In the words of Peter Griffin “do you know what grinds my gears??!” the dreaded question “What do you do?”.. these four words have become synonymous with “Who are you?”.
The one-word answer to “what do you do?” allows people categorize us and gives them a snapshot of what we do or who we are.
You Say: I’m in sales.
They Think: You’re a pushy or a sweet-talking charmer.
You Say: I’m a lawyer.
They Think: You’re the argumentative type.
You Say: I’m an accountant.
They Think: You’re a numbers geek.
Maybe I’m being a little harsh, but you get the picture; odds are, whatever quick description you’ve used in the past barely does what you do—or who you are—any justice. But everywhere from networking events to family gatherings, this question is going to live on.
But this is a dreaded question to someone whos body is three quarters paralyzed as your job prospectus is much more limited than previously.
And maybe seven years ago this question would not have erked me so much because I had no problem with being a science nerd; in fact I wish I still was. I loved everything about my job in a laboratory of a leading health care company. The order, the precision, the accuracy associated with working in that well-structured work environment.
There is a dark underbelly to introducing ourselves with this kind of shorthand: When labels go wrong, they can lead to stereotypes. Perception becomes more about the experiences accumulated by the people you’re talking to than anything that they may or may not know about you personally or the challenges you encounter on a daily basis. And lets face it there is a staggering negative perception and attitude around disability, which inturn may prevent employers from hiring disabled people.
You Say: I’m currently unemployed due to a spinal cord injury
They Think: You’re a lazy, unskillful liability???
Unfortunately, people with disabilities are still seen as incapable requiring others to do everything for them due to lower mental aptitudes and ability.
But saying I’m unemployed does not mean I spend my day lying in bed watching t.v. It doesn’t mean that I don’t do anything. In fact my life is about a hundred times more physically and mentally challenging than before my accident.
I get up every morning (Monday-Sunday) at 8am to maximize my days productivety. Daily I struggle with the balance of finding the fine line between doing tasks myself to the point of physical exhaustion in order to be self reliant. I’ve had to learn so many more skills than I ever thought I would need in order to survive. Everyday I try and achieve goals although minor to others, enormous to myself and my three quarters paralyzed body.
Simple tasks like transferring my body weight independently through my wrists throughout the day takes enormous strength; from bed to showerchair, showerchair to wheelchair,
wheelchair to stand, stand to wheelchair, wheelchair to car, car to wheelchair, wheelchair to bed and so on. I push my manual chair through the broken footpaths,the stifling curbs throughout town to run my daily errands. I cope with all the responsibilities that come with life; managing finances, meeting deadlines, on top of liasing with big ruling bodies for example the HSE and county council along with organizing the people who assist me with daily challenges.
What I’m tying to say is my life is way harder than before when I was a science nerd and I had the health benefits of feeling self-worth, self-esteem and the motivation of self-reliance.
The word disability does not give justice to what you do in order to survive—or who you are. I still have an undergraduate degree, a masters degree, a personal training qualification, a special needs assistant qualification, a full drivers license; I’m just unlucky my body struggles with massive day to day challenges. But I don’t stay at home crying about it, I get on with life each and every day trying to support others like myself through advice and positive motivation.
I’ll finish with a response a friend of mine gave me when he was asked what he does? He had a seizure 5 years ago that left the left side of his body paralyzed; he could not talk or walk among other things but he pushed himself and defied the odds and got back walking and talking as much as possible. Frequent seizures set his progress back every month.
He told them he is working on himself each and every day and anyone who has encountered a disability I think can relate to this.