OCCUPATIONS
Wheelchair
LIFE
Those of us who use wheelchairs are not going to be tap dancers or figure skaters for a living. But, other than occupations that require the use of one's feet/legs, there is almost no limit to what we can do, with the right determination and some creative thinking.

I'm not going to try and list all the occupations available to wheelchair folks. Just follow your heart and realize that where there's a will there’s a way. Think about what your best skills are. Chances are you will enjoy putting them to work. And overcoming difficult or "impossible" odds will give you phenomenal satisfaction.

Have you got a good phone-voice (technical support, sales, order-taker, trucking dispatcher ...)? Can you write (reporter, freelance author, copy editor, trade-manual writer ...)? Are you creative (advertising, greeting cards, decorator ...)? Do you manage people well (corporate administration, team-leader, human resources ...)? Are you good at solving problems (consulting, efficiency, engineering ...)? Are you a political animal (lobbyist, legislative staff, political writer ...)? Thousands of occupations are available to people in wheelchairs. The possibilities go on and on. The fact that others may doubt your ability to do whatever you want to should not deter you. In fact, let it serve as a motivator. A catalyst for proving them wrong.

When I went to law school I took notes and exams by typing with a mouthstick on a laptop computer. I make similar accommodations in the courtroom (I became a litigation attorney). I have a C 4-5 SCI; if I managed to get through law school, pass the bar exam, and succeed in trials, you can surely do what you want to. Click here for an inspiring look at some "roll-models," fellow-wheelchair folks who have persevered through tough times and achieved great success in their careers and personal lives.

Understandably, many people are leery of hiring someone in a wheelchair. Whatever we do, we shouldn’t expect employers to seek us out and accommodate us. We need to take the initiative and allay the common fears that it won't be worth the risk of hiring "the disabled." One thing I'll mention is that most people over-estimate their worth to their employer. If you find something you enjoy and you do it well – better than anyone else – you will be invaluable to someone. I see too many people who think that they are 'owed' a job (and a great income) because they have a disability, or just because they are a citizen, or whatever. The world doesn't work that way. People who perform are the ones in high-demand, and the ones who are rewarded handsomely.

And grow a thick skin. If you don/t get the job or the income you want, don't automatically blame your disability, or someone else's stereotyping (or discrimination) about your disability. If you get fired or demoted, consider the possibility that you screwed up, and that you might not be worth what you cost an employer. It is human nature for us to want to blame something or someone else for our failures. But it takes integrity and guts to say, "It's my fault." Taking the blame yourself (when it truly is your fault) is much better for your own personal psyche, and development as a person.

Title I of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) provides protection from discrimination in employment (see Your Rights). But it doesn't guarantee a job ... or happiness. Those things are up to us! Don't be eager to file lawsuits. They take an emotional toll during their pendency. And they can be devastating and destructive in many ways (especially if you lose).

I happen to handle employment cases (not taking new clients at present). I am not one to shy-away from a good fight (I actually enjoy them). Sometimes a lawsuit is appropriate, but a negotiated resolution of an employment dispute is a better way to go, if possible. A lawsuit should be the last recourse. Just make sure to talk to a good lawyer and get advice about the applicable laws, and statutes of limitation so you don't lose your rights by waiting. If you have employment law questions or think you have a legitimate beef worth pursuing, the National Employment Lawyers Association (NELA) is a great resource for helping you find qualified legal counsel. Take a look at their website here. And check out another excellent resource, the Workplace Fairness website, here.

Whatever you do, don't give up ... EVER. It may get excrutiatingly difficult. It may even seem impossible at times. But search for any and every way you can to adapt and overcome! The rewards will be well worth it.
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