At age 11, Nicole K. was a fun-loving avid figure-skater that enjoyed sports and outdoor activities. Until one morning, she woke up completely paralyzed from the waist down. She was later diagnosed by attending doctors with a virus called Transverse Myelitis that causes inflammation of the spine. The inflammation was so severe, that it damaged nerves in her spine causing her to become paralyzed from the waist down. Doctors were positive that Nicole would never walk again much less skate, and urged her parents to begin to prepare Nicole for a life in a wheelchair.
This however, wasn’t a fate young Nicole was willing to accept. After electing to enroll in physical therapy, Nicole spent three long years in painful rehabilitation sessions hoping to regain some feeling and mobility in her legs. With persistence and determination, Nicole was successful in reversing doctor’s projections and graduated slowly from using a walker, to forearm crutches, and finally to walking completely on her own with very limited assistance. Nicole, was no longer paralyzed, or limited to wheelchair use, but she still had some difficulties with fluid movements. Some permanent damaged remained that kept her ice skating hobby permanently at bay. Nicole would find that other areas of her life would also be affected.
Now in her early twenties, embarking on the next chapter of her life, Nicole used her determined nature to focus on pursuing her career goals and establishing her independence. Because of her limited mobility, she was confronted with various accessibility obstacles and issues with prospective employers lacking suitable accommodations for her.
After all the hurdles Nicole has overcome in her life, Nicole never imagined that her pursuit to become independent and find a job would be such a difficult task, but it was. As Nicole explained, “Standing for long periods of time becomes very tiresome.” Therefore finding a job that has a good balance of sitting and standing was essential. She did not think that this requirement would pose as a threat to getting hired by possible employers, but it did.
“I spent almost two years looking for a job that would support both my passion and my disability”, explained Nicole, “but every day was a struggle, and some days I felt that hope was lost.” After unsuccessfully trying to find a job on her own, Nicole was referred to Easter Seals New Jersey by the Division of Vocational Rehabilitation, to help her search for a job that would be the perfect match. That was when Nicole met Easter Seals’ Manager of Supported Employment, Daniela Bardesio, who was assigned to her case.
Daniela met with Nicole every other week where they would search for jobs, prepare for interviews, write cover letters, and work on Nicole’s resume. After a few weeks of searching, Nicole actually landed a job working within the Accounting Department for Easter Seals New Jersey itself.
In addition to working for the accounting department, Nicole has also dedicated herself to working alongside Daniela to help bring employment opportunities to other people with disabilities. She has plans to visit programs throughout the state to share her story in the hopes that she can motivate others with disabilities to not give up on their dreams of getting or maintaining a job.
“Patience is key” says Nicole about overcoming the accessibility limitations in the job market for people with disabilities. “For years I sat around my parents’ house, unhappy, and did nothing but watch TV all day. I am now independent, pay my own bills, drive my own car, and love my job. I can finally say that I have a job that I look forward to going to when I wake up. This all would not have been possible without the help of Daniela and Easter Seals. If Easter Seals can do it for me, they can do it for anyone.”