If the shoe fits: Two UD students learn on the job
By Janell Booker and Zach Martin
Janell Booker connected with a shoe retailer and Zach Martin with a U.S. senator’s district office as part of Disability Mentoring Day in Delaware. Here’s what the students, who are enrolled in UD’s Career and Life Studies Certificate (CLSC) program for people with intellectual disabilities, had to say about their experiences.
For this year’s Disability Mentoring Day, I went to New Balance, a sneaker store. I really enjoy sports and exercising and last year I spent Disability Mentoring Day at the Carpenter Sports Building. I’m really good at connecting with people, whether it is little kids, UD students or adults.
The people at New Balance were really nice. They showed me how they help people find the kind of shoes customers are looking for, count money at the cash register and scan bar codes. They also taught me about people with flat feet and arthritis and how they need special shoes with an arch in it. I learned that lots of people come into the store with the wrong shoe size and when you work at the store, you can help them find the right size. That’s really important because it helps people feel more comfortable.
As I think about finding a job, I have worried a little bit that some people might not want to hire me because I have a disability. They will probably think that they have to show us the ropes a little bit more. But my experience with Chris, the supervisor at New Balance, was really great. I was a little nervous at first about having to count money at the cash register – I’m not that good at math. But he told me that he has trouble with it too sometimes, which made me feel better. We divided up the task and the total came out exactly right! That made me feel really good. Overall, I had a great day. I really enjoyed being around all those sneakers – it’s my element! I think that the people at New Balance and other employers also learned on Disability Mentoring Day that people with disabilities are pretty nice and that it doesn’t really matter that we have a disability. That shouldn’t stop them from hiring us.
I hope to get a job someday at New Balance or another place like it. Overall, participating in Disability Mentoring Day made me feel better about finding a job after I am done at UD. It feels easier. At first I thought I couldn’t even get a job because of my disability. Today made it feel different.
At UD this semester, I am taking an undergraduate public policy course to learn more about how legislation is made and how government works.
For Disability Mentoring Day, I was placed at U.S. Senator Chris Coons’ office. I was not really sure what it would be like. It was much better than I thought! I saw pictures of Senator Coons with the president, which was really cool. I met a lot of different staff members and everybody was really friendly and willing to share. I learned that the office gets a lot of email – TONS – and the staff have to answer each one carefully and respectfully. I was impressed with how they handled challenging situations.
Disability Mentoring Day was important to me because learning on the job first-hand is much easier than finding a job just by having to read a book, like for my public policy class. But I know that both are important. It was a once in a lifetime opportunity.
I know that it is more difficult to get hired when you have a disability. I’m not sure how willing people are to change their ways so that more people with disabilities can get hired. But you have to put yourself out there and help people get to know you. I hope that employers on Disability Mentoring Day learned that disabilities is just a word. You can have a disability and still graduate from high school and college. Also, I hope they learned that disability doesn’t mean the same thing for everybody. Disability doesn’t mean you’re not qualified. These employers were probably given a chance at one point, so they should probably be open to giving other people a chance. And for my site, at Senator Coons’ office, because they work on issues related to people with disabilities, it would probably be a lot easier to understand those issues if you had us around and employed us.
I’m hoping to get a job after CLSC advocating for people with disabilities or doing other things with the law, maybe with the people that I met today. Going there today gave me a really excited feeling. It made me feel more connected to Delaware and helped me to see how others in the world are connected.