At this past week’s take ACTION! class we had a guest speaker come in. We invited Pat Pucket from the Statewide Independent Living Council (SILC) of Georgia to come and talk about her experience in the world of advocacy. She spoke about some of the actions and systematic issues she has helped tackle, but then she talked of when she first got the “fire” in her belly. It was great that she phrased it that way because it tied into the question we answered at the beginning (and which I blogged about earlier) “what is your advocacy passion?”
People that speak up and advocate generally do have a burning issue that fuels their actions and plans. I think it’s important to reflect on when a spark of inspiration grew into a flame of advocacy. My spark was planted by my vision teacher. Joanna Eaton visited me on a regular basis from kindergarten-12th grade. She helped me learn how to speak up for myself effectively and showed me different accommodations that made life easier. Even at a young age I was learning that I wasn’t broken, I didn’t need to be fixed and that having a disability was okay. As I grew older I was generally pretty good about advocating for myself and keeping up on the responsibilities of schools and workplaces. I think I got the “fire in my belly” after I graduated from college with my Master’s degree.
When I graduated with my Bachelor’s degrees I found it hard to get a job, it was frustrating because people would often say: “it’s just a really bad market right now.” I didn’t feel that was the answer though. I submitted hundreds of applications and went on numerous interviews and the only job I got was the one in which I hid my cane before my interview. Coincidence? I worked in retail for a year before going back to college for my Master’s degree. I figured, maybe it was a bad market and getting more work experience and education would make a difference. So I went through two years of grad school where I got lots of classroom teaching experience, graduated with a good GPA and felt qualified for a job in higher education. It was the same as before, I sent out hundreds of applications, went on several interviews where my cane was mentioned without being mentioned and wound up with another retail job while working at home and occasionally getting a tutoring gig or a random adjunct position that lasted for nine weeks. I was pretty sure my cane was an issue, if an unspoken one, with many of my potential employers. I didn’t want to hide it again and feel ashamed of being who I am. I became involved with disABILITY LINK as a consumer in the employment program, here I felt like a part of the disability community. The participants in the class came from different backgrounds, with different experiences and disabilities, but we were united in the fact that we were all facing the same barriers and all had a common goal: employment. Not just random jobs here and there but competitive pay and stable employment.
Working with disABILITY LINK as a consumer began something that grew greater when I became a member of the board of directors for this Center for Independent Living. I felt like I was an active member in this community. Soon after being on the board I was able to begin working at the Center and that fanned the flames even more. I now to got some hands on experience working with consumers over the phone and eventually over the Internet. I now get to be a part of something I feel passionately about and have the opportunity to spread the message of Independent Living and disability rights. I have a job that I love and allows me the opportunity to embrace my advocacy passions support others in either finding theirs or helping nurture the flames of advocacy that are inside them.
When did you get “fire” in your belly? I’d love to hear!