I’m Not a Disability Expert

By  Nikoletta  Erdelyi

Today I am not here to discuss my disability. Rather, I am here solely to touch on the skills, experiences and qualifications that I have to offer your business. Contrary to popular belief, not all of these skills are tied to the theme of disability or related to my need to use a wheelchair for mobility.

Corporate chaos works for me
It may come as a surprise that I have chosen to tell you about the seminars and workshops where I have been invited to speak about paediatric health care, art and employment. I will tell you about my ability to thrive under pressure, and the sense of fulfillment I get from the wonderful chaos that is associated with corporate culture. I enjoy the ins and outs of meetings, presenting webinars to audiences of hundreds and proposing partnerships to new organizations. I will show you the social media campaigns I have built—complete with writing samples and video content that demonstrate my skills and passion for public speaking. It will not be necessary to speak about my wheelchair.

You see, I went to university to become a communications professional. During the four years I spent studying, I successfully completed all of the same degree requirements as my classmates. And, now, I want to discuss how this qualification has prepared me to become a contributing member of your team and that, despite my disability, I too am a person
with valuable skills that are worthy of a decent salary.

Contrary to societal expectations, I am not an expert in disability management or hiring. Neither do I have the capacity to teach you how to speak to me, look at me or treat me like a viable candidate who just might be your perfect fit. People like me who live with a disability are often faced with an extra layer of responsibility when being considered for employment because, instead  of just pitching our skills and passions to hiring managers, we find ourselves constantly having to prove ourselves.

Granted, a large percentage of people with disabilities end up working in the area of disability advocacy. As a result, many develop the confidence to discuss their condition with prospective employers, which may help to reduce the employer’s anxieties about hiring someone who is differently abled and also aid the candidate in requesting the supports needed to succeed in the job.

Lived experience goes to work
Nevertheless, the reality is that many people with disabilities end up in the field of disability advocacy simply because our other skills are overlooked. We then, out of necessity, resort to what we know and use our lived experiences to drive changes in policy, government and technological innovations shaping the future.

But what about those who, for whatever reason, want to work elsewhere? How do we go into interviews where our lived experience is not necessarily the cherry on top of our qualifications that gives us a distinct advantage?

Frankly speaking, I don’t have the answers. But I do think that we might start with more education for people in decision-making positions when it comes to hiring. More disability training for human resources staff could help break any stigmas about employing individuals who do not fit the typical mould of their staff members. More importantly, better education and awareness programs might eliminate the candidate’s burden of having to talk about their disabilities while they are being considered for positions that have nothing to do with that subject.

The reality is that we need chefs, financial advisors, lawyers, medical professionals, plumbers and baristas. People with disabilities offer a skill set as dynamic and diverse as the rest of the population. And I am thoroughly convinced that we can achieve the type of progress we want by engaging employers in more impactful disability training and by encouraging them to talk with us, meet us and take a chance on hiring us.

My dream interview
By the way, in case you’re interested—I’m an award-winning writer with a passion for crafting stories, both creatively and professionally. My dream is to be able to complete an interview without once having to mention the words ‘wheelchair,’ ‘disability’ or ‘limitations.’

Nikoletta Erdelyi is currently working at Ryerson University as the diversity projects lead for Magnet (magnet.today). She is a recipient of an Ontario Arts Council grant and is getting ready to publish her first novel, The Electronic Sticky-Notes That Saved My Life.