December 3 is International Day of People with Disabilities, a day dedicated to promoting an understanding of people living with disabilities and encourage support for their dignity, rights, and well-being.
Life can be a lot more challenging if you have a physical, mental, visible, or invisible disability. But people living with disabilities find inspirational ways to succeed in their professional and personal lives.
Take Wendy Norhaugen, an SEIU Healthcare member who works for St. Joseph’s Care Group in Thunder Bay, Ontario. She has been living with a disability for her entire life. She has a successful career in administration and in November 2015 was elected to SEIU Healthcare’s Executive Board as the Persons with Disability representative.
“I was born completely deaf in my left ear,” Wendy says.
“When I was young I grew up reading people’s lips without knowing it. If someone is talking to me behind me, I will turn around and look directly at them so I can hear what they are saying.”
She has found many employers have been very accommodating to her needs. But she knows that sometimes, individual managers may not be as understanding. One manager she worked with in the past would taunt and tease her. Sometimes he would quietly stand behind her for long periods of time until she would notice him. Other times he would lower his voice to make sure she couldn’t hear or understand him.
Frustrated with the manager’s bullying, she left her job and went back to school to earn a degree in medical administration. She scored high grades by sitting in front of the classroom so she could hear the teacher’s every word.
She feels her disability can be an issue but it doesn’t define her. Today she works in the administrative department at the hospital where she books appointments, handles discharges, manages the switchboard, and more.
“Lots of hurtful things have been thrown at me but it just makes me stronger,” she said. “But I do understand that in a lot of cases people with disabilities experience a lot of stress. They can have a hard time coping. Many suffer from depression.”
The good news is employers can help people living with disabilities succeed in the workplace. All an employer really needs to do is ask them what tools they need to succeed. At the hospital where she works Wendy feels they have done a lot to support her. She is a highly productive employee that hospital staff trust and rely on.
“I find that there is not enough knowledge. Many managers may not know how to deal with people who have disabilities. Education is a big part of it.”