Working with a disability: It's about 'deciding what you can do with what you have'
As you ask yourself what you can do to strengthen the workforce, whether you have a disability or work with somebody who does, consider Joe Entwisle as a source of inspiration. Entwisle, a quadriplegic who was left paralyzed from the neck down after a high-school wrestling accident, now works as a senior policy analyst at Health & Disability Advocates, a Chicago-based advocacy group.
Entwisle's co-workers say that he's someone who boosts morale and inspires other people with disabilities to reach for their potential, despite their physical condition. He even starred in a national TV commercial in 2010 that encouraged employers to consider hiring qualified people with disabilities.
This year's National Disability Employment Awareness Month theme challenges workers to create a strong, inclusive workforce. Not sure where to start? Entwisle shares his story about a time his disability came up at work, how he handled it and what can be learned from his experience:
"The only time I remember any real surprise was when I was working for the state of Wisconsin. There was a woman who worked in the secretary's office, who was basically a health-care troubleshooter for constituents who fell through the cracks, particularly folks with complex medical conditions. I had never actually met her over the course of the first year and a half of time communicating with her, but we corresponded quite frequently over the phone and through email.
"We were finally supposed to be in a meeting together, which we were both excited about. She bumped into my boss the morning before the meeting, and told my boss that we were finally going to meet in person. My boss apparently said to her, 'It's pretty impressive the amount of work he cranks out, considering.' She asked him, 'Considering what?' And that's when he said, 'Considering his disability.' She responded, 'I had no idea he had a disability.'
"Frankly, I am not sure why she did not know, as I was not hiding it. But again, that's the way I prefer it. When you see me, it's obvious I'm in a wheelchair and paralyzed, so why would I ever mention it? Or, for that matter, why would I describe myself as being disabled or different? I'm just a guy who does a good job at work, and wants good things for his family -- nothing more, nothing less.
"From my perspective, having a disability is a lot less about what your condition keeps you from doing. It's much more about deciding what you can do with what you have, which is often pretty limitless. Having a disability means finding new ways to do the same things everyone else does every day, but with a twist that works for you. It may require more planning, greater attention to details or getting up earlier because it takes a little more time, but it's exactly these daily challenges that make me a better analyst with greater appreciation for every success. I don't see my disability as a drawback as much as a value-added credential."
Photo of Joe Entwisle
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