In 1998, I moved to a city in a different state that was smaller than that in which I had lived previously, and found it difficult to get work. Despite my college education, years of business management experience and well-rounded resume, it became clear to me that I was perceived to be unemployable. In desperation, after aggressively seeking employment for two years, I called on a job as a telephone receptionist for a local utility company.
The supervisor would not even grant me an interview. " How do you people do things?" He asked.
" Our telephones have buttons on them. How would you know which to push? How could you take messages?" Apparently, the fact that I had called him to ask for the interview had slipped by him.
Resignedly, I visited the local community college in hope of finding a disabled students' career center, or a contact who knew someone who knew someone who might be able to point me in a fruitful direction. The career center director informed me she could not help, as I was not a student. After listening to my unbroken, frustrated tirade about my inability to get work due to the closed-minded attitudes of the local employers, she regarded me for a long moment.
" Have you ever thought about becoming a professional speaker?" She asked.
I literally laughed out loud. " Who on earth would listen to anything I have to say?" I demanded, finding this suggestion ludicrous.
" Well, you clearly have plenty to say. How about putting together an outline for workshops or seminars on disability awareness, and shopping it around?"
Convinced that this idea was a non-starter, I thanked her for her time and left. Then I went home, sat down in front of my computer and produced an outline. I emailed it to her, and not long after, I received an email message from the president of a professional education services company, who asked me to develop training classes and present workshops for his clients in thirteen counties throughout the state. I've been speaking as a paid professional ever since.
There were a number of factors that contributed to my decision to make my living as a speaker. First and foremost, I wanted to advocate for people with disabilities, but I felt that the best way to accomplish this was, in effect, by proxy. My audiences are not individuals with disabilities, rather, my audiences are those with whom people with disabilities interact. My message is not limited to the simple " do's and don'ts" of so-called " sensitivity training" . I attempt to convey a larger message of the importance of respect, dignity and effective communication. If I can make the life of one person who has a disability easier by teaching those with whom they interact every day a little something about accurate and respectful communication, I have achieved my goal.
My belief is that my message can be effectively communicated by virtue of the fact that I am living the experiences about which I speak. There is a power in first person perspective. Everyone grapples with life's indignities, whether it's a bitter divorce, radiation and chemotherapy treatments, loss of a loved one or even an unwarranted job termination. Coping with a disability is a part of life with which 54 million Americans have faced, at one time or another.
Further, I felt strongly about revealing the truth behind some of the myths and stereotypes often associated with disability. Upon learning of my blindness, people typically respond by saying, " Oh, I'm so sorry." Truly, not all disability is tragic, traumatic or even radically restrictive. Sometimes, it can be simply inconvenient. I suppose it is human nature to automatically leap to the negative, but honestly, there's no reason to be sorry. I have a rich, full life, wonderful in many ways. I consider myself to be extremely fortunate, even privileged. This is not fake, fluffy polyanna positive thinking. I want to show others there are practical, ingenious and effective coping strategies for managing their lives.
Speaking in front of people also fulfills a creative need. In college, I majored in music. I was a vocal performance major, specializing in opera. Singing is my first love, but speaking in front of audiences is the next best thing for me. It has turned out to be a great love of my life, and I cannot imagine doing anything else.
As the business grew, I realized that there was much I hoped to achieve. So, I have steadily expanded my online offerings so as to focus on each specific aspect of disability awareness, accessibility, employment, health and aging. You'll find job board sites, a blog, ecommerce, and most recently, a new business offering hand-crafted Braille jewelry and accessories. The Legendary Insights brand is a growing one!
Truthfully, I do not view my circumstances as either an advantage or disadvantage. Sometimes, the bottom line is that things can just be harder. However, I've interacted with many so-called "able bodied" persons for whom many things seem difficult. my success as an entrepreneur who is blind has less to do with how I feel about it and more to do with how well I manage it.
Never take "no" for an answer! If you know you can do it, then it can be done. Believe! Remember, The definition of courage isn't fearlessness, courage is when you feel afraid and proceed anyway. The world will not reward you for withholding your gifts.