October is Disability Employment Awareness Month.
Disability employment is a cause close to my heart. After my stroke, I spent time in a wheelchair, followed by five years using a motorized scooter. I remember the challenges I faced, and I operated my own business. I didn’t have to depend on anyone else for a job, but I did have to do business with other people who might doubt my ability to manage an interior landscape company when I couldn’t stand on my own two feet.
I remember one particular client visit. I had toured the atrium in the building to check on the work my staff did, then I met with the building manager in her office. We had a cordial discussion about the plants and our services, then I started to leave. However, her office had a short corridor from the office area to the exit, and I discovered that the corridor was too narrow for me to be able to position myself in such a way that I could reach the doorknob from the scooter. I had to back to scooter to her office and ask her to let me out.
The building manager walked over and opened the door. As I was maneuvering the scooter down the narrow passage, she said, “If I had to be on one of those things, I would never go out in public.”
I responded, “Every morning I have to make a choice. Will I lie in bed and feel sorry for myself or will I get up and go out in public on ‘one of those things.’ Every morning, I choose to keep living my life.”
She immediately apologized and explained that she had meant her comment to be a compliment, not a criticism. She didn’t think she would have the courage to make the choice to keep living.
“We never know how we would choose until we’re actually faced with the choice,” I said.
Millions of people with disabilities of all kinds face that decision every day, and they don’t all have the luxury I did of being my own boss. They must find an employer willing to give them a chance and perhaps make accommodations.
Fortunately, the Americans with Disabilities Act makes employment more accessible for many individuals who have disabilities along with great talent. The ADA was a new law when I had the stroke. People with long-time disabilities hadn’t started venturing out in great numbers, so it was common for my car to be the only one in a long row of handicapped parking spaces. Today, it’s more difficult to find a handicapped parking space because people with disabilities are no longer staying at home. They are in the marketplace and in the workplace. May each one have the opportunity to contribute.