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People with disabilities want to be treated as equals in society

People with disabilities want to be treated as equals in society

As Champion for the Persons with Disabilities Program, I thought I’d begin by telling my story. Several years ago, I went to a Lasik center to explore having surgery to correct my eyesight. Unfortunately, I was given bad news. I was diagnosed with a congenital disorder called Keratoconus where my corneas were more conically shaped instead of curved. Not only could I not have the Lasik surgery, but I learned that unless I had treatment, I’d lose my sight.

I explored various options and decided to have a procedure called “corneal collagen crosslinking” which had proven to help others with my condition. The doctor decided to start with my left eye since it was weaker, in the rare case the procedure wouldn’t work. Thankfully, that surgery went very well.

A couple months later he operated on my right eye. I knew almost immediately it wasn’t the same. After seven follow-up surgeries, which included two partial corneal transplants, I was stable but still couldn’t see as well. Then, disaster struck with a severe retinal detachment. After eight more surgeries I finally received the news I dreaded. I would be completely blind in my right eye for life.

I went through a grieving process – denial, anger, bitterness, regret, and then finally acceptance. The first several months were hard. Because of my lack of depth perception, I would trip on or fall down stairs and bump into door frames and corners. I received special accommodations at work to help increase the screen font and even had a program that would read documents or emails to me when my working eye grew tired. That program helped me perform at a high level – even with my challenges. I also received advice from the Opportunities for Ohioans with Disabilities Center which was very helpful in helping me adapt to my new situation.

I’m doing a lot better now, and I’m grateful that I still have vision in my left eye. I still have good days and bad days. I share my story not for you to feel sorry for me, but rather, to let you know that this can happen to anyone at any time. This Special Emphasis Program encompasses a very diverse group of people and doesn’t limit itself to a particular race, gender, ethnicity, age, sexual orientation; or in our work environment - grade level, management status or job discipline.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “disability affects approximately 1 in 4 people in the United States. Disability affects more than one billion people worldwide. Although disability is associated with health conditions such as physical, mental or emotional conditions or events such as injuries, the functioning, health, independence and engagement in society of people with disabilities can vary depending on several factors: severity of the underlying impairment; social, political, and cultural influences and expectations; aspects of surroundings; availability of assistive technology and devices; family and community support and engagement.”

I’m very grateful to work at DLA Land and Maritime where I believe we have a deep sense of inclusion. We not only strive to offer jobs to people with disabilities, but we also seek to provide them with assistive technologies or other reasonable accommodations that can help them be successful. I’ve learned that people with disabilities want to fully participate in our organization’s success. These colleagues are some of the hardest working and most capable people I’ve known.

I believe that people with disabilities don’t want people to feel sorry for them, but rather just want to be treated as equals with the same opportunities to participate in every aspect of our work environment, to the best of their abilities and desires.

This story was originally published on dla.mil.

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