There comes a time in everyone’s life, generally when they are aged between 16 and 18 where they are asked a very important question; who do you want to be? That is when you start to ponder… Do you want to join the civil service? Go to business school? Attend college? Or maybe something else entirely?
What do you want to be when you grow up?
In life, to accomplish anything one must motivate oneself, one creates goals so that they can be self-driven to excel. For me, I knew what I wanted to be as early as when I was four years old. By fifth grade, when I was 10 or 11 I knew that I would be heading to college when the time came.
Choosing a wheelchair accessible college
When the time comes to join college and you decide to join a business school, the tough part is always choosing which school. When selecting an institution you have to ask yourself some questions like where you want to live and even what kind of institution you want to opt for.
In my case, I have attended two colleges. The first had everything to help you to accomplish your tasks, and, if you required anything extra, plans would be made to ensure that you got that device, help or anything else that you wanted, including support from the teachers. This, I thought, was a good benchmark of what to expect.
Then came the second institution, the complete opposite to my first. They didn’t have anything planned to help me, or really know what to do with me. Being an old campus, the accessibility of the buildings was an uphill task.
The special services department had no idea on how to provide me with the accommodation I required. There was also no push given to teachers to accept my requirements. This forced me to put in a lot of resources, time, money, and energy so that I could be able to get around the campus fully and get the education that I was legally entitled to. After putting in so much effort, I lost a lot of study time and missed out on some of the fun that is always on campus.
You must by now be wondering if all that effort was worth it? More recently the campus has improved, providing better special services and improved accessibility.
By the time I left though the administration had not changed, although incoming students were working to change this. We wouldn’t have managed to deal with segregation if it wasn’t for student activism at the campus. The thrill of fighting for what is legally your right is quite an amazing experience. It’s always worth considering the amount of energy you are willing to put in so that you can learn.
Finding a job as a wheelchair user
Now that you have completed your learning with a degree in hand, it’s time to find your first job. The question then is; what am I looking for in my first job? A well-paying job with vacation time and a very well defined health insurance and other perks.
In reality what you should be looking for is just a place, a bit like a campus, one with a culture. This is because it will be very frustrating to work for a company that considers you different. The last thing you want is to have to keep reminding them of your rights and you certainly don’t want staff who disassociate themselves with you.
Before securing the job ensure that you can meet the staff and conduct a tour of the workplace. Go ahead and know the efforts the company is willing to do to adapt the place to your needs. Consider if your presence will necessitate a rearrangement to the office layout to accommodate your mobility. How easy is the bathroom to use? How do your new workmates interact with you? Though finding the perfect group of workmates who will accept you the way you are might be difficult, sometimes all you have to do is that make them realise that although you are disabled, you are capable. That you are their equal, with the same qualification.
The next challenge after securing a job is whether or not you should open up. Mostly I find opening up helps a long way in easing the tension caused by most people fearing the unknown. When you do people will find it easier talking to you since they can see similarities between you and their lives, this way they can relate to you.
The company’s policy may dictate what to disclose to them to understand any limitations you may envisage, but anything else beyond that is your decision. Go on and let your workmates understand your personal space, what can be touched on your wheelchair, what, if any help you require. This sets a very clear boundary right from the start. People are always willing to give a helping hand, but sometimes people fail to realise that the wheelchair is part of your body, and help may not always be appreciated.
So if you wondering whether you can get a job in that wheelchair, just remember that 70% of all available jobs out there are behind a desk. So there is no reason why your - much more comfortable chair - should not be behind one of those desks. After all if you are going to sit on your bum all day, then you should get paid for it.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Lauren has been unable to walk since the age of 4, when she was diagnosed with Legg-Calve-Perthes. She has used various types of adaptive equipment, ranging from leg braces and wheelchairs. This did not stop her from attaining a B.S. in Mechanical Engineering and securing a job in the wheelchair industry. Lauren loves being outdoors, especially camping with her dog, Zoof, in Alaska, Colorado and California.
Looking for a chair that helps you live without limits at college? Why not check out the Quickie Life RT or the Life FT manual wheelchairs, or the Quickie Salsa M2 Mini – all of which are perfect for navigating the twists and turns of campus life. Want to stand out in the world of work? Choose the Quickie Krypton for high-end style in a super-lightweight frame, or the new Q100-R, the powerchair that’s at home in the office and on the city streets.