Don’t Accept Me, Expect Me

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One Red Fish Surrounded By Blue Fish.

I did it once. I gave in to my disability. I was struggling in college: juggling a double major, a part-time job, a sorority, and track season was right around the corner. My schedule was a breeze when going through manic mode. But when dealing with the low side of bi-polar, the battle was uphill and the finish line looked a lot farther than the 400m sprint I was used to training for.  So I gave in.

It was the end of my 8 am class and I went to my professor. It was just a general education course and I was only a semester away from graduation. I did what I had never done for any class. I told the professor about my disability. I chalked it up for all it was worth. I explained that I was dealing with med changes and my schedule was full. None of it was really a lie.

I don’t regret telling my professor that I have bi-polar disorder, but I do regret why I told him. I was looking for a way out; a way to make the day easier. The class didn’t really matter. It was just a nuisance class I had to take to graduate. I wanted an easy A and I knew that by gaining a little sympathy it would be possible.

Just to be clear, the one perk of having a disability is to use sympathy for our advantage. But taking that one gesture toward sympathy sets us two steps back in our abilities. That day when I told the professor about my disability, I was screaming for the professor to accept me for my differences. What he really did was even better; he expected me for being the same.

It’s not difficult to spin into the acceptance trend. Short or tall, red or blue, we want people to take us how we are. But when it comes to rising up to a challenge, we can be quick to remind others of our faults and excuse ourselves from rising to the top. We are no longer expected and we sink ourselves back down to the minority that is comfortable and safe.

As we gear up for the back to school season, I want to encourage all parents and teachers to not provide students with a letter of acceptance, but with an impression of expectance. There are many times that we say as novices that “we can’t” when the fact is that “we won’t”. When we decide that we won’t do something because our disabilities hold us back, then we will never really reach our full potential.

I got an A in that class. Though I told the professor about my disability for the wrong reasons, he was gracious in letting me take my time to learn in a way that was right for me. I didn’t go to class every day, but I studied, and I felt as though I earned the A.

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How We Learned Happiness

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IMG_0994While growing up in a household with two brothers with Down syndrome there has always been one comment that digs under my skin. There are some comments I can let go, like, Wow. Your life must be so difficult. Or, Bless you for your patience. Yes, these too get to me. Because I don’t feel like my brothers have made my life difficult, and patience is not my duty. When these comments arise I grin a little and brush it off like hair on my sleeve.

Above all of these statements is this: People with disabilities are always so happy. Why does this get under my skin? Because there isn’t an always for everyone and everything. See, the statements above, I can see where people might get those impressions. There are times that life is difficult. There are times that I have had to learn patience. Those times felt like happiness felt as far as the East is from the West.

2016-02-21 21.41.37When our brother died in 2006 Eric sobbed. He felt the grief of losing someone close like a normal person. But at the viewing Levi didn’t shed a tear. At the funeral, Levi didn’t clear his throat or sniffle. Neither of my brothers had joy, but they expressed the pain in far different ways.

When our brother died, I thought I had to be the strong one. When I saw our dad cry for the first time in my life, I knew that I had to step up and fight for joy again. I tried so hard to stay strong that I eventually developed depression and I was later diagnosed with bipolar disorder.

So what is my point? Everyone handles grief differently. Levi ignored the pain. Eric accepted the pain. I fought the pain. You might say it defines whether or not we fight, flight, or freeze in adversity. Whatever any psychological study might entail, all three of us have struggled with disabilities. All three of us have experienced less than joy. And, all three of us have conquered agony.

You see, when you say people with disabilities are always so happy, you infer that we are not able to comprehend pain. We must be happy because we don’t understand stress, adversity, or grief. Honestly, I speak for all of us that carry a disability and say that we understand those things better than those that don’t have a disability. For centuries we have been alienated, mocked, and condemned for simply living.

Maybe there is some truth to people with disabilities being happy. It’s not because we don’t understand, but because we know what it is like to feel both pain and joy. We have faced the worst, so we can conquer the best.

Employment First?

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Regarding the Employment First Mandate, which states, According to state law in Ohio, employment services for people with developmental disabilities shall be directed at community employment and all people with developmental disabilities are presumed capable of community employment.

I am an employer of a small coffee shop in Urbana, Ohio. I am the sibling of three individuals with developmental disabilities, and I currently employ six individuals with developmental disabilities.
First, not all individuals with developmental disabilities are employable. As both an employer and sibling of individuals that are not typically abled, I am rather lenient compared to most employees when it comes to implementing the abilities of these individuals. However, there are many individuals that have a disability that I will never hire. My sister, whom I love dearly, will never have a job with me. No matter what training she is given, she will never be up to the standards I need to run an efficient business. If I, a dominant advocate for these individuals, will not hire, then it should be presumed that other businesses will not take the risk either.

Second, I will not hire these individuals out of pity, nor should any business be swayed to hire an individual with a disability for their life circumstances. Many county SSA’s have hounded me and a couple vocational programs that I work with to simply give an individual a job. It is assumed that because the individual is mandated to have a job that employers will jump on this bandwagon. That is simply not true. I interview every individual, whether typically functioning or not, to see how they will fit into my business.

Third, individuals are expected to get community jobs, where they are expected to build relationships with other abled-bodied individuals. Some individuals are empowered by getting a community job. Others are very hesitant. They feel that it will be similar to their education experiences, where they were always considered at the bottom, and they have no hope that they will ever see promotion. By mandating these individuals to work with typically functioning individuals, they will not have the same opportunity to build relationships. It is as if we are saying, your other disabled peers are not good enough; you won’t get the opportunity to build a relationship with them. It is an external fight to get employers to hire these individuals, but what is the internal value for employees within the workplace?

Fourth, individuals are expected to seek jobs directly after graduation. I would like to amend that these individuals are not expected to go directly into a job, but rather vocational and day habilitation programs. These programs should not all be disregarded, but implemented as a higher education method for transitioning these individuals into the workplace.

Why Hire Individuals with Disabilities?

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The idea of hiring an individual with a disability can be a scary thought. Questions often arise like, Can they put in the effort I need? Will I have to make special accommodations? Or, What is the worth for my business? In this blog, I would like to encourage you to consider the idea. Not just because it gives quality of life to the individual, but because they have a lot more to offer than what may be visible on the surface.

To scratch the surface of some of the questions above, many individuals with disabilities are more than willing to put in the effort you are looking for. They know they are different. For some, their limitations are an easy justification to be lazy. But for many, they know how hard they must work to achieve a goal, and their perseverance builds a strong work ethic for them. All of my workers with developmental disabilities show up on time, and put full efforts toward their job within the work day. Some of them are even upset if they are told to take a break! Overall, when you find the right individual, they will display character and effort that surpasses many typically functioning workers.

Many workers with disabilities are a breath of fresh air when it comes to work ethic, but it is true that some accommodations may need to be made. Many individuals that are actively searching for a job are paired with a job coach. This coach will analyze the worker’s performance to be certain that he or she is at the level that you want them to be at. Some coaches stay on the job with the worker. Others just visit on occasion to access progress. Job coaches are at no cost to the employer, and it is up to you to decide how involved you would like the job coach to be.

Hiring a person with a disability broadens the diversity of you workplace, and they can provide a unique perspective. For example, I had all of my workers develop coupon ideas for my coffee shop. Some of the ideas were outrageous, like, buy a shirt for a dollar and get a hat for free. Others were very unique. Mother/Daughter princess tea party. Even if some factors seem way out of the box, these individuals can spark new ideas that can turn into something extraordinary. In addition, there are some tax incentives to hiring a person with a disability that can be financially attractive.

Many individuals with disabilities can bring a great dynamic to your business, but to be realistic, not all individuals can bring to the table what you are looking for. Please read my next blog, The Can/Will Matrix, to get an idea of which individuals are worth hiring.

Letters to Lee: How to be an Entrepreneur

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2014-09-26 11.50.05These are portions of my letters to Lee Shobe, the former CEO of DowBrands. He has been a major mentor throughout the start of my business, The Spotted Cow Coffeehouse. These letters may come across as a bit unprofessional, but they represent what I am learning through my adventure as a young female entrepreneur.

Business is amazing and fun, and I know that where I am right now is right where I am supposed to be. I have learned some parts are natural, like working with my staff. I love to watch them grow. Finances are intriguing too. Even though we aren’t breaking even, I love seeing the progress and the way costs can be altered. But I have also learned some parts are not as easy. Win-win is sometimes the hardest compromise to reach, and letting the contender win while you pick up the pieces sometimes seems a lot more inviting.

It’s like going to another country. People can tell you what it’s going to be like, and you have all of these ideas in your mind that comprise what it is like. But until you’re there, living it out, you can never imagine in depth what it really is like. Struggles like the drive through, the music license, and letting an employee go were very hard. They put a flicker in my mind for a second that I should give up. But I remembered back to college where I ran cross-country and track. There were races where I lost or came up short, and injuries that set me back, but I persevered.

In school, I worked three jobs, did sports, and double majored. The stress was comparable, making it manageable in business aspects. One of the biggest differences though, is that everything falls back on you. In school, deadlines are set for you, and mile splits are written for you to target. In business, it’s up to you to design the curriculum, the bench marks, and the deadlines. When you have to set all of those for yourself, it’s scary. I struggle to get motivation at times because the business seems so much bigger than me, and I’m just a 20 something female trying to fulfill a crazy dream that might work. There have been a few nights I would stay up, thinking I could get up, drive three states away, and start a new life with a desk job and leave absolutely everything behind. It would be simple, and normal. It’s especially inviting because I’m not currently taking a paycheck. My only money comes from working for my parents business. I make less than $1000 a month and I have no free time. It’s a very uninviting role to the outside eye.

But I have never been normal, and when I look at workers like Lauren, or my brother, I know that they need this place. I also remember I’m not doing it alone. I have my parents, Heidelberg, you, and God all helping me and rooting for me. With those simple reminders, my business shrinks down to a tangible size that can be tinkered with. Maybe all of my wants aren’t met, but I am blessed in so many other ways. With those friendly reminders, I know I can survive, thrive, and one day make a difference that’s bigger than me or my business. A difference that’s as unfathomable as going to different country.