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My Journey to Find Employment

Spastic cerebral palsy may affect my mobility and speech, but it does not affect my ability to achieve my goals. Always very driven and determined, I realized early on in high school that I wanted to be a voice for people with disabilities. I started by advocating on behalf of the student body for improvements to make the campus more accessible for students with disabilities. As I saw that I could make a difference in a small environment, I wanted to sharpen my advocacy skills to have the ability to make an even bigger impact.

I found Partners in Policymaking (PIP), a leadership training program sponsored by the New Jersey Council on Developmental Disabilities (NJCDD). After graduating from PIP, I was appointed to the Council and advanced in my role. Currently serving as Vice-Chair of NJCDD—a position that I have held for several years—I am proud to say that, together, we make real change. We work to improve inclusion so that individuals with disabilities enjoy active lives in their communities. Inspired by my work on the Council, I decided to major in political science at Monmouth University so that I could make a difference and improve quality of life for all.

Through my course work, I had the opportunity to take part in an internship program through the Washington Center for Internships and Academic Seminars—thanks to a grant from Kessler Foundation to the Center, which funded hands-on work experiences and housing for students with disabilities. While I quickly realized that moving to Washington for a semester wasn’t going to be an easy task, I was determined to make it work. Fortunately, one of my personal care assistants was willing to relocate with me.

Interning at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, I developed materials to assist individuals with disabilities with packing and the airport screening process. Most notably, I co-presented to the Chinese Ministry of Civil Affairs on disability programs available in the U.S. As many in China are still institutionalized, they weren’t accustomed to seeing a person with a significant physical disability in the workforce. I am hopeful that I made an impact and adjusted their perspectives to see what is possible for individuals with disabilities. My internship showed me that with the proper supports, I can live independently and hold meaningful employment. I also gained confidence as well as skills to analyze and draft policy.

Between my internship and service on the NJCDD, I developed a network of contacts with many leaders in the disability community. After graduating from Monmouth University in 2012, I informed my network that I was looking for a job. Four days later, I accepted an offer for a fellowship with Disability Rights New Jersey—an organization that also serves alongside me on the Council. I’m proud to be a part of projects that involve overcoming seclusion in schools and a 2016 voting initiative to improve inclusion for people with disabilities.

I’m thankful that I have a strong support system of family and friends that helps facilitate my ability to have a lasting, meaningful career. Employment is possible for people with significant disabilities. With the right system of support and services in place that allow people to have the necessary care to fulfill their educational and career goals, individuals with disabilities can thrive in the workforce. 

We must remember that people with disabilities contribute to the betterment of society. When more are working, they also become tax-paying citizens and stimulate the economy. Thanks to my educational opportunities, I have been fortunate to take part in wonderful experiences and continue to make significant differences for myself and other individuals with disabilities. 

I encourage students with disabilities to live their dreams and never give up. As the infamous phrase states, “Where there’s a will there’s a way.” Explore every opportunity and find your greater purpose.

Christopher Miller is a fellow at Disability Rights New Jersey and Vice-Chair of the New Jersey Council on Developmental Disabilities. He has dedicated his career to improving the lives of people with disabilities through initiatives that increase inclusion and involvement in educational institutions, the community, and the workforce. Chris received his Bachelor of Political Science degree from Monmouth University. He currently resides in Neptune, New Jersey.

Submitted by Kessler Foundation on Fri, 10/23/2015 - 14:45