I've been disabled since birth with Cerebral Palsy. I've been working in the job force since I was about 16 years old. My first job was as a coach, where I worked with children with disabilities. Always ambulatory, I never felt that I had an issue finding employment….until about four years ago. As I was in a wheelchair on a more permanent basis, I found myself laid off from a job that I had been employed at for almost 10 years. It wasn't that I couldn't find a job to interview for. It was more so, that uncomfortable moment when I went to interview for a job, and they realize, for the first time, that I’m in a wheelchair.
The entire interview process always see to be heightened and more traumatic by this fact. Or at least, that was always my perception of the situation. I always seemed to receive that “deer in headlights” look from interviewers. I don't know if it was because they were afraid to hire someone in a wheelchair, or if they were too afraid to speak their mind, in fear of saying something offensive. Either way, I always got the distinct feeling that my being in a wheelchair was a problem for them. That it made them uncomfortable. Uneasy. And to be quite honest, I was never sure if my being in a wheelchair was the reason I didn’t get a certain job, or if it was because I wasn’t qualified enough. This was a source of great frustration for me.
I got to a place where I was very torn within myself, so much so, that I often struggled with how to approach future interviews. Should I disclose my disability before the interview to better prepare them, or not say anything at all? I feared that if said too much, an excuse might be made to cancel the interview altogether. Long story short, I found Project HIRED in a very serendipitous way; and I'm glad that I did. From the moment I walked through the doors and was greeted by a very nice woman named Vera, my experience at Project HIRED has been a blessing! They offered me a series of workshops to sharpen my skills, which were very beneficial, particularly the computer classes, and the mock job interview workshops. I'd like to think that the main reason I was able to acquire the first job I applied for after entering the program was because of all the prep work that the Project HIRED staff and volunteers helped me complete.
What was key for me was that I knew that the people I was interviewing with already had a relationship with Project HIRED and they knew right out of the gate that they would be interviewing with someone who has a disability. Knowing that my interviewers were fully aware of my disability before I even entered the interview was a source of great peace for me and allowed me to have greater confidence in the interview itself. My heart's desire is that more companies will jump on board; letting Project HIRED be a liaison between the employer and prospective employee, who is living with a disability in some way. It makes the whole job-search process for both employer and employee less daunting. I am particularly impressed with how Project HIRED was so willing to continue to assist me even after I received a contract position through them with the Veterans Administration. Initially, I experienced some accessibility issues, but Project HIRED jumped right in to do what they could to make the situation better for me.
Project HIRED has been there for me through all the different stages of my job endeavors. I am very grateful that a nonprofit like Project HIRED exists to help individuals with disabilities find employment while raising their clients’ self-esteem and helping them become contributing members of society. The most beautiful part about the program is that they do all of this for free. The fact that their services were free was a wonderful burden off my shoulders. I'm truly grateful for everything Project HIRED has done for me individually and I hope will do for many more people like me.