Finding Employment Where You Will Thrive

Posted by Reeve Staff in Life After Paralysis on June 30, 2020 # Lifestyle, Employment

By guest blogger Sheri Denkensohn-Trott

Traditionally, the employment rate of individuals with disabilities lagged far behind those without. But a recent study by the Kessler Foundation: 2020 National Employment & Disability Survey: Recent College Graduates, brought some good news. The report highlights strides that have been made in employment of individuals with disabilities since passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act.Sheri Denkensohn-Trott

It is tricky to generalize about job searches for individuals with disabilities since disabilities vary so widely. But keep in mind that each of us knows our own capabilities and constraints better than any employer. Use this knowledge in your job searches. Also, I recommend focusing on three critical areas: job preparation, reasonable accommodation, and health/work balance.

Job Preparation

Education is key. Wherever you land, -- trade school, community college, University or otherwise – take advantage of the support they offer. As an undergraduate at the University of Albany, I relied heavily on the Office of Disabled Student Services and my Vocational Rehabilitation counselor. They helped guide me to a field of study where I would thrive and continued to advise me, even at my first job.

Some job search tasks are obvious, such as resume development and mock interviews, but there are other practical considerations, too. I enjoyed advocacy and writing and decided that a legal education would be a good fit. So far, so good. But I also needed a job that provided health coverage for pre-existing conditions (since, at 21 I was no longer covered under my parent’s insurance). As a quadriplegic who could not drive, I needed to live in an accessible city that maximized my independence. So, I focused my energy on finding a job with the Federal government because of the benefits and urban, accessible locations.

I chose a law school in Washington, DC, to be close to my hoped-for future employer, and enrolled in the night program. This spread my schedule over four years and lessened my course load each semester. Importantly, I also found a part-time Federal job, that gave me experience that was crucial in obtaining a full-time legal position after graduation.

I was also lucky to have gifted, generous mentors. Among others, my sister helped me prepare for my first interview by grilling me about my disability. With this practice, I was calm during the interview and prepared to describe my disability and accommodation needs. I believe this matter-of-fact presentation was a large part of my success; I got the job; -- and a whole career. Please, seek out mentors wherever you can find them.

Reasonable Accommodation

In my experience, reasonable accommodations are best achieved by frank discussion with your employer. Explain what you need for optimal performance. In my case, this included voice-activated software, an adjustable desk, automatic bathroom doors, and lowered elevator buttons. These may not all happen overnight – though technology improves every day – so be willing to prioritize and have patience. Also, try to anticipate future accommodation needs. For instance, I discussed accommodations for office retreats and travel early in the planning process.

Health/Work Balance

A careful health/work balance is vital. This balance varies with the individual. For me, early morning meetings were impractical (because my morning routines take so long) so I attend them by phone. Where my presence was necessary, my employer knew to schedule the meeting later. When my daily commute became too taxing, I began occasional telework. Eventually, after surgery complications, I had a trach and worked at home practically full-time. As my health needs changed, I spoke to my supervisor. Together we modified my job responsibilities to provide a better balance. A work environment where your colleagues and supervisor respect and understand your general health needs (no need to go into excruciating detail) provides the incentive to be a loyal and hard-working employee. Even on my most challenging days, I knew that leaving the place where my health needs were respected would be the wrong decision. Throughout my 25- year Federal Government career, my duties fit my skill set, I had supervisors willing to make and adjust reasonable accommodations, and was provided with flexibility related to my health so I could maintain the health/work balance. In short, I could thrive.'

Sheri Denkensohn-Trott sustained a spinal cord injury in 1983 and is a C4 quadriplegic. She practiced law for the Federal government for 25 years and started her own business with her husband (who also has a disability) called Happy on Wheels, LLC. Their vision is to inspire others, with and without disabilities, to live happier lives through writing, speaking, mentoring, and consulting. Sheri is a columnist for New Mobility magazine and a regular contributor to other written publications. Additionally, she is a motivational speaker, professional storyteller, and mentors students and individuals of all ages. She serves on The Advisory Board of the Rockefeller College and is also a breast cancer survivor and Ambassador for the American Cancer Society. Sheri is currently writing her first book. Sheri and her husband reside in Arlington, Virginia. You can follow them on all forms of social media, and subscribe to their newsletter by accessing their website www.happyonwheels.com.