Challenged But Not Disabled

It's tough breaking into the job market when you're physically challenged. However, with planning and persistence you can overcome barriers to your success.

Level with co-walkers.
Walker suggests that you try to put your co-workers at ease with your disability by communicating openly with them about it. Tell them exactly what you will need them to do — or what you will do to make it easy to work together. For instance, Walker, who is legally blind, asks people to present written information in a form she can see. “If you’re deaf, ask people to please face you when speaking. In other words, let them know the best way to give information to you,” she advises.

Take the strain off your co-workers by making sure you have at your fingertips all the support services, data and other resources you need to work efficiently. After the first couple of weeks, you should know where to go for what you need.

To guard against the possibility that your boss or co-workers may have low expectations of you because of your disability, Walker suggests that you document your achievements and present them during your annual reviews. Don’t be afraid to blow your own trumpet when necessary.

If you’re perceived as a talented and reliable team player and as a valuable resource with a positive influence on others, you should have little or no trouble moving up the career ladder.

9. Hire yourself.
As with the able-bodied, not everyone is cut out for the corporate world. Also, how successful you are at finding employment often depends on the nature of your disability. “A person who has just become disabled will have different challenges to overcome than the person who has been disabled since birth and has learned to function smoothly with aids,” says Betty Tate, director of employment services at Mainstream Inc.

“The first person may no longer be able to do the work he or she was doing before and unable to find anything comparable. This person may need career counseling and, in most cases, retraining.” Tate cites the case of a young lady who became blind and had to give up her job as a systems analyst because her company couldn’t accommodate the adaptive technology (voice activation) she needed to do her job. “She decided to live on disability and now supplements her income by training people who are visually impaired to use adaptive technology,” says Tate.

Other African Americans with disabilities have found a different door to success. Many opt to work for public service or nonprofit organizations, often those that advocate for or support the physically challenged. Others go into business for themselves.

Theodore A. Pinnock, 35, a graduate of the University of Connecticut in Storrs, was denied acceptance at the University of Bridgeport Law School because the school felt his cerebral palsy rendered him incapable of performing the duties of an attorney. Pinnock went on to Western State University’s College of Law, where he earned his law degree. Upon graduation, he was unable to find a job with a law firm. So, in 1991, he started his own, Pinnock & Kelso in San Diego, with the revenue he obtained from writing

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