high school dropout and I had little direction for a long time, I was truly just wasting my life away (long story). That is until I found my calling working with people diagnosed with various disabilities.
Fast forward, I finally earned my bachelor’s degree in 2011 (the same year I got married), I like to say I took the 20+ year plan. Now, today I’m working on my second master’s degree, and working as the Assistant Director of a Disability Service Office for a major New York City college. I’ve also got great colleagues, great friends, great family and a great wife! I’ve done alright, indeed.
Sometimes in unsettled times, one has to remember how far one has come and just say, “I’ve done alright.”
Now tell me, have you done alright?
Daniel Chan is a belated student who took the 20+ year plan to get his Bachelor’s Degree. He recently received his M.A. in Disability Studies and is working on his M.S. in Disability Services in Higher Education. His proudest academic achievement is still his GED.
A couple of friends and I were mistaken for vagabonds one time because we were gathering up our change to get on the bus and we happened to be disabled. This is actually a common occurrence because people with disabilities are often subjects to be pitied and their abilities are underestimated. In this blog, I’m going to challenge that notion.
I went to an interview for a part-time job for graduate students at Hunter College this week. This particular job involved working with statistics, and databases, so I was a little scared that I’d be at a disadvantage because I’d require assistive technology to be able to perform my duties for this position. Even though an employer is required to make their workplace environment accessible for people with disabilities, it’s still not a common thing. Because assistive technology can cost up to and even more than $1,000, it’s too easy for employers to say that they have more qualified candidates in order to avoid paying this steep fee. That was my first concern when I was applying for the job.
My second concern was that the interviewer wouldn’t consider me as a serious candidate for the position because of my disability. I decided to apply anyway without disclosing my disability. I figured no one discloses their race, gender, or sexuality when applying for a job so why should I disclose my disability. They’ll eventually find out when they see me anyway.
I have experience using Microsoft Excel, Access and conducting research as well. These were the main qualifications that the employer was looking for so I felt confident when I was applying. I emailed my resume and within a couple of days I heard back from the interviewer. She said that she was impressed with my resume and asked me to come in for an interview.
On Monday I went to the interview. While I was confident of my abilities, I was once again skeptical of the way I would be perceived because of my disability. I’ve gotten some pretty shocking reactions in the past. I once volunteered to clean up Coney Island. When I showed up my team manager was clearly not prepared to manage someone like me. At first he refused to let me pick out the shrubs and weeds with the rest of the volunteers. He claimed that it was for my own safety. I immediately recognized that I was just a liability in his eyes and that he didn’t want this “fragile” person to get hurt from the deadly weeds of Coney Island. I tried to reassure him that I would be ok but he insisted that I just stand there and hold the garbage bag open for the volunteers that were doing the real work.
I was not yet defeated though. I decided to hold the garbage bag from the outside of the garden. I then slowly started picking up whatever weeds I could find on the outskirts of the garden. I talked to the other volunteers and we started working together. They would let me know if any areas looked unsafe and eventually I was picking out weeds with the best of them. He didn’t say anything to me after that. Hopefully I changed his mind and the next volunteer will have a more welcoming experience.
I’m not writing this story to gloat or to boast over my triumph against ignorance. My point is that going into this interview I was prepared for the worst. Because of my previous experiences I expected that I would have to once again prove myself to those who think I am incapable of functioning like everyone else. Fortunately, my interviewer was aware and educated about people with disabilities so my interview wasn’t about myself proving that I’m equal to my sighted counterparts. It was about me proving that I’m the most qualified candidate for the job which is the way it should be. She only asked one question about my disability which is how I am able to use a computer. I informed her of a screen reading software called Jaws. She asked me where she can purchase it and that was the end of that subject. Needless to say, the interview was a success. The interviewer told me that she will no longer interview anyone else and that when the position is available I can have it. So there you have it. Blind people can work. That is if society lets them. Good luck with the end of the semester and remember. The next time you see a person with a disability hanging out in the street or park don’t assume that they’re accepting donations.
Walei is pursuing a masters in Disability Studies in the School of Professional Studies. He has blogged for the Accessible New York project in the past and continues to do so. Walei is also an aspiring writer, musician, and advocate for people with disabilities.