Hard Work Plus Accommodations Equal Success in the Workplace
The value of hard work was instilled in me from a very young age. My parents came from Medellin, Colombia to the United States in the 1970s in pursuit of the American dream. My father worked three jobs. Sick days were never an option. He respected his jobs and took great pride in showing my sister and me how hard he worked to provide for our household. Despite being the only one in my family born with a disability, I was determined to be like my father and do everything possible to earn a living when I grew up.
Throughout my childhood, my mother only spoke Spanish. Growing up in an under-served community, obtaining medical information in Spanish was difficult. At times, others would help my mother communicate with doctors about specific information, such as the date and location of my upcoming surgery. The language barrier, however, was an obstacle to discussing other aspects of my condition, such as ‘why’ such a ‘disability’ occurred.
Despite the need for numerous procedures, education has always been an important component in my life. Education has given me the opportunity to have unimaginable and extraordinary employment experiences as a young Latina with a disability. I started working at the age of 16 through a career-driven program at my high school in Union City, New Jersey. After graduation, I took a year off due to medical reasons.
As soon as I could, I enrolled in Hudson County Community College, eager to learn. After completing my associate’s degree, I attended Rutgers University for my bachelor’s degree in sociology. During my undergraduate studies, I held part-time positions as a mentor, administrative assistant, assistant program coordinator, medical in-take receptionist, and research intern. This work experience proved to be extremely valuable for my future success. I graduated cum laude and was ready to take on the world.
Throughout my life and employment experiences, I learned to adapt to the world around me—that is, the tall world. Previous employers never asked me if I needed any accommodations to make the workplace as comfortable and productive as possible, and I never bothered to ask. I did not want my superiors to perceive me as weak, so I remained quiet and attempted to do my best. At times, I may be unable to reach something, go up a few flights of stairs, or carry heavy things from place to place, but I always manage to overcome any obstacle. I feel the strength comes from within and from the motivation to accomplish tasks on my own. But my current employer helped me realize the value of asking for an occasional accommodation.
Hired as a research assistant for Spinal Cord Injury Research at Kessler Foundation, Director Dr. Trevor Dyson-Hudson e-mailed me to ask if I needed any special equipment to perform my duties. I carefully thought about my response while I attended the National Little People of America Conference. The conference changed my perspective on my needs as a professional, and, most importantly, my needs as a person with a disability.
Everywhere I turned, I saw stepping stools—in the hotel lobby and most rooms, the bathroom, and the elevator. Special equipment was everywhere. The entire conference was accessible and so easy to navigate. The best part: no one seemed to mind the slight differences that made a huge difference in the lives of many. When I returned from the conference, I replied to Dr. Dyson-Hudson, stating, “Thank you for asking, Trevor. I will need a stepping stool, please.” To request a stepping stool without feeling embarrassed was a major breakthrough and a great feeling!
I am extremely thankful to be a part of Kessler Foundation. It’s rewarding to collaborate with professionals from multiple disciplines who strive to understand and improve the lives of people with disabilities.
Stephanie Jimenez, BA, is a research assistant for Spinal Cord Injury and Outcomes & Assessment Research at Kessler Foundation. She is responsible for recruiting participants and data management and leads the translation of research documents from English to Spanish. Diagnosed with Metatrophic Dysplasia (or metatrophic dwarfism)—a severe skeletal disorder—at six months old, Stephanie continues to overcome life’s challenges by maintaining a positive attitude. She is extremely grateful for her support system and enjoys spending time with family and friends.