Stockton drops me off at the front doors. I lean over the metal intercom box to request entry. Before I finish reading the instructions next to the shiny keypad, I hear a click as the receptionist releases the security lock. I move inside and give my name and ask about the conference. The lady behind the smooth, curved counter tells me the session location. I hesitate as I travel down the semi-lit hallway. “Almost there,” calls out a voice behind me from the atrium. “Turn left now!” I smile and say thanks over my shoulder.
I enter a bright meeting room and socialize with those present. I settle into a chair up front, fidgeting with my coat and bag. My former job coach invited me to speak to young job seekers with disabilities about my work search experience. Physically I’m stationary, but mentally I’m crossing a threshold in my ongoing transition of living with a disability. Tonight, I embody the role of the face of experience, a small guiding light seen in the distance for fellow travelers.
More voices sound around the room. The comforting scent of fresh pizza fills the air as people lift cardboard lids and grab slices. I crack open a plastic water bottle. The cool liquid distracts me from nervous excitement. I’m grateful for the opportunity to contribute a perspective of a woman with a disability in the workforce.
The host commences the meeting. Professionals present information about state services and benefits. Others join me on the following panel to recount job searches and work experiences. Time hurries past. We discuss how to self-advocate, the importance of resources and staying motivated despite frustration and delays. As another panelist wisely said, “your disability is only a speed bump on the way to where you’re going.”
As I sit in my chair listening to others, I relate with those attending. Our disabilities and roles vary, but the sense of community holds. Soon the session comes to a close. I say goodbye, trying to make a gracious exit. As I pass through the quiet lobby, I can’t help but feel satisfied, useful. My words encouraged others to keep moving in their journeys. I transitioned from simply adjusting to vision loss to a position in the realm of advocacy and leadership. Who knows, maybe I’m standing taller.
Stockton and one of our terriers await me in the parking lot. My dog’s tail wags with enthusiasm when she hears my cane sweep. We’re happy. As Stockton merges into traffic, I reflect on the event. It’s exciting to mark progress and be able to turn and offer your hand to bring others with you. In any community, we all deserve to keep moving forward.
When have you extended a hand for someone? Is there a role of yours where you found yourself supporting a community more? Who do you plan to guide or mentor in the future? Tell me about it.