Disability 101: Changed and on my way to D.C.
June 21, 2009
I am changed. I have just returned from the annual National ADA Symposium which was held in Kansas City, Mo., on June 8-10 and I am changed.I think it’s the contrast that hits me most. Let me start with some background.I was first a special education teacher. I have a college degree and I was the team leader for a group of Masters level and Doctoral level professionals. But then multiple sclerosis hit me and I couldn’t teach any more because in the state of Colorado, teaching special education is pretty much a 60 hour a week job and I couldn’t manage 60 hours a week with my MS.So I spent a few years searching. If I couldn’t teach, what would my career be now? I tried a couple things. I searched. I questioned. I explored.Well meaning people who really don’t get it told me to get on social security (having no idea how difficult and degrading that really is). They told me that if I had to work, perhaps I could work at a call center or I could scan invoices.I despaired. Was the only choice left to me being a Walmart greeter? Was that all I could do? I struggled with self-doubt in the face of all these well meaning people who were just so sure that I wasn’t capable of much.However, this week I attended the National ADA Symposium, and I will never doubt myself again.At the Symposium, I had the opportunity to meet Sally Conway, a woman who also has multiple sclerosis and who also uses a wheelchair, but who is the director of the ADA Technical Assistance and Mediation Programs with the Civil Rights Division of the US Department of Justice in Washington D.C.. Ms. Conway is assigned to the Division’s Disability Rights Section which is involved with investigating and litigating Title II and Title III ADA violations.I met Bill Botten, who is also a wheelchair user. He is an Accessibility Specialist in the Office of Technical and Information Services with the US Access Board. in Washington D.C.. Mr. Botten has been very involved in developing the guidelines for the ADA and the Architectural Barriers Act and in developing guidelines for recreation areas and facilities, and he travels throughout the country providing training in accessibility.I met Jim de Jong, the executive director of the DBTAC Great Plains ADA Center. Mr. de Jong, a wheelchair user, served on the U.S. House of Representatives Task Force on the Rights and Empowerment of Americans with Disabilities, the group that assisted Senator Tom Harkin in the development and steering of the Americans with Disabilities Act thorough the US Congress. Mr. de Jong is also hysterically funny and kept us all entertained as the host of this year’s ADA Symposium in Kansas City.There were many others, people with a wide variety of disabilities who have careers as ADA coordinators for city, county and state governments. I met people with disabilities who are directors for disability student service offices at colleges and universities. I met people with disabilities who work as directors at independent living centers.Note to readers: people with disabilities are capable of a great deal more than call centers and scanning. A great deal more.This is starting to be recognized. Rosalind Joffe is a fantastic career coach with cicoach.com. Ms. Joffe lives with two chronic illnesses, multiple sclerosis and ulcerative colitis. She coaches clients with a variety of chronic illnesses to develop skills to succeed in their careers. Check her out at http://www.cicoach.com.