By Gary Karp
You are part of history. Really. In a big way.
As a person with a disability, you belong to a big chunk of the human family who are emerging into society on a revolutionary scale. It’s a whole new game.
As a person with a disability, you live in a world that is more accessible, empowered by technologies, providing people with greater mobility and health — with civil rights protections on the books to support you.
More work to do on all this? Sure. But you’ve got some major progress to build on. You’ve got access to a fuller life than someone who fits your description probably would have had in the not so recent past. It’s really fantastically amazing.
I can report on this personally, having become paralyzed 43 years ago. I speak from what I’ve witnessed. For example, in the ‘70s, I had to assume I wouldn’t find a usable bathroom when I left the house.
So what does it all mean? It means that how we all think about disability has to change, too. In our homes, our communities and especially in the workplace. That’s the call to order for every October, which is National Disability Employment Awareness Month.
This new world gets you access to education — from childhood through to higher degrees. It gets you into the office buildings and many locations we couldn’t physically access, or communicate in. It means that more people can be qualified for a wider array of jobs that are about information and relationships instead of physical labor. It gets you options to volunteer, to participate in organized activities that fit your interests. It gets you opportunities to start your own business.
There are so many things to gain from working. A paycheck, obviously. But working also gets you a sense of being valued in a special way, of learning and developing and getting good at something, of becoming part of the culture of a workplace and all of the relationships that come with it. The payoffs are huge.
If you’ve considered working but are a little afraid to make the leap, take a closer look. Your disability might not be the barrier you fear it is — for yourself, or for a potential employer you imagine won’t give you a chance.
Here’s the trick: don’t focus so much on your disability. It’s not really what matters. Focus on what interests you, the way you want to make a difference in the world, the kind of an organization you want to be a part of, the way you can create or share in success.
For an employer, that’s all they care about. If they can see you as someone who can help them succeed, more and more employers will do whatever it takes to have you aboard, seeing disability as something to which we adapt, rather than something that limits.
More employers understand that disability does not innately preclude success. Get out there with that attitude, take advantage of the radical changes in our society, and show the world what you — and people with disabilities in general — have to contribute.
Gary Karp, a wheelchair user since his SCI in 1973, became a speaker for disability after releasing his first book “Life On Wheels: For the Active Wheelchair User” in 1999.