Your self-directed employment assistant

I recently was given the fortune of getting to know David Shaw, a vibrant individual in his late twenties with Spinal Muscular Atrophy Type II. He is currently employed by the Metropolitan Center for Independent Living where he holds the title of Personal Assistant Services (PAS) Administrative Assistant. Essentially he is the person who makes sure that everything goes smoothly between Direct Support Professionals (DSPs) and consumers, among other things. In addition, he has a background in music booking and event planning. David was super fun to get to know--here is our interview. Enjoy!

You certainly have a wide array of interests! Have you found that being involved in contrasting work fields provides a helpful balance for you?

I think so. I initially wanted a career in music business but obviously moved in a different direction. I love music though, so I knew I wanted to stay involved in some capacity, even if it was just a hobby. I think I found a good balance, having a full time job I enjoy while still being able to volunteer my time with the Apple Valley Arts Foundation and help put together two concert series.

Even though they are contrasting fields, my music business experience kind of led me to where I am now. My event planning experience was a big factor in getting my first job with the MN Council on Disability, where I helped plan and promote a celebration of the 25th Anniversary of the ADA. The contacts I made at that job led to me getting my current job at MCIL. I had no idea this was where I’d end up, but I really enjoy what I do and am glad it worked out this way.

As an individual with mobility needs, do you find that you have an advantage working in the field that you do, acting as a direct resource for PCAs?

Definitely. As someone who receives PCA services, I think I was able to pick up the job faster and just have less of a learning curve than someone without that experience. I think my disability gives me added credibility with the people who receive services through us, since they know I can typically relate to their situations. I feel like it’s easier to build a rapport with them, which makes the job easier. I also feel like this position allows me to learn a lot about how PCA agencies are run, which puts me in a better position to advocate for myself.

What is the most rewarding aspect of your job? Is there a standout moment you’d like to recall?

Overall, I think the most rewarding aspect of this job and workplace is that my disability is more of an asset than a liability. Disability is typically looked at as someone that needs to be overcome, so it’s rewarding to be in a situation where my disability actually makes me more qualified. Also, given that MCIL serves people with disabilities, everyone is completely understanding about my situation and the accommodations I need.

Are there any downsides of your job that you feel comfortable detailing?

Nothing major. The biggest thing has just been getting used to working 40 hours per week. This is my first full time job, and it’s been a big adjustment but it’s been working out well. With my disability it can be very physically tiring to work full time but it’s just a matter of figuring out what I can and cannot do, and making the necessary accommodations.
Also, it’s been hard getting used to waking up at 6:00 every day since I’m not a morning person!

Do you have any advice to our Punch-In members on following your passions and acquiring the best profession for you? Any sage words of wisdom?

I guess I’d recommend looking into disability service organizations as a way to gain work experience even if you don’t want to do it for a career. As I mentioned earlier it helps you learn how to better advocate for yourself and provides an opportunity to work in an environment where your disability can be a strength.
Also, volunteering in a field you’re passionate about is a great way to get experience and can lead to great opportunities. Lastly, be open to learning new skills and taking on new responsibilities. Taking that initiative stands out to employers.

Thanks again to David for taking the time to tell me about himself and his career!

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Comment by Joel on April 13, 2018 at 2:59am

I'm glad David was willing to do this interview. I like seeing others with type II SMA having positive work experiences. It gives me encouragement for my own search for employment opportunities. I am currently working with Vocational Rehabilitation to bolster my resume and find long-term employment in an area I enjoy. My biggest concern is with the hours, as I too am not a morning person and also have apprehensions about my ability to work 40 hours a week. It is encouraging to see David succeeding with regards to this same obstacle.

Another thing that I liked about this interview is the fact that David is involved on the administrative side of PAS. Navigating these bureaucratic systems to maintain my eligibility and level of support in these programs is an ongoing struggle for me and my family. I like the idea of someone who understands relying on these supports also being on the administrative side of the program. I can think of many instances when it would have been beneficial to be speaking to someone who had prior knowledge of my own perspective as the consumer. PAS in Minnesota has an asset in David!

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