The Americans with Disabilities Act put the spotlight on a group of people in the USA. This group now has a voice; a constituency that has come of age. This community votes, works and pays taxes.This blog is based on a N.Y. newspaper column I wrote for the Rockland County Journal-News from 1990-92.
When I returned to work at IBM in May 1982 -- 17 months after my surfing accident -- I really didn't know whether I could be a productive employee again. I don't believe my new management team knew either. But my former IBM manager, John Perissi, had encouraged me to come back to work -- and my new management team was willing to give me a chance.
My greatest concerns had to do not with whether I could do the job, but with whether I would fall out of my wheelchair or suffer some other embarrassment in my office. I'm still concerned about that. But I now can handle the fear psychologically because my confidence has improved.
Confidence. It was the key to my comeback. As my confidence in myself grew, my performance at work -- and my capacity for work -- improved. I made new friends. I stopped being embarrassed at being in a wheelchair and began to sit up straight. When I talked to people, I started looking them in the eye again.
IBM managers monitored my progress and gradually increased my workload to the point where I became as productive as the able-bodied employees in my department. I've had full job responsibilities since 1982, and held more than 25 jobs during my 35-year career at IBM -- with more responsibility added in each successive job. I am now an executive at corporate headquarters in Armonk, New York.
My former wife and I separated in 1986 and divorced in 1987. I then lived as a bachelor, hiring nurses to get me up and put me to bed each night. And I continued to work full time. During this time I achieved more independence than I thought possible. I drove everywhere by myself, including to job-related assignments, to family functions, and even dates.
I made new friends and socialized more than I had done immediately after my accident. But I never expected another romantic relationship, and never sought to develop one. I needed a wheelchair to make my way in life. I believed I had nothing to offer a woman. My focus was physical -- on my disability and on my wheelchair. Those two facts, I believed, determined who I was. My attitude could have been summed up in one sentence: Who would want a relationship with a quad?
I was wrong. At work, over two years, I became friends with Maggie. Our friendship turned into love, and I proposed to her in April of 1988. Many people advised us not to marry, for basically the same reason I was afraid to get involved in a relationship: Why would an able-bodied woman want a life-time commitment with a quad?
Well, we loved each other. We discussed and argued to exhaustion the pros and cons of our relationship and possible future. We discussed my role as a husband. Could I provide for us, or would Maggie have to work? Would nurses still be required to care for my personal needs, or would Maggie assume part or all of my care? Could I protect the family? Would I be a good step-father to Maggie's 4-year-old daughter, Danielle? What would be the quality of our sex life? Could we have our own children, or would we have to adopt? What would living with a quad be like?
We questioned everything. Although this would be the second marriage for both of us, I was particularly cautious: My first marriage had failed partially because of my disability. We were aware of the issues, and felt that our marriage would be difficult in some areas and easier in others. Our greatest letdown came when my doctor told us that there was very little chance of our having children. Men with spinal-cord injuries have only a five percent chance of fathering children naturally. Consequently, my doctor advised us not to marry if we wanted children.
Nonetheless, we were married on Nov. 26, 1988. Ten months later – in Sept.1989 -- Maggie gave birth to our son, James Richard. He weighed 7 pounds, 13 ounces and was 21 inches long. When we are asked how we did it, I tell 'em: "The old fashioned way."
Fast-forward to today, I still work full-time and Maggie did wonders with our children. Both are now in Boston: our daughter and her husband, both attorneys, and our son, is finishing up college at Northeastern University. I still have nurses caring for my personal needs, and Maggie helps out whenever I need it. And we're working on our marriage -- just like any other couple.
I know people may want to commend me for all I've done. But I couldn't do it alone. I have a great support system -- my wife, daughter and son, relatives, friends, colleagues at IBM -- people who haven't given up on me because of my disability. These very same people have also made it difficult for me to fail or give up. They are the ones who should be commended -- the people who have cared. I love them all.
I no longer believe I will walk again. I do believe, however, that science and technology will find a way to reverse the effects of spinal cord injury so that I, and more than 1.2 million people like me in the US, will walk again. Who knows, maybe organizations and businesses like IBM’s great research organization and others along with Mt.Sinai will help find a cure some day. I don’t know, but I am sure a cure can be found.
Some people think I'm overambitious, that my quest for a cure is the hopeless dream of a cripple. But a cure is possible. Frankly, I believe there's nothing wrong with keeping your feet on the ground while reaching for the sky.
I flew home on a business trip this week from Las Vegas, Nevada, to JFK airport in New York, and once again the trip was daunting and frustrating.
Airline travel is tough enough for all of us, however, when you have a disability and are traveling in a wheelchair, it becomes even more challenging. As a backdrop, I've been traveling for more than 35 years as a wheelchair rider and a C5-C6 quadriplegic. I basically travel when I must, especially when there is a business purpose involved.
I was returning from a disability inclusion conference with an organization called Disability:In, formally known as USBLN. My team and I had just been recognized on behalf of our firm, JPMorgan Chase, as one of the best companies to work for if you have a disability and are qualified to compete for employment opportunities.
A perfect landing, but no wheelchair I had already done four transfers to and from from my wheelchair by the time I arrived at JFK airport in New York on Delta flight 371. When membe…
On the evening of Thursday June 21, 2018, 19 talented high school students received their high school diplomas form the Henry Viscardi School in Albertson, New York.
I was honored to be invited as the commencement speaker for this talented class of graduates, who completed a rigorous education curriculum despite their disabilities. The Viscardi Center, a network of non-profit organizations, provides a lifespan of services that educate, employ and empower people with disabilities. Its programs and services include Kindergarten through High School education, school-to-work transition services, vocational training, career counseling and placement and workforce diversification assistance to children, adolescents, and adults with disabilities and businesses. View an overview video about The Viscardi Center.
The school was founded in 1952 by Dr. Henry Viscardi, Jr. who himself wore prosthetic legs, served as disability advisor to eight U.S. Presidents, from Franklin D. Roosevelt to Jimmy Cart…
Stem Cell Treatment Comes to Life(Caution: This particular blog describes a wound on my hip, not an uncommon occurrence for folks paralyzed and without sensation on their bodies. Photos of the wound may be too graphic for some readers).
I knew the prospect of surgery was possible, as Dr. Gibbons asked that I have a consultation with Dr. Helm several months earlier during my traditional treatment for this wound. At the time, Dr. Helm basically told me that in some cases, skin is used from another part of the body, the buttocks for example, and used to close the wound in question.
The drawbacks are obvious, as you now have two wounds that have to heal. In my case, I'd be bed-ridden for the majority of the time because I'm paralyzed. And, it could take months for both wounds to heal, if they do heal. To me, it seemed risky, and debilitating. Frankly it scared me.
With that as background, in October of 2015 during a weekly
checkup, my wound was infected and decaying, accompanie…