Forward! Advice to Graduates Who Have Disabilities from Adults with Disabilities

By Guest Blogger Katherine Schneider, PhD, Author and Retired Clinical Psychologist, Disability Blog, April 25, 2014

Mortarboard caps thrown up in the air are shown.

Congratulations! As you graduate this spring, please know that adults with disabilities are cheering for you and welcoming you to “the real world,” whatever that is.

In addition to your classes, you’ve learned a lot in school. You’ve dealt with the hard parts of having a disability, like things taking longer, costing more and not always being readily accessible for you. You’ve gained skills in advocating strongly, but politely and persistently for your access needs to be met. You’ve experienced the joy of “I did it!” as well as some disasters, which may have become funny stories at least in hindsight.

As you move forward to the next stage of life, I’d like to offer some advice gained from my 65 years of life as a person with disabilities and from an unscientific sampling I did of other folks with disabilities on some listservs. I’m a retired clinical psychologist, as well as an author who was blind from birth and developed fibromyalgia in middle age. Life and my seeing eye dogs have taught me what I’m passing on through this blog post.

In school, you may have had an Individualized Education Plan (IEP), a 504 Plan and/or a disability services office to help you meet your access needs. Now you’ll get to assemble your own team. Building a team takes work: training allies in how to and not to help; trading help (or baked goods) for help; and saying enough “pleases” and “thank yous” to make your grandmother proud. I often find I need to remember that it’s someone’s first time helping when they’re doing it wrong.

Sometimes I also have to give myself a pep talk about how it’s a sign of strength to ask for what I need – especially when the first ask doesn’t work out. Trying to channel the advice an internship supervisor told me repeatedly, that is “Honey attracts more flies than vinegar,” helps me to be more gracious and grateful. Spreading honey doesn’t always work in team building or in facing down discrimination, but it’s worked for me more often than being demanding and threatening.

Here are tips from five successful adults who have disabilities.

  1. “Transitioning from living in a dorm to living by yourself in an apartment can feel like a daunting transition.”  – Tasha Chemel
  2. “YOU know more about your disability and how to cope with it than potential employers do.”  – Cliff Wilson
  3.  “Searching for a job is not a part-time thing. The ball is always in your court. You don’t have a right to a job; you have to earn it by demonstrating diligence, expertise and graciousness. This has required a lot of determination, time management and goal setting. You will need the same in a job search. When you get discouraged, look at a piece of writing, artwork or other creation you have done or that someone else has created but that inspires you. Network, say thank you and remember non-disabled people are facing similar job- finding struggles.”  – Elizabeth Sammon
  4. “When you live, you learn and when you take what you learn and keep on living, sooner or later, you’ll probably end up the source of inspiration. So then, what are you waiting for? Go ahead. I dare you. Inspire me!” – Deon Lyons in her blog
  5. “Always challenge: yourself, your beliefs, rules and your mind. Challenge yourself to try things you think you just can’t do. Sometimes you will be right and you can’t do them, but once in a while you’ll figure out a way and that will give you confidence to try something else. Challenge beliefs about yourself and your disability. Above all, challenge your life. Make changes, learn to succeed and learn to fail, and learn to do both with grace. Decide what is important to you, and what you are willing to sacrifice to support it. Find people to emulate, study what they do and how they do it, and practice it.”  – David Hyde

Many choices lie ahead of you about how you will work, love, play and pray. It’s exciting and scary. You choose, you make it happen and you enjoy or clean up the mess. When things don’t work out, it helps to have a Plan B. Maybe your first job is not your dream job, or maybe it’s an unpaid internship or volunteer work. You’ll learn a lot no matter what the job is called. The contacts you make and the references you get can move you forward.

When it comes to cleaning up the mess and dealing with a failure, it helps to take a baseball perspective rather than an academic one. At school, you tried for an “A” at 90 percent. In baseball, if you hit one ball out of three and have a batting average of .333, you’re major league for sure! Life is like baseball. For those of us who tend to be perfectionists, the Japanese concept of wabi sabi is also helpful. It acknowledges that there is beauty in flaws rather than just in perfection.

Or as Leonard Cohen put it:

“Ring the bells that still can ring. Forget your perfect offering. There is a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in.”

Forward and best wishes on your next steps!

Katherine Schneider, PhD, is an author and retired clinical psychologist living in Eau Claire, Wis. with her ninth seeing eye dog. She has published a memoir, To the Left of Inspiration: Adventures in Living with Disabilities, and a children’s book, Your Treasure Hunt: Disabilities and Finding Your Gold. She originated the Schneider Family Book Awards for children’s books with disability content through the American Library Association, and an award for superior journalism about disability issues through the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism at Arizona State University.

Locally, she started the Access Eau Claire fund through the Eau Claire Community Foundation to help nonprofit organizations work toward full inclusion of people with disabilities. Her next book, Occupying Aging: Delights, Disabilities and Daily Life, will be available in the fall. Those interested can subscribe to her blog at

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