This week we wanted to take a moment to share an interview with an employee we are so proud of, Christopher, or as we know him, CJ. CJ graduated with a bachelor’s degree in technical communication from Arizona State University and joined Careers2B program in 2019. It has been a pleasure to work with CJ and watch him grow. He exemplifies the values of our organization.
What attracted you to a career in technology? My uncle gave me my first laptop and I have always been intrigued. Because of my disability, I was introduced to assistive technology very young, at about age 7. I took it apart and learned so much.
What was your college experience like? Very long. Very challenging. I went to community college and transferred to the university because there was more academic support and disability services available. The university was also when I got the opportunity to live on my own in a dorm. I graduated with a 3.4 GPA from Arizona state. I also was a student worker in one of the computing centers and maintained it through my time at the university.
Getting involved with extracurricular activities was a challenge. Some clubs were not accommodating or welcoming. Even though I am a licensed and certified SCUBA Diver, they would not let me join or even attend the meetings.
Tell us about your experience, as a person living with a disability, searching for a career opportunity after college? It was the biggest challenge. I applied to over 200 jobs and had over 100 interviews. It was exhausting. Hearing the word “no” over and over was not fun. The university career services were not very helpful. I found Bender on my own just because I searched “full time opportunities for people with disabilities.” OVR was not helpful and rather seemed upset I did not find a job because I was college educated. It took 2 years with them, and they could not help. Bender helped me within 3 months.
How did you first learn about Bender’s Careers2B program? I heard about it during my interview process, through a Bender manager. I went and researched it as well.
How did Careers2B impact your life? It gave me a shot to prove myself and taught me the reality of what to expect in the workplace. People are real with me. The resource managers explain the do’s and don’ts of an office. The team was inclusive and kept me as a real part of the team. I learned life lessons.
What was your experience like relocating to Chattanooga, Tennessee? Exciting and scary at the same time. I moved to Chattanooga sight unseen. I did not know anyone in the state – I had never even visited before. The first week of work was the longest week of my life. I had to do everything on my own and I had never worked a full-time job before then. I worried I would not be able to handle the full-time workload. It was a risk and an experiment to see if I could handle it, and it turned out I could. I have moved further away and done something bolder than my other siblings. Because of this move, I was able to have personal experiences I will never forget. I have learned how to budget, pay rent, and live on my own. Careers2B is a great program, and it gives you a chance to get your foot in the door.
Recently you were in an accident; please share what happened? Coming from a coffee shoppe, I began to cross the sidewalk in my wheelchair. A lady pulled out of a parking lot while looking down at her phone. She hit me so hard I was spun out into the middle of the street into on-coming traffic.
I called a friend to take me to the hospital and then Ubered home. I had a broken rib and bruising on the left side of my body. My wheelchair had some damage, and I am still getting that fixed. It still runs, but I cannot use all features. Luckily, it happened on a Friday, and I only had to miss 1 day (Tuesday) of work to go to follow up with doctors.
One of the things you have shared with us is your pride in being able to say you only missed one day of work after experiencing this accident. Why is that such an important achievement? Because I was still able to work, so I worked. I don’t want anything to hold up the team. Working actually helped distract me.
What does it mean to you personally to have personal and financial independence? I can save up, have assets, invest – I can provide for myself. I can make the choice to purchase a home, car, or take a vacation if I choose to do so. If I would have stayed on disability, I would never have been able to do any of these things.
In closing, what message would you like to share with other early career professionals living with disability? Job hunting after school is going to be challenging. There will be rejection. There will be times when you are told “no.” You will wonder why. But do not give up. It’s like finding a needle in a haystack. Keep applying and keep trying and something great and life changing will happen.