Following Your Dreams in a Wheelchair

"What do you want to do as an adult?" That's the question everyone is asked when they are 16-18 years old. Do you enter the workforce, trade school, college, or disability? All have ups and downs associated with them. All have levels of attainability depending on your unique situation.

Goals are the biggest motivator to accomplish anything. I knew what I wanted to be, or rather what industry I wanted to be in, since I was 4 years old. I was lucky enough to end up working for the specific company I've wanted to work for since I was 16. I knew I wanted to go to college by the time I was in 5th grade. How I was going to get through college was still a very big unknown, but I had the goal nonetheless.

Lauren at work

So you have decided to enter trade school or college after the four-year long slog of high school. What school do you choose? Well, like everyone else you have all the standard questions: in-state or out-of-state, public or private, living on-campus or off-campus, etc. The extra question that has to be asked when entering a school with a disability is, "Do they want me there?" The answer should be, "Of course they want me there; I am a paying customer. The school has federally mandated requirements to follow." The real answer is most schools have a culture established long before you get there on how welcoming they are to different people.

I have attended two different colleges. The first one was already completely set up to have anything you would need to accomplish a task ready and waiting for you. If they didn't have it they would get the device, aid, or whatever you need, as soon as possible. This included teacher support and a culture that encouraged teachers to be accepting of the requirements needed by the students. It was a wonderful first experience into my college life and showed me what I should be expecting from other institutions.

The second college I went to had nothing set up and was very unsure of what, if anything, to do with me. The campus was old and did not have a lot of the buildings converted to be accessible. The special services department did not know what to provide or how to provide the accommodations that I needed. There was also no support given to the teachers to encourage the compliance. I spent a lot of time, money, and energy interacting with the college to get the education that I had the legal right to. But all that energy took away from my study time and my enjoyment of the college experience.

Was all that worth the fight? You bet. The college now has better accessibility and special services has expanded to be more helpful to incoming students. Had the administration culture changed by the time I left? No, but the incoming students were working on that. We wouldn't have curb cutouts if it wasn't for the student activism at Berkeley. Fighting for what is right and legally afforded you is an amazing experience. Just take it into account when choosing a college and how much energy you want to spend on the learning, versus fighting for the right to learn.

You made it! You have your trade school or college degree and you are ready to find your first job. What are you looking for in that first job? Money would be nice, vacation, health insurance, and a 401(k) pretty please! Beyond all the basics, you are looking for a culture, just like college. It will be very draining to work for a company that you are constantly pushing to follow the ADA laws or with coworkers/bosses that do not see you as an equal. See if you can meet the people you will be working with and where you will be working. Ask if the company is willing to adapt your workstation setup. Will the sea of cubicles have to be rearranged for you to get through? Is the bathroom really accessible? Are the people you will be working with talking to you as a peer or condescendingly as a "person in a wheelchair"? Finding that amazing group of people to work with is sometimes challenging but usually all it takes is to expose people to the fact that just because our bodies don't work the way we may want them to, doesn't mean our brains don't either. You are just as qualified to work as any other person out there with the same degree.

To disclose, or not to disclose? That is the question. In most settings, I find that disclosing some information helps not only break the ice, but makes people more comfortable around you. Most humans are naturally nervous or fearful of the unknown. When you tell people about yourself, whether it has something to do with your disability or not, it makes you relatable, tangible, and they start to see similarities rather than glaring differences. Some information you will have to disclose so your employer knows that limitations you have, but anything more is up to you. Letting your colleagues know what can and can't be touched on your chair, or what help (if any) you want from them helps establish good boundaries from the beginning. People want to be helpful, but they don't realize that your chair is an extension of your body and that not all help ends up being helpful.

About 70% of the available jobs out there are desk jobs. There is no reason why your much more comfortable and supportive chair shouldn't be in one of those desk jobs. If you're going to sit on your derriere all the time anyway, why not get paid to do it?

About the Author

Lauren

Lauren was diagnosed with Legg-Calve-Perthes at four years of age. She has used adaptive equipment throughout her life from leg braces, walking staff, crutches, and wheelchairs. Lauren has a B.S. in Mechanical Engineering and works in the wheelchair industry. She is an outdoor enthusiast and especially enjoys camping with her dog Zoof in Alaska, Colorado, and California.

Lauren's ride is a Quickie Q7.

Most of the stories here on Live Quickie were submitted by readers. Do you have a story to tell? We'd love to hear it. Submit your story here.


Date: 5/23/2017 12:00:00 AM


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