Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Disabled Discrimination

Today I met with a brilliant young man afflicted with cerebral palsy (CP). Sadly, my training as a career counselor did not focus on providing career services for those with disabilities, as typically vocational or rehabilitative counselors place more emphasis in this area. Still, I have now met with enough individuals with disabilities to experience my ignorance and limitations in providing the quality service I hope to bring to each session.

So it was in my meeting with this gentleman today. I honestly did not know anything significant about CP, and was an immediate study from what I learned from my experience today. This man had a truly amazing story--one that I have no doubt will be published in a biography or perhaps even dramatized in a movie.

Starting out virtually paralyzed and effectively mute, this man learned to speak, read, and walk when nobody expected him to be able to do any of these things in his childhood. His passion to learn and determination was effectively shown when he mastered elementary and middle school content in only five years.

His propensity for math is even more remarkable--when most kids/young adults learn by taking notes and writing out the steps to solve problems, this man had to learn how to solve the majority of his problems in his head, as his mobility has never been fast enough to allow him to be an effective note taker.

In college, he had similar challenges. Enrolling in a competitive computer engineering class, he was expected to keep up with no accommodations for his disability. Where this expectation was sometimes impossible and certainly detrimental to his success, he graduated--even having the honor of having some of his brilliant work published.

Now for the sad reality. This man has had difficulty finding a full-time job. Where top corporations were quick to recruit him based on his resume, he almost never made it beyond the first interview, because most employers have no idea how to accommodate him. So here is a man who has some amazing software and engineering skills, and yet nobody could see beyond his disability.

His latest resolve is to create a business that seeks out employees with disabilities so that he can prove to the world that an unfair and superficial assessment of a person allows the workforce to ignore some of the most valuable gems.

I hope he is successful. Not every employee is like George Clooney.

To donate to the United Cerebral Palsy Foundation, click on this link.

1 comment:

David Rendall said...


Great post! I used to work in vocational rehabilitiation, helping people with developmental disabilities to find meaningful employment. It always bothered me when my staff and potential employers would focus on the client's weaknesses. I told them that the person's weaknesses were obvious and it didn't really require any skill to discover them. However, it did require skill and imagination to discover their strengths. "What can they do well?" is a much more insightful questions than "What can't they do well?"

By the way, I'm glad you liked the George Eliot quote. I hadn't heard of her before (that's right, George was the pen name for a woman) but I've found that a lot of her ideas fit perfectly with The Freak Factor.

Thanks for passing these ideas along to people. It seems to me that, in a world where we spend most of our time at work, career guidance might be the most valuable service anyone can offer.

David Rendall