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Deb HoltzWhen I was a freshman in college at Hamline University, I had the pleasure of meeting Deb Holtz. She was not only my advisor in Disability Services, but my mentor, and my friend. This past week she was gracious enough to let me ask her a few questions that could be shared with our members. Enjoy!

I’ve known you since I was 19, but didn’t realize until this interview just how wide and varied your background and experience was/is! So far, what role of yours have you identified the most with or found the most rewarding?

That's a hard one. I have loved every job I have stayed with. I have been fortunate in my career. I like solving problems - especially large systemic problems which might need state policy or legislative solutions. The most rewarding roles of mine have probably been when I was working on community supports for people with disabilities so that everyone could live in the community and not in institutions, like state hospitals or nursing homes. Sometimes people forget that it was only a few decades ago where society routinely assumed that people with disabilities would live and die in institutions like state hospitals. Many young people with disabilities routinely lived in nursing homes. In fact, there are still states where this happens much too often, including children growing up in nursing homes. Teaching is equally rewarding to me. I absolutely love the rush of being in a classroom, engaging with young adults, and seeing light bulbs go off when ideas are flying.

As a woman with a self-proclaimed disability, what advantage do you feel you have had in your career and the work you do?

I live with chronic pain because of my fibromyalgia. This has definitely taught me to remember that there are so many things we cannot see at first glance. We usually do not know everything that is going on in someone's life. An invisible disability can bring pros and cons. For me, the positive is that it has taught me to be kind and to listen better. The negative is that society at large can make many assumptions about me that might not be true because my physical pain is not evident unless I talk about it.

What is one of your biggest accomplishments or proudest moments?

Again very hard to answer and narrow it down to a few moments. It has to be all the work I've done to ensure that people can leave state hospitals and other institutions. It was a dream to be part of the state and federal system in the 80s when the home and community-based waivers were being developed, so that people with disabilities could live in the community, rather than be institutionalized. It is now a joy decades later to be an end of life doula and be an ally with people to help them navigate home care so that they can live and die at home. Living where you want to live, with dignity, is one of my driving forces in life.

Have you encountered any particular challenges along the way that really stand out to you?

I'm sure I have, but I am at a great point in my life and career right now, and I am probably forgetting some of the earlier challenges. The systemic challenges can be the greatest - ageism, sexism, racism. But I live, and have lived, a very privileged life, so I have not had challenges that many others have had. I was fortunate to grow up with educators for parents, and the assumption that I would go to college and work in a career I chose. I am also the only daughter of a father who raised me with the expectation that I could do anything I set my mind to. I grew up in the 70s when there were many limits imposed on women, but I never took them to heart because of how I was raised.

What advice or words of wisdom would you give to our Punch-In members as they are going through the job search process?

Search out your support systems, mentors, friends, etc. Never give up. Whatever you are going through, someone else is going through it also. I would also love to say follow your heart and your passion, but sometimes that advice has gotten me into trouble with making too many decisions with my heart and forgetting the head part where I have to pay the bills. So maybe follow your heart and listen to your head. But never give up. Never.

So many thanks to Deb for her incredible words! If you'd like to learn more about her, or connect, check out Deb's LinkedIn.


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Comment by Deb Holtz on July 26, 2018 at 12:46pm

So true Erika! And so many archaic devices and practices still in many parts of the world. Thank you for your comments.

Comment by Erika J. Kluge on July 26, 2018 at 12:15pm

Great article. Reading it made me think over all the years and how much has changed, both for better and the worse at times. I remember attending a conference that exhibited the history of assistive technology and looking at how several devices have evolved over time. It really has not been that many years when we look back, yet some looked so archaic. 

Comment by Deb Holtz on July 24, 2018 at 12:49pm

Thanks for your comments Nikki. Glad to hear you share the same advice!

Comment by Nikki Abramson on July 22, 2018 at 9:42pm

Thanks for sharing and what an inspiring message. I have a similar story with you being in chronic pain, having people in my life telling me I can do anything I set my mind to do, privileged, and living with pain. I love your advice of following your heart and never giving up.  This is what I encourage as well. I have found many mentors that have helped me along the way as well. 

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