How Employment Can Change the Life of Someone with a Disability (and Everyone Involved)

By Kimmie Jones

Kimmie Jones, the social media and outreach coordinator, updates Tennessee Disability Pathfinder’s Facebook page in her office at Vanderbilt University.

About the Author

Kimmie Jones, a native of the Nashville area, was born with congenital muscular dystrophy and uses a wheelchair for mobility. In addition to freelance public relations and blogging, Jones has worked for the past two years at Tennessee Disability Pathfinder as Social Media and Outreach Coordinator.

When I was younger, just like all my peers, I was asked, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” It was never a question of IF I would work; it was always the assumed path I would take. I’m forever thankful that this expectation was always a part of my life; because it made me strive toward a career that spotlighted my strengths — today I work at Tennessee Disability Pathfinder as the social media and outreach coordinator as well as do some freelance writing.

For people with disabilities, the importance of employment (in some capacity) should be something that is instilled from an early age. Here are some of the many benefits I have found as an individual tackling the working world from a wheelchair. Although my situation is one with physical barriers, the lessons I have learned could relate to any disability from intellectual disability to autism.

Independence

Up until I was 18, I had only been really on my own a handful of times outside of a standard school day. I love a challenge, but I was afraid at first about exploring new territory without someone holding my hand. What if my workspace wasn’t laid out the way I needed? What if I wasn’t physically able to do my job? What if I had to go to the bathroom at work? All of these uncertainties forced me to harness my critical thinking skills and to advocate for myself and not rely on my parents and teachers to do it for me. I was on my own, and this independence taught me how much I truly was capable of.

Working also meant having my own source of income and taught me the ever-important life skills (that any young adult needs) of fiscal responsibility and budgeting. The constant flow of teachable moments that come from employment helped prepare me for a future of independently making major decisions.

Confidence

Being given a task and fulfilling it to the highest degree can be intensely gratifying — not to mention a huge ego boost for anyone, but it is even more crucial to persons with varying degrees of disabilities. To be given important responsibilities and to be held accountable by people who trusted me gave me purpose and confidence. While on the job, I learned new skills and found strengths and talents that I wasn’t aware of previously.

For people with a disability, having a job can show them how many latent abilities they truly have, and some abilities may even exceed their typical counterparts. Additionally, it was nice to build camaraderie and be accepted by those outside my immediate friends and family. Suddenly I was valued in a new and exciting way.

I have seen this first hand when attending Job Club meetings sponsored by The Arc of Tennessee. The attendees, most of whom have an intellectual disability, are always so excited for their friends in the group when they start their first jobs. I distinctly remember the pride on the face and the change in body language of one young man when he talked about his job at a coffee shop. He went from being a little shy to excitedly outgoing when asked to share the news of his workday. The transformation from the week he was unemployed to the week he was employed was definitely noticeable.

Building awareness

The benefits of a person with a disability joining the workforce have a reach far beyond the individual themselves. Not only will their family have a new sense of the abilities possessed by the newly hired, but their coworkers and the public they come in contact with will have a new perception of what a person with a disability can do. Everyone’s expectations will be raised — which is great! By being motivated and holding my own in the workforce, I feel those around me have gained a better and more realistic impression of disability in general. I am proud to say employment has made me an equal.

If you need resources to help with finding agencies in your area that can guide you or a family member on the road to employment, contact the Tennessee Disability Pathfinder helpline at 1-800-640-4636, check out the employment and vocation resources or search our database! Also, support this social media manager by following us on Facebook and Twitter .

And as always, check out some of the TennesseeWorks resources, including a number of other success stories.