Your self-directed employment assistant
Michelle Maloney is an Equal Employment Opportunity Specialist with the Minneapolis VA Health Care System, specifically an ADA Coordinator. I had the pleasure of chatting with her on the phone last week and discussing her career journey. As an individual who is hard of hearing, Michelle’s unique perspective was so wonderful to learn about. Check out her story!
As an individual who identifies as hard of hearing, can you elaborate on how that affected (if at all) the career path you decided to pursue?
As a person with a disability and someone who always wanted to help people, it seemed to be a natural career choice to help other people with disabilities. My dad was one of my biggest advocates growing up so I learned early on the importance of self-advocacy, being aware of my rights and speaking up when I needed something. Now, I am able to help other people with disabilities by educating them about their rights and helping them access accommodations they are entitled to under the ADA Amendments Act (ADAAA).
In thinking about jobs in high school, I knew that jobs that required a lot of telephone work, working in a noisy work environment (e.g., restaurant) or working with kids would be challenging for me because of my hearing. It is difficult for me to understand telephone conversations because I am not able to lipread when talking on the phone. I now use a captioned telephone which helps out a lot! Background noise in a restaurant or other noisy environment would be difficult for me and I did not want to be a waitress and risk messing up restaurant orders because I did not hear them correctly, etc. Kids are more challenging for me to understand as they often don’t speak very clearly or don’t face you when they talk to you. This eliminated some of my earlier childhood dreams of being a teacher!
You’re currently in a position at the VA where you work directly with clients who are in need of accommodations and extra services. How has your own personal experiences of being someone with a disability been helpful to your perspective when working with your clients?
I can understand the challenges and experiences faced by other individuals with disabilities. I think I can serve as a role model of someone with a disability who has been successful, overriding challenges and barriers both personally and professionally. I have made efforts to not let my disability hold me back by working hard and finding a job that is a good match for me and my abilities.
What has been your biggest accomplishment so far in your career?
I’m a certified ADA Coordinator (ADAC) and viewed as a subject matter expert on the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), reasonable accommodations, and disability inclusion. I have been invited to be a guest speaker for numerous events on such topics.
Alternatively, what has been the biggest struggle you’ve had to endure?
One of the biggest struggles I have had to endure is when I am not able to get equal access despite the ADAAA. It can be challenging being a hard of hearing individual who doesn’t fit in the hearing world or the Deaf world. I can’t hear like a hearing person and I’m not Deaf either. I want to fit in like everyone else and not stand out. I have to remind myself that I am not like everyone else. Sometimes it feels like I am fighting a fight alone, but I keep reminding myself not to give up. If I continue the fight by educating others, I’ll likely help others too.
What piece of advice or wisdom would you like to impart on our readers as they are searching for a career?
There’s a career for everyone, regardless of your abilities. It’s about finding a good career match and having the right supports (e.g., people, accommodations) in place. Also, it’s important to focus on your abilities and what you can do, how can you overcome your limitations or barriers, etc. Don’t give people a reason to think you can’t do something! Show them how you can do something even if it’s done in a different way so they have no reason to be concerned you can’t do the job. Sell your strengths! I’ve learned that if I don’t stand up for myself, there’s no guarantee anyone else will either.
Thanks again to Michelle for sharing her time and words with us!