Securing employment is probably one of the biggest responsibilities of becoming an adult. For someone with a disability, there are additional challenges to hitting this milestone - finding employers who are empathetic and patient, availability of jobs that are practical for one's skillset, and competing against typically-abled candidates. Finding options that fit those criteria is already challenging, and that doesn't necessarily even include finding work that is meaningful and fulfilling.
Even the most common entry-level "starter jobs" can be daunting for a person with disabilities if they require accommodations to perform the required tasks successfully. For example, scooping ice-cream or lifting 50-pound boxes, communicating with customers in person or over the phone, or even being able to drive yourself to and from work independently, might come easy to most 16-year-olds looking for their first job, but for me? Having less coordination and strength, an atypical speech pattern, and needing special accommodations to operate a vehicle, are all common challenges for someone with cerebral palsy, and all things that kept me from finding steady work for nearly a decade.
Over the last several years, there seems to have been an increase in programs supporting individuals with disabilities at all stages of work - the job hunt, interview coaching, and even paid internships with side-by-side training. While I was lucky enough to have access to a paid-internship program last year, that definitely doesn't seem to be the norm for most people in my position. I consider myself very fortunate to have worked with 24 Hour Home Care's program that funded my paid internship with Marshalls.
I was able to secure a paid internship with Marshalls last year where I would work alongside my LIFE job coach who could give me the support needed to become a valuable employee. I started off in the beauty department, organizing cosmetics, toiletries, and women's accessories. I also got experience preparing products from incoming shipments to be displayed for customers - removing packaging, hanging up clothing, and organizing items to be rolled out onto the floor. Eventually, I was also on the salesfloor, sorting merchandise according to department, and ensuring they were delivered to the appropriate areas. All was going great until March of 2020...
I finally felt like I was getting closer to my goal of having a steady job, but the COVID-19 pandemic had other plans! Just like that, all non-essential operations were severely limited and I found myself unemployed once again.
Nearly 6 months later, I decided to finally go back to Marshalls to clear out my locker and ran into my former manager, Dawn. We chatted for a bit, and she mentioned there MIGHT be a job opening, though nothing was guaranteed. I left my number with her anyway, with very low expectations, and was so pleasantly surprised when she actually called me back to encourage me to apply for an open position! I am so grateful to Marshalls leadership, especially Dawn, for giving me a second chance to prove myself and to transition to an actual position with Marshalls.
Working for Marshalls this past year has given me so much more than just a paycheck. For the first time in my life, I am able to contribute financially to my family's living expenses, purchase nice things to treat myself on occasion, and shower my loved ones with gifts to show them my appreciation for the years of support they have given me.
Even though I might have had to push my mind and body to greater limits than my typically-abled peers to perform the same tasks, having this job has brought me even closer to achieving the independence I've always wanted. I've also made friends and found meaning in a job that many people might take for granted.
Thank you, Marshalls!