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People Call Me Inspirational. So Why Can't I Find a Job?

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I want a way to say to the world “I matter,” I can contribute and I am a valuable member of society. I’m a 46-year-old female celebrating 23 years of incredible life lessons of navigating the world as an amputee, but right now I find myself feeling sad, undervalued and depressed.

I often say if I could wake up with my arm returned I would decline, because it has given me way more than it has ever taken away. But today I wish I had it. Today I wish I didn’t have to say I am an amputee.

I am depressed because I can’t seem to find a way through the minefield of securing a job opportunity. I have incredible work references, a wide range of skills, and my attitude is “never say can’t” unless I’ve genuinely tried. I have only two things on the “can’t” list so far — chainsaws and superglue — both best avoided by a one-armed woman.

I am often told I’m incredible, an inspiration, I motivate and lead by example. But right now, I’m lost.

As a job seeker, I am armed with the knowledge that I have never, in my entire working life, secured a job by the usual, formal process any other person does. Not once! In the past I have shown up in person, begged, pleaded, even dared someone to give me an opportunity. I’ve offered to work for free until I prove my abilities. That challenge has often been accepted by the employer with a grin and the statement “This will be interesting.” I have a 100% success rate at proving them wrong, taking disability and delivering it back as ability. I become an employee they can show off with pride, receiving the accolades often heaped on them for giving “someone like me” a go. Often in those moments I smile and wink because I know just how that journey started for them. I educated and hopefully changed their perception of people with disabilities. It was well worth it on so many levels.

Now, I am up to over 80 job applications in a month. I’ve spent hours on the internet and job sites, getting hopeful over adverts that state immediate start, desperate, please apply, equal opportunity employer, and the crowning golden carrot… people with disabilities encouraged to apply. I feverishly type up cover letters, find my resume listing my skills and hit “send.” It’s a full-time job in itself.

The results… Nothing! I’ve received four replies to my efforts, two stating “We would love to give you an opportunity, but we think our customers would find you working for us uncomfortable,” and one saying “You are over-qualified and we want a youth for lesser pay rates.” The fourth response was “This job is probably beneath you.” The other 80 or so received no response, no acknowledgment, no feedback. What am I doing wrong? Do I reveal my amputation in my application? Do I leave it out until I make the interview process? Why does my disability define me before I even begin the application?

I don’t get up in the morning, look in the mirror and say, “Morning, Jenn, you are an amputee.” It doesn’t define me! I get up and say “Morning, Jenn, what’s today going to bring?”

I am blessed and have been lucky to touch, motivate and inspire thousands of people in my life. Now I find I need support in return, and I don’t know where to seek it. I don’t know how to break through to employers or to those around me who see me as an example. I have ability despite disability, and I wish employers would look beyond their perception of what I can and can’t do. I feel more than ever that there is so much more work to do for those with disabilities to get equal opportunities. So I will roll up my sleeves and continue… somehow!

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Originally published: November 1, 2016
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