By Drew Soule, as told to Caroline Briselli
Growing up with a disability, I was constantly inspired by my parents — particularly my father, my biggest advocate — to push the boundaries of what was possible to accomplish my wildest dreams.
My parents helped me with the majority of my activities of daily living, such as helping me get out of bed and dressed in the morning, or preparing my meals, and my twin brother filled in the gaps. I had decided to attend the University of Illinois with a law path in mind, and college life was a steep learning curve, to say the least. As a disabled college freshman living 350 miles away from home, I had to establish a caregiving situation of my own in order to simply survive. In my first semester, I remember hiring people who wouldn’t show up. I’d be stuck in bed and I would have to miss class, or work with the teacher to get the materials for the day, which was demoralizing and demotivating.
I realized I had two choices: put up with it, or manage it — so, I decided to manage it. I began picking up on nuances about who would make a good employee and focusing my interviews around those things, which enabled me to hire and retain a high-performing staff of caregivers, as well as develop lifelong bonds with those I hired.
When it was time to take the LSAT, I thought about what gave me the greatest feeling of fulfillment —managing interpersonal relationships and establishing how a team functions — and how I could apply those things toward a career. I decided to stay at the University of Illinois to earn my Masters of Human Resources rather than pursue law school.
In graduate school, I got an internship offer from a company that, in the interviews, had been very willing to support my accommodations. But, when I explained that I would need a caregiver — someone there to support me if I needed to move to a different office building, or get my lunch set up — they said that wasn’t a reasonable accommodation request.
I wasn’t going to work for a company that was unwilling to invest in making my experience equal to that of my peers, so I started to look for a new role. I felt like I struck gold when I interviewed with Northrop Grumman. The hiring manager shared that the company had its own workplace accommodations team who could handle any accommodations requests before my start date to ensure a smooth onboarding experience.
I thought to myself, “This organization not only wants me for my talent and what I bring to the table, but they’re willing to invest however they can in order to get me onboard?” Ding, ding, ding! Accepting an internship at Northrop Grumman just made sense. That was over three years ago, and today, I’m a Human Resources business partner.
Speaking Up, Opening Doors
I believe I look at challenges differently than folks who don’t have a disability. If I go somewhere inaccessible, I have to get creative on the spot or figure out how to pivot. I think about the root cause of a challenge, then how can we either plow through or navigate around it. While I’ve been dealt less-than-ideal cards in life and some days might be harder than others, I definitely have way more positive, great days than bad days.
Early on, doubting what I could accomplish was one of my biggest barriers. As I got older, though, I saw that the more you’re willing to speak up — to say, “I’m going to figure out how to do this” when somebody says you can’t — the more doors open in life; it’ll completely change your trajectory. Never give up, never settle and always push yourself into uncomfortable territory. You will discover you learn and grow the most in these situations — I know I have.
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