Published On: April 5, 2024

Contributed by Brandy Dickerson, Lead Retention Specialist, Easterseals Crossroads

Brandy  specializes in helping people with disabilities maintain employment. She has worked with people with disabilities since 2007. Her own personal experiences with cerebral palsy contribute to her effectiveness in guiding others.

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Many people with physical and learning disabilities desire to work, but unfortunately, they remain unemployed. Many individuals with disabilities must obtain education for an employer even to consider them for employment. Furthermore, some employers have preconceived ideas about people with disabilities, such as being a liability to the organization and lacking skills or the ability to complete tasks. Therefore, the potential employer does not consider them in the hiring process or does not hire them.

At a young age, I knew I wanted a fulfilling career and most likely needed an education, so this was the path I embarked on. Vocational Rehabilitation provided financial assistance for my education, which led to me earning my business administration degree from Ambassador University, Big Sandy, Texas, in 1997. Despite having a college degree, I was unsuccessful in finding work independently. Less than a year after I finished college, I began to work in the family business as an office assistant. This entry level position was an important stepping stone in my career because it gave me some experience to make note of on my resume. Someone gave me an opportunity for some experience!

My journey with employment has been like many others with disabilities. By being born with cerebral palsy and a learning disability, my odds for gainful employment were against me. However, I learned from my experiences that having disabilities does not define my ability to have a successful career, even though some employers may have believed so.

That first job opportunity, along with the assistance of Vocational Rehabilitation and an Employment Consultant (EC) through Easterseals Crossroads, led me into other professional positions. In 2007, my EC helped me obtain a position at a nonprofit disability service in an independent living center in Indianapolis, Indiana. I was thankful I was hired despite needing more specific experience for the position. Someone else gave me an opportunity!

While working at the independent living center, I learned about various disabilities and others’ experiences. I also learned about the diversity and uniqueness of individuals who have been diagnosed with the same disabilities, including one of the founders of the organization, who has cerebral palsy.

A prevalent theme in my work with people with disabilities is that they want opportunities to obtain independence or autonomy, just as I did. My life experiences and challenges due to having disabilities have allowed me to provide mentoring and peer support to others with disabilities. More specifically, it has allowed me to provide help in gaining access to necessary resources and essential life skills that promote empowerment to achieve their individual goals, whatever those may be. For example, a few people I assisted transitioned from a nursing home to independent living. In addition, I supported some individuals to obtain home modifications, employment, housing, food, clothing, benefits, skills to budget finances, and many other individual goals.

Throughout my career, I have supported people at the individual level and provided support at the community level. For example, I started disability support groups, provided disability awareness and resources to the public, and led the Back Home Alliance for Indianapolis project that assisted people with disabilities in making changes in housing that were affordable, accessible, and integrated.

Working for an independent living center allowed me to help others and helped me. Through my work there, I came to believe that all things are possible in living the life I desire, even with a disability. I bought a home in 2009 and decided to explore another goal: to determine if I could successfully earn my real estate license. In 2013, I took a real estate course. I knew earning the license would be challenging because of my learning disability. Not to be discouraged, I read the real estate book three times, studied other students’ notes, and practiced with flash cards. My efforts paid off because I passed the Indiana state exam on the first try. I cried tears of joy when I received the passing grade and realized I am more intelligent than I have given myself credit for. Throughout my life, so many people have believed I am limited in my capabilities because of my cerebral palsy and learning disability. This time, I gave myself this opportunity!

In 2014, I left the independent living center and worked full-time in real estate with other family members. As a broker realtor, I learned how to maintain potential home buyers by building relationships with them, which led to earning their trust to guide them in purchasing a home. The most fulfilling job as a broker realtor was seeing the buyer at the closing table and knowing they finally owned their house. We gave each other an opportunity!

In my career journey, I lost jobs along the way. Sometimes, I lost a job because physical lifting was required, and I could not perform the task, or the job required me to work fast, which my motor skills would not allow me to do. I asked for job accommodations, but none were ever available. All these experiences with different positions and careers led me to miss working in the nonprofit world and working with people with disabilities. I relate to individuals with disabilities because I understand their hardships. It was time for me to provide opportunities!

I knew I needed to give back. So, I applied for a position at Easterseals Crossroads, the organization that helped me find a job years ago. In January 2016, I was hired as a retention specialist, which has led to my becoming the lead retention specialist. My responsibilities have included supporting individuals with disabilities to maintain employment, which meant that I needed to learn the perspective of the employer and the employee. I have educated employers about disability awareness, accommodations, and how to work together. I also taught the consumer (employee) how to follow the rules and procedures of the company or agency. By working with the employer and employees, I have helped many individuals with disabilities keep their jobs. The employer and employee are giving each other opportunities!

Not only have I given back through my career at Easterseals Crossroads, but also through community organizations and activities. For example, I have gained appointments on the Council and Leadership Committee for the Governor’s Council for People with Disabilities for the State of Indiana. I have also participated in disability awareness campaigns on social media, local media, articles, and a master’s program for counselor education. In recognition of my efforts and work for the disability community, I received the Indiana state and national level Lois Curtis Award from the Association of People Supporting Employment First (APSE)

From this article, I hope employers have noted reasons to consider hiring individuals with disabilities. Furthermore, it is crucial to be cautious of preconceived ideas and overgeneralizations from precluding individuals with disabilities from hiring considerations. When provided an opportunity, individuals with disabilities are not only willing and capable of fulfilling the responsibilities and obligations of job requirements, they are assets to their employers.

For more information about employment services at Easterseals Crossroads, contact us.