Igniting Purpose: A Legacy of Accessibility

Candidates with disabilities have superhero skills that can invigorate and enrich your organization. Learn about their stories and how they found success and impacted others.

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May 6, 2024

My dad and other immediate family members share something in common. They have disabilities. I’ll tell you their stories, but it’s crucial for all of us never to underestimate people with disabilities and what they can offer your organization. Here is where it all started.

When my father was just 19, a fateful car accident during a snowstorm robbed him of his sight. My dad’s face slammed into his steering wheel on impact. This was before the era of shatterproof glasses, so when his face met the unforgiving steering wheel, glass fragments found their way into his eyes, forever altering his life and setting in motion a daunting journey of adapting to a world cloaked in darkness.

After the car accident, my dad needed to relearn basic life skills and learn how to navigate the world without eyesight. So, as a young man, he spent time at the former Guild for the Blind in Pittsburgh. Although he gained a great deal of knowledge, he soon realized that not every challenge could be anticipated. Though he knew he would encounter many unknown obstacles in the future, he forged ahead.

Undeterred and determined to pursue higher education, my dad eventually earned his Master’s degree from Penn State University. Unfortunately, back then, there wasn’t much assistance available to blind students. It wasn’t easy. However, he found ways to make his own accommodations, including an accessible study system. There were times when classmates jumped in to assist him, though he frequently paid students to read textbooks and written course materials to him. He took notes, converting their words into braille, as he did during lectures or advisor meetings.

I was born a few years after my dad’s car accident, so as a child, I grew up with his hand on my shoulder, helping him navigate unfamiliar places and situations. In return, he would help me navigate through life. He even taught me to drive a car with a standard transmission (stick shift). We liked playing basketball, and he was a remarkably good shot. I must confess, sometimes I would cheat. I would subtly shift to either the right or left of the basketball goal, strategically using my voice to misdirect my dad, hoping he would miss the shot!

We enjoyed his constant humor and practical jokes, sometimes unintended, like when he decided to give our poodle a haircut. We came home, and I asked, “What happened to Pierre?!” to which he responded, “What do you mean, I gave him a haircut!” indignantly, like it was a normal thing for him to do on Thursday afternoon. Our beloved Pierre looked like he lost a battle with a weed wacker! I’ll never forget that day because my whole family howled with laughter half the night!

I will fast-forward ahead and talk about one of the most inspirational things my father did. For ten years, he worked at the former Blind Association of Buffalo in a division that specialized in constructing paper file folders for the legal industry. Without warning, they closed the division and laid off an entire group of disabled workers. My father was in disbelief and unwilling to accept this outcome. In a move that would shock and inspire everyone around him, he used determination and resourcefulness to secure funding that enabled him to buy all of the machinery and lease a warehouse that was large enough for the entire operation. He soon opened Blind Industries, Inc. and offered employment to the same workers who were impacted by the layoffs, now fulfilling the orders for legal firms from this new location. Incredibly, it was as if he put the whole operation on his shoulders without a second thought and became a hero within the local community. Remarkable.

I am sure you are getting a sense of where my passion comes from, but the inspiration doesn’t stop there. My wife and daughter have Dyslexia, and my oldest son struggled significantly with ADHD growing up. I’ve watched them all navigate inaccessible aspects of the world around us, ultimately demonstrating perseverance and the ability to thrive. My son’s struggles led to significant anxiety about his general well-being and future. Around the age of 17, his behavior shifted, apparently due to the development of his frontal lobe. Beforehand, there were many sleepless nights, wondering if he would end up as a productive member of society or land in the penal system. Whatever the reason (ahem..possibly great parenting), he turned the corner. I am very proud to highlight my son’s journey as an incredible story of success (as I sit here typing through my own tears), in an effort to offer hope and encouragement to other parents. He is now a gainfully employed college graduate who bought his first home at 23 years old, on his own merits, and earned over 100K in 2023!

Let me sum it up with this: Don’t underestimate people with disabilities! They are superheroes amongst us, with incredible abilities and skills and a perspective that can breathe new life into your programs and initiatives! The level of perseverance, moxie, and wherewithal I have witnessed from family members with disabilities is unmatched. I hope some of the inspiration I have described in this article spills over into your world.

In the next article, I’ll walk you through a strategy for creating an accessible hiring process that fosters a more welcoming and inclusive culture. Embracing individuals with disabilities enriches programs and initiatives and enhances the team’s overall success and impact. Join me on this adventure and see what impact you can make at your own organization!

This is part two of a three-part series. In part one of the series, I described how my journey has ignited my focus in the areas of disability inclusion and accessibility. I’m grateful that my current employer has empowered me to make an impact and further these initiatives within the organization.

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