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My disability is a strength not a liability

Updated: Apr 26, 2023

Thanks to the amazing Kerry Peterson for sharing her story on Livlyhood.

Disability is often viewed as a weakness, something that limits individuals and hinders their capabilities. The topic of disability is not on top of mind for the majority of people although it affects every one of us in one way or another, at some point of our lives. It’s a reality that I was not expecting in my life, but that is exactly the point, disability can occur to anyone at any time.

In March of 2022, while enjoying a trip to Puerto Rico I was crushed by a tree at the beach causing a spinal cord injury and brain injury, leaving me paralyzed from the chest down. In the matter of a split second, the life I had envisioned and had been working toward was completely turned upside down. The metaphorical Etch-A-Sketch of my life was shaken, I was starting over with a blank screen and needed to design a new way forward. After months in the hospital, I was determined to get back to what I imagined was a normal life, and going back to my job was a large part of that goal. Less than 3 months after my accident I returned to working full time, determined to not be defined by my injury, to be the person I was before the accident.

After returning to work full time while still relearning how to live, I was let go from my job during mass layoffs. While most people are concerned about loss of income or health insurance, I was overwhelmed and panicked at the thought of having to job search, to interview, to show up and be seen as a disabled person for the first time in my life. How could I show up as the best, most capable version of myself when the stigma around disabilities has already labeled my wheelchair a liability? What if the picture of me felt more abstract and inked in permanent marker all at once?

“I can be changed by what happens to me but I refuse to be reduced by it.” This quote by Maya Angelou has stayed with me throughout my journey and has helped me embrace the qualities, strengths, and new lens that my experience, my challenges, and my disability have gifted me. Society has told us that we need to separate who we are in personal lives from our work and I say, absolutely not. My darkest days, my heart ache, my grief, my physical obstacles have only strengthened my determination, creativity, problem-solving abilities, and empathy. It has interwoven a beautiful drawing that continues to become more detailed every day. I now know that this fear of embracing trauma, struggle, and each experience that shapes us the most doesn’t just apply to people with disabilities in the workplace but to everyone who has lived through a challenging circumstance and come out on the other side.

As I sit here applying to jobs, I think about how my resume is a simple sketch of me through my work experience, but it doesn’t come close to capturing the full artwork of who I am and what I can bring to a role and a company. It's important to remember that our experiences can be sources of strength, and we shouldn't let the stigma surrounding them define us in one gilded frame or another.

Why does my story matter? What do I hope to achieve by sharing it? When I started writing I wanted to showcase how people are not defined by their disabilities, but rather by their resilience, determination, and unique experiences. I believe the larger message is that we should not be downplaying or hiding the messiness, the ugly, the parts of us that we have been made to believe are weaknesses. It is from the chaos that we discover our largest strengths, our values, the ability to connect to others, and the masterpiece that each of us draws in to life.

By sharing my story, I hope that you choose to show up as your whole self and sketch joy and strength in to all aspects of your life- personal and professional.

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