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What It's Like to Work as Someone With an Intellectual Disability

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Editor's Note

Any medical information included is based on a personal experience. For questions or concerns regarding health, please consult a doctor or medical professional.

I have had many jobs in my life. But I have never worked as a dishwasher until I worked at Purdue University. I like working there and all, but the past few months I’ve had tennis elbow. I don’t know if I was lifting things in their dishwasher the wrong way or not. Two months ago, my left arm started hurting and I went to Urgent Care and they told me I had golf elbow. Which anyone can get, but my disability includes benign hypertension which is muscle weakness. But working at Purdue was a good experience for me.

I’ve been working since I was 15. I had a few good jobs in my day. I worked in retail for almost 20 years. Some of the guests would get upset when I paused to think for a few minutes on the phone. I know it’s “get the manager” time then. I remember one woman said, “You don’t know what you’re talking about, do you?” No, you don’t understand — I have a disability. It takes me more time to think about stuff.

Employers just don’t understand how to deal with people with intellectual disabilities. There should be a manual on how to hire, train, and keep workers with intellectual disabilities.

That’s why there’s Special Olympics Athlete Leadership University. Athletes can take different courses to graduate. I have graduated in Communications, Governess, Sports, and Technology. I especially like Communications and Technology — those were the ones I was best at. I have given a lot of speeches over the years to organizations and a few schools. I’m getting to the point that I would like to talk to employers about hiring people with disabilities. They need to take the time to see if the person they hire can do the job right that is given to them. If not, the company needs to hire a job coach so the employee doesn’t need to have someone constantly watching over them. This is what a job coach is supposed to do.

When I first worked at Purdue they said I should get a job couch. This was many years ago. I’ve had a few job coaches, but they didn’t really help. In my experience, they just stand there and talk to you and see how you’re doing. I have some friends at work at the dining court that still have a job coach. I noticed when I was in the dish room, a job coach would come in but they would just stand around and watch the workers. They didn’t seem to help them out at all, just asked how their work was going and everything like that.

I am trying to look for jobs. I tried applying for unemployment also, because I don’t qualify for SSI. I guess the government doesn’t think I’m disabled enough. I know God doesn’t give you more than you can handle, but dealing with my health insurance is more than I can handle. My only choice is being on Healthy Indiana Plan 2.0. Luckily my mom can help me do most of that. She’s been dealing with that kind of stuff with my grandma. But when my mom and dad pass, my sister and brother are going to have to take over. Luckily my brother works at Area 4 Agency on Aging and knows what he’s doing.

I think that it’s time for a change in jobs. I have 20 more years before I can retire. I am a people person; my dad thought I should be a CNA. Based on what I hear from other people, I don’t think I can do that. My handwriting is not good. I have a hard time writing notes. What I’d really like is to just visit with those that are lonely and need someone to talk to. Because I am best at that. I recently applied for an activity assistant job but they wanted you to lift 50 pounds, which I can’t do right now. I told them maybe in a few months. I would love that kind of job. I would have a bunch of ideas about doing different activities.

I’ve tried lots of different things to help my golf elbow heal. I use BML muscle rub, copaiba essential oils (on the parts that hurt and as a pill). I should have listened to my doctor and taken anti-inflammatory drugs to let my arms heal. I wanted to see if they could heal on their own. I kept putting ice packs on my arms. I hope I find a new job. But we will see what happens.

If you would like your doctor to know more or learn more about people with intellectual disabilities, have them go to this link: Inclusivehealth.SpecialOlympics.Org

Getty image by Monzenmachi.

Originally published: March 7, 2022
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