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.
The surgery eventually would let me hold my head up without a neck brace. The operations stabilized my condition, but I remained paralyzed. I was flown home, and spent the next seven months in the New YorkUniversityMedicalCenter's Rusk Institute of Rehabilitation. There I learned just how much my spinal cord injury would really change my life.
I was paralyzed from my chest to my feet. I had limited use of my arms and wrists, but I could not use my fingers. I had lost sensation below my chest and I had no control over my bowel or bladder functions. I could not walk. I couldn't even roll over in bed.
In rehabilitation, physical and occupational therapists taught me how to care for my paralyzed body. I was taught to look for red marks on my skin that could lead to skin ulcers. I learned to feed myself and how to accept care from others. I learned to use a wheelchair. And, I learned how to drive a specially-equipped van with hand controls.
Eat Like a Pig
I also learned about SCI from patients who also were paralyzed. I had my first "public" lunch with two other patients on the 4th floor wing of Rusk, about two months after being admitted. It was a big event for me. I usually ate alone in my room because eating was extremely difficult. I couldn't hold utensils with my fingers, so the nurses cut my food into bite-sized pieces for me. I then fed myself, usually dropping food all over.
Joe Mendez and Al Crespo were in the room when I got there. My nurse set up my tray and left the three of us alone. Joe was a police officer and became paralyzed from the waist down in a car accident. Al was a laborer who became quadriplegic in a car accident while vacationing in Spain with his wife. Al's injury was similar to mine.
Al already had started eating, and he was holding a tuna sandwich in a lifeless-looking paralyzed hand. He couldn't use his fingers either. "I can't complain," he said, "I'm eating and breathing."
I tried to take the plastic wrap off my sandwich but couldn't. I tried using my teeth, but I kept dropping the sandwich on my wheelchair tray. I was getting frustrated and embarrassed. "Jim, let me help you," Joe said. "I don't know how you guys do it. Being a 'quad' has got to be tough." As Joe rolled his wheelchair toward me and began to remove the plastic wrap, Al took a bite out of his sandwich. Some tuna fell to his tray. Sandwich unwrapped, I tried to pick it up but couldn't without making a mess.
"Al," I said, "what's the best way to pick up and hold a sandwich without the food falling all over the place?" Al held up his sandwich. "Jim," he said, "there's one thing I've learned: Eat it any way you can. Sometimes you have to eat like a pig" -- his eyes watered -- "the food is always going to fall out."
After a struggle, I picked up my sandwich and some of my tuna fell out. But I took a bite anyway. "Not bad, Jim," Joe said. Al grinned.
That was a beginning. Being disabled was not going to be easy or glamourous. All the things I knew as an able-bodied person would have to change. My perception of myself, my eating and sleeping, my surviving -- everything had to change. And it would probably be messy.
My greatest lesson at Rusk came when I left the hospital in August, 1981. Unlike many who leave hospitals healthy, I was leaving as a quadriplegic in a wheelchair. I didn't feel recovered, and I didn't feel good about myself. I even thought about suicide. What would my life be like as a handicapped person? Despite all the care and the help I received at the hospital, I realized I could not accept my disability. I could never be comfortable with it. However, I would have to learn to cope with it.
Part 3 will be posted on May 31, 2011 at noon EST.
This article was written for the Mount Sinai School of Medicine spinal cord injury newsletter. A PDF of the full article will appear on the website in the next few weeks. Part III: Starting Over 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
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By Mary Bailey Autism Advocate; Speaker; Co-founder Chase Yur Dreams Foundation; and Chase 'N Yur Face Media As the subject of disability inclusion in the workforce becomes more prevalent, I wanted to take a closer look at some of the myths surrounding the hiring of people with disabilities, and to seek the insights of someone on the front lines of this movement. As the Head of Disability Inclusion at JPMorgan Chase & Co., and a C5-C6 quadriplegic, Jim Sinocchi’s knowledge and experience with this topic is unparalleled. Sinocchi thinks and speaks in terms that challenge and change how people with disabilities see and present themselves in the workforce; as well as how employers and colleagues perceive, interact with, and assimilate people with disabilities into their corporate cultures. Through an emphasis on professionalism, partnership, equalizing the playing field, enhancing performance, and opportunities for promotions, Sinocchi dispels the myths about hiring people wi