Opening All the Right Doors
by Laura Ernst
It was a couple of years ago when I found myself unemployed. I had "years" of education, but could no longer do what I had been educated to do. For the first time in my life, I had actually reached an impasse. It was very disconcerting. I was used to finding answers... to figuring my way out of situations.
For instance, I was born without a right hand. That fact didn't bother me at all. I really didn't know any better. I participated in many activities including sports and music. I even had the opportunity to pursue my love of music after graduating from Montclair State College in 1975 when I began a career as a music therapist. Later, as my interests in the healthcare field grew, I decided to become a chiropractor.
Here's where I hit the first bump in the road. ·In 1987, 3 months after opening my practice, I began experiencing fast·moving neurological symptoms that resulted in paralysis from the chest down. No one knew exactly what had happened, but my prognosis was scary. I was told to prepare to be in a wheelchair... and that the chances were good that my condition would be permanent. Well, I was very pleased to prove them wrong. I was able to walk again. But admittedly, my progress was limited.
It soon became clear that I needed to close my practice. However, just like the saying goes, another door opened. I was fortunate to live near a chiropractic college where I became an administrator. I spent a number of years in this position, thoroughly enjoying my newly found vocation·that is ··· until the college was forced to close. This is where I felt as if I'd hit a dead· end. I knew my career in chiropractic was over. I needed to find an entirely new career path.
Hence, the impasse... which became quite prolonged. Anyone who has ever been on a job search knows how frustrating it can be. Plus, I didn't like admitting that I had physical limitations, but I realized they needed to be included in the "equation". I knew I needed to take a different tact.
After making a mental inventory of my interests and my capabilities, computers came to mind. I had some experience from a "user" point of view. I had even considered computer programming years earlier. So, I started exploring my new idea. That's when I found out about Lift, Inc. (a non·profit organization that identifies, trains, hires, and places computer professionals who have significant physical disabilities).
I was relieved to discover that formal computer training was not a prerequisite, and that my variety of experience would be welcomed. I was thrilled, and vigorously pursued the first steps which included interviews, and testing for computer·programming aptitude.
After successful completion of these initial requirements, I was placed with IBM Global Services. Then, Lift·in conjunction with IBM ··· developed a customized, computer· programming curriculum that matched the company's needs with my skills and interests. They also provided me with an IBM personal computer and modem so that I could work at home. This was incredibly helpful. I knew that, although the program was very challenging, I had everything I needed to succeed.
Six months later, I completed my training as a Computer Specialist. I then worked with IBM as full-time contractor under Lift's auspices for a year. Subsequently, I was employed by IBM as an IT Specialist.
This has been a "life·changing" opportunity for me. It's wonderful to know that there are organizations focused on helping people with disabilities that provide tangible and significant assistance... that really do offer a "lift" toward truly meaningful and rewarding careers.