They say the world is in your hands, but when you’re living with cerebral palsy (CP), the world is as hard to hold as a basketball. Over 32 years, I’ve always factored my disability into my life and choosing a career was no different. I wasn’t going to let future opportunities slip away because of my daily challenges. Despite living with spasticity, speech articulation issues and needing a wheelchair, I soldiered through college to graduate with honours as an architectural technician. And that was the easy part.
I’ve been struggling to get my career off the ground for years. Even though my work is impressive, every job interview ends the same way. “We’ve decided to go in a different direction.” I have no trouble getting interviews, but they end abruptly once they see and hear me.
Shortly after graduating, I met with an architect who acted as a sounding board as I explored employment options. We discussed career options and my portfolio in our meeting, which he was impressed with. He hammered home the importance of starting from the bottom, which I was, and that I should sweep floors on job sites if I had to. It wasn’t clear whether he fully understood my situation, but I decided to ask if he would allow me to volunteer for his architecture firm. He immediately declined by saying, “I don’t have time to oversee something like that.” It was like a slap in the face. Dismissing the issue by referring to my situation as “something like that” wasn’t the response I was expecting, considering his earlier suggestion to volunteer. I left that meeting feeling down, but not out.
A few months later, I learned through a mutual friend that her daughter, who was in high school then, applied for a co-op placement with that same architecture firm. She landed the placement and worked under the same architect I met with a few months earlier. I couldn’t believe that a student with little to no skill was hired before me, someone who graduated with honours and knows architectural design in and out. I was happy for her, but I felt deceived.
I’m not the only person who has faced these situations, but it’s always a bitter pill to swallow. There aren’t many architects where I live, yet finding work with CP has been impossible. I’ve submitted dozens of resumes to businesses in buildings that weren’t wheelchair accessible. How is that still possible? It often feels like we’re forgotten by the world, and that’s why I became a voice for the disabled in our community a few years ago. I’ve since written a book, advise families with disabled children, and attend events to ensure we’re seen and heard. Our voice needs to be in the conversation. But the question is, can society look past my wheelchair to hear what I have to say?