The Path to Employment: Paved with Dreams, Choices, Goals

Posted by Reeve Staff in Life After Paralysis on June 29, 2020 # Lifestyle, Employment

Written by Taylor Price, Ambassador for the Christopher & Dana Reeve Foundation

Throughout my life, I envisioned going to college and finding an exciting job. I have always loved being challenged, feeling like I am part of a greater mission, the energy produced from working collaboratively with a group of colleagues and the social aspects of physically being in an office. This desire and goal did not change even after a catastrophic diving accident that resulted in me becoming a C-5/6 quadriplegic.Taylor Price

When my accident occurred on July 8, 2004, I was 18 years old, had just graduated high school and was six weeks away from starting my freshman year at Georgetown University. Immediately after my accident, I endured many months of physical and occupational therapy at the Shepherd Center in Georgia and Kessler Rehabilitation in New Jersey with the goal of still attending Georgetown one year post injury. In addition to getting my body healthy and strong, I was re-learning the most basic life functions ranging from brushing my teeth to picking up a soda can to transferring in and out of the bed.

Thankfully I progressed to where I could start my college experience at Georgetown in September 2005. While I may not have known exactly how I was going to successfully navigate living on a campus, I recognized that I would not be able to do it without the support of many people. I had an amazing college experience and became an active member of our campus community as evidenced by me attending sporting events, participating in student government and enjoying lots of parties with friends. For any individual who is considering going to college following an injury, I would offer the following advice to you:

Know what you “need” that will allow you to be healthy, successful and have fun while enrolled in college. These needs to discuss with your college may include caregivers, medical equipment, and accessible housing.

Understand the offices where you can request special accommodations (likely the Student Affairs office or an Academic Resource Center.) Potential accommodations may include supplemental class notes being provided, extra time on tests, ability to use voice dictation software for writing intensive exams, caregivers sitting in classes with you, special access to/at on-campus events.

Learn what your housing options are and keep in mind that you may need a caregiver to live with you on campus. (One year I had a caregiver that lived in an adjacent dorm room and other years my caregiver lived in the same on-campus apartment as me.)

Explore the available on-campus student healthcare services and know what the closest hospital is in case of a significant emergency.

Immerse yourself in your entire college community and become friends with as many people as you can. Remember that most students don’t know a lot of people when they arrive, have their own personal stories and are just as eager to have a great experience as you, so don’t be shy.

My time at Georgetown ultimately prepared me to enter the workforce as it gave me the time to learn about myself and how to live more confidently. Upon receiving my undergraduate and master’s degrees, I was proud to get a job with the federal government in 2011. After working almost 8 years at the same government agency in multiple roles, I decided to transition to the private sector recently and was lucky to join an incredible social impact education technology company named EVERFI. Whether I was exploring new job opportunities in the public or private sectors, I approached every process with the same mindset and determination.

To be honest, I always proactively address my disability early in “job search” conversations as there is no reason to hide it (obviously hard to hide it when you enter a meeting in a power wheelchair). I aim to put prospective employers at ease so that we can focus on my strengths and the ways that I can benefit their company. In some cases, I even share that my situation may be advantageous because of all the unique life experiences I have that make me a better problem solver from planning my daily routines, a better people manager from handling caregiver relationships and I bring an overall empathetic mindset that could be welcomed at any company. While I acknowledge that this conversation may be difficult at times, I have found this to be a very productive approach.

I speak frequently with individuals who have sustained severe injuries and are looking to enter the workforce. My advice to them generally includes the following five tips:

Research specific industry hiring authorities/company initiatives that relate to the hiring of people with disabilities and use the applicable ones to your advantage. While it may feel weird, this may be helpful in getting your candidacy the appropriate attention and to getting your “foot in the door.”

Network with people to create opportunities to talk about your interests, passions, and your qualifications for a specific job. All people network, but for those with special circumstances it gives you the chance to share your personal story and practice selling yourself as a potential employee…who happens to have a disability.

Own the disability conversation and be confident in advocating for yourself. You must be able to explain what “reasonable accommodations” you need to be successful in a job and genuinely talk about your life situation so people don’t operate with any preconceived notions. Some people have a perception about what employees with disabilities are able to do but this is generally uninformed so sometimes you must help explain. Your disability is NOT who you are so don’t let anyone define you by it and be sure to tell your own story.

Speak with Vocational Rehabilitation Offices & Social Security Administration to see if you qualify for any programs to assist with your job search, reimbursement for equipment you purchased that allows you to work, or supplemental income depending on how much you will be making.

Understand your potential compensation and health benefits package before signing any contracts. It is imperative to know whether switching to your prospective employer’s insurance provider will affect the vendors you use to obtain your medical supplies and equipment. Additionally, determine whether your new level of compensation impacts any supplemental income you receive from Social Security.

In summary, you should know that going to college and joining the workforce are two life objectives that remain entirely possible even following a life-altering accident. Plenty of resources exist to help you be successful, but you must first CHOOSE to take the journey.

For additional information, please contact an Information Specialist at the Christopher & Dana Reeve Foundation’s Paralysis Resource Center by calling 800-539-7309 or contact www.ChristopherReeve.org/Ask. Everyone’s situation is different, especially as it relates to benefits, so contact the Resource Center to have your questions answered if you are interested.