Valley News Dispatch
Monday, January 21, 2002
This is in response to a recent letter about rights for people with disabilities and the ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act). While it's true that we as a nation are not as far advanced as we would all like to be as far as people with disabilities, it's certainly not the proverbial Dark Ages.
I suffered a crippling injury in June 1977 and have been using a wheelchair ever since. My company, Consolidation Coal, treated me well and rehired me as a survey draftsman, but my job was terminated in February 1996 because of company-wide downsizing.
After realizing that I had no transferable job skills and after reading an article about a woman - Joyce Bender - who hires qualified people in the computer-programming field who happen to have disabilities, I decided that I had to become qualified. In otherwords, I needed to bolster myself with more education.
At that time, I was rapidly closing in on 48 and I didn't even know how to start a computer. I was completely in the dark about computer systems and technologies, but I was also facing a life without work and without meaning.
I then visited the Office of Vocational Rehabilitation (OVR) counselor at the employment office in New Kensington and inquired about schooling. I was informed that I could take any subject and attend any school I wanted. The Institute of Advanced Technology in Pittsburgh sounded best to me, because it was a one-year course in computer programming, six hours per day and five days per week of computer lab time. Now this course was only offered to people with disabilities and I have to admit that it wasn't easy; nothing worthwhile ever seems to be. In fact, there was a fairly high attrition rate because of the difficulty of the subject matter, but it can be done.
Now, OVR not only paid for my schooling, they reimbursed me for my mileage and would have even provided transportation if I had needed it.
Today, I am a systems consultant for Bender Consulting Services out of their Pittsburgh offices and I've been assigned to work at Bayer for almost four years, enjoying a competitive salary with full benefits.
I realize that this field isn't for everyone, but there most certainly is hope for people with disabilities. I hope the letter writer finds some comfort in this, and I wish her the best of luck.
And I can't stress this enough - education is the key, a major step toward independence. For anyone with a disability, please make an appointment with the OVR counselor at your local employment office.
By the way, our motto from Bender Consulting Services is "Competitive Jobs Mean Freedom."