Please tell us about your injury or diagnosis and briefly state your role at Numotion?
Karen: In 1987 when I was a sophomore at Louisiana State University I was held up in an armed robbery and shot in the back. The bullet severed my spinal cord and caused a T10 complete spinal cord injury. I live in Baton Rouge, Louisiana and I am the Brand Ambassador for Numotion.
Jillian: 4 years ago, when I was 23 years old, I sustained a T4 complete spinal cord injury after falling off a third story balcony while on vacation. I had been working in finance before my injury and when the time came to look for a new opportunity, the first job posting that popped up was a financial analyst position at Numotion. It felt like fate! I am now the senior financial analyst here and reside in Wethersfield, CT.
Clark: I am a quadriplegic as the result of a spinal cord injury that occurred in 1980. I went through rehab and also went to school at the University of Washington and am now I’m an ATP/SMS with Numotion. My primary account is the rehab department at The University of Washington Medical Center. I’ve been an ATP for 32 years, have also been married for 32 years, live in Seattle, WA, and have two grown kids.
Heather: I was my Mother’s “clumsy child”… always having random accidents, falling down, and breaking bones. When I was 22, there were obvious symptoms of the Limb-Girdle Muscular Dystrophy that I was eventually diagnosed with at the age of 34. I became a full-time power wheelchair user at the age of 40 when the disease’s progression made walking unsafe. I recently moved back to the Phoenix, AZ, area, and am once again near my family. I am a Virtual Assistive Technology Professional (ATP), which means that I do “ATP-type” things remotely; I also develop and implement pre-screening initiatives and assist with our sales force in the art of client interaction.
Everyone here is a member of the Employee Consumer Council team. What exactly is the ECC and what are its goals?
Jillian: The employee consumer council is made up of 11 Numotion employees who also happen to be customers of the company. We share a passion for using our personal experiences and knowledge as consumers of CRT and medical supplies to drive positive change within Numotion and ultimately better serve our customers.
What projects has the ECC taken on so far?
Clark: We’ve assisted with service and repair development, disability etiquette, billing and insurance issues, and several of us are currently working with the talent and acquisitions team in regard to hiring more persons with disabilities. That effort has led to a large project aimed at ensuring greater than what is mandated accessibility in our physical locations as well as gaining a better understanding of the real and perceived barriers affecting the hiring persons with disabilities. This has also led the ECC to work closely with HR on diversity inclusion.
Do you feel as if the ECC team has made an impact on Numotion and if so, how?
Karen: We’ve started several different projects that have made an impact. I think the most visible things we’ve done have probably been our internal disability etiquette piece and the 26 Pro-Tips we’ve published that help educate our customers and assist our field teams. We’ve also brought a great deal of attention to disability diversity and inclusion at Numotion.
What projects would you like to see the ECC tackle in the future?
Heather: I think it would be amazing for the ECC to provide additional input into the crafting of the customer’s online experience with Numotion.
How has the Numotion leadership team responded to the recommendations of the ECC?
Jillian: Numotion’s leadership has encouraged and embraced the ECC’s initiatives with open arms. This has been true even when those efforts may have appeared costly or time-consuming at first glance. When we bring up pain points we’ve experienced as customers, meetings are immediately scheduled with the people in charge of those processes and we are given the opportunity to talk about our experiences in great detail and work together to come up with solutions.
Do you feel as if Numotion has embraced diversity and inclusion, especially when it comes to people living and working with disability?
Clark: I do feel as if Numotion has fully embraced diversity and inclusion and is working hard toward creating additional opportunities for persons with physical disabilities. It is an ongoing project and one of the many reasons why the ECC was developed.
What do you believe to be the greatest barrier to employment for people with disabilities?
Karen: There are many barriers to employment including lack of accessible housing, transportation and office buildings. However, I think the greatest barrier is that both conscious and unconscious bias against people with disabilities makes it less likely they will be considered for employment.
Jillian: It’s hard to choose just one barrier… fear of losing affordable healthcare, lack of access to transportation, inaccessible workplaces and insufficient accommodations by employers are just the beginning of a too-long list of reasons why the unemployment rate is disproportionately high among people with disabilities. If I had to choose the greatest barrier out of that list, I would have to single out insufficient accommodations. Too many employers are unwilling to make the necessary changes to enable people with disabilities to serve as employees for fear it would have a negative effect on their bottom line. This is of course a shame because our community adds so much value to companies due to our unique perspectives and life experiences.
What common misconceptions do you believe many have about their ability to work post-onset or diagnosis?
Karen: People with disabilities might not think that they can earn enough money to cover all of their medical needs. In addition, people are afraid to ask for the accommodations they need to be successful in a career. Historically, employers have considered accommodations as an unnecessary expense and made the decision to reject applicants with disabilities.
Jillian: I think that far too many people believe they should just give up on their dream career after a life changing injury or diagnosis, just because it would now look different than how they originally pictured it. But that's no reason to be deterred - there's so many ways to problem solve. Want to be a chef? Get yourself a standing chair. Want to be a nurse? Join some of the trailblazing women in chairs who are working in hospitals and are proving what people with disabilities are capable of.
We’ve addressed perceived barriers but what are some of the actual challenges that exist for those attempting to work while living with disability?
Jillian: I’m not always the first to admit it, but it is a real struggle to hold a full time job on top of managing all the extra issues that come along with my spinal cord injury, in addition to fitting in doctor appointments (especially when doctor’s offices are only open during typical business hours), and keeping up with household chores and errands that just take longer to do from a wheelchair. I feel fortunate that I’m able to drive myself around and don’t need to rely on anyone else for transportation, but I know that can add a whole extra level of frustration and challenge for those seeking employment.
Clark: I think number one is how it will affect caregiving. For example, if an individual starts working and then is considered to be gainfully employed, they may then become ineligible for the benefits that allow the caregiver who makes employment possible in the first place. Employers being hesitant to allow work from home is also a challenge. I believe that the “new normal” with people working more and more from home could be a huge advantage for persons with disabilities.
Heather: In my own experience, things just take longer. Getting out of bed, going through my morning routine, and doing everything I need in order to be ready to leave the house takes about an hour-and-a-half. Eventually I will need a caregiver to help with that, which will actually make the whole routine take longer. Working remotely helps tremendously.
What disability-related issues do you think are most crucial to our community today?
Karen: First, access to the Complex Rehabilitation Technology we need to stay mobile and healthy. Second, a lack of reliable accessible transportation. Third - equal employment opportunities and equal wages.
Clark: One thing that could help tremendously would be widespread adoption of universal design. By definition, it doesn’t alter the experience of those without needs but opens access to those who do.
Heather: There are still widespread barriers in architecture which reduce the movements of people with physical disabilities, and barriers to accessing assistive devices and technologies for people with physical disabilities and neurodiversity.
As a nation, we just concluded the 2020 election cycle. Each year, I hope to see disability issues as part of each party’s platform and am often disappointed. Though, our ECC team is making a difference at Numotion, name one thing you believe our elected representatives should do to affect real change for people with disabilities?
Jillian: I believe the needs of the disability community will not be met until there is greater representation of disabled people in positions of leadership within society. Our voices are loud, but not loud enough to be heard through the closed-door meetings where decisions about our well-being are far too often made without us.
Clark: Everyone should feel empowered to express their voice in regard to what is important to them. We must elect candidates who are interested and willing to address disability-related issues and each politician should be expected to discuss how they’d represent our community before each election.
Heather: Leadership that will stop ignoring the discriminatory prejudice and stigma in society that is inherently attached to persons with disabilities, and work with the disability community to find solutions.
On a personal note, what type of adaptive activities are you enjoying this fall?
Karen: Now that the weather is cooling down I have enjoyed using my hand-cycle in the neighborhood. I will use my indoor FES bike and TEK RMD regularly in the house for my work-outs, which I enjoy.
Clark: I’ve been catching up on old movies, TV shows and I’m now incredibly glad that there’s sports out there again. Go Braves!
Heather: With the widespread shutdown of nearly everything, I have yet to find my “adaptive activity” niche group in this area. Instead, while waiting for my book to be published, I am exploring new ways to do my photography that involve using my Jaco robotic arm to hold the camera and multiple monitors to edit and select the photos for sale on my website.
Are there any disability-related blogs, websites, etc outside of Numotion that you find particularly entertaining or informative that you’d like to share with our readers?
Karen: Emily Ladau is a very entertaining disability rights advocate. Emil’s website, Words I Wheel By, is where you can find all of her blogs and links to her social media.
Jillian: I have been making an extra effort lately to learn more about perspectives and experiences outside of my own and one of the places I've been going to do that is myDiversability.com. They created a list of 30 people who have made an impact on the global disability community and I've gotten so much out of reading their stories.
Clark: I really haven’t throughout the years of my disability been that interested in delving into groups and now blogs etc. concerning disabilities. It is now something that is much more on my social radar and engaging in these sorts of things is one of the reasons why I am so excited to be part of the ECC. I also sit on the accessibility committee at the University Washington hospital and the rehabilitation advisory Council there as well.
Heather: JennySmithRollsOn.com I am fortunate to call Jenny my friend. She offers insights into daily living and practical tips for cooking, travel, quad arms-only rowing; and, is a member of “The Wonder Women”, the first quad rugby team comprised only of women.