Work & Education

Disability and employment: how to play the cards you have been dealt

Public speaker and consultation counsellor Spann Cordle speaks to Disability Horizons about his impressive education and career and how he aims to help others with disabilities realise their potential.

Please can you tell Disability Horizons readers a bit about yourself.

I’m 57 years old and was born with cerebral palsy due to being 2 and a half months premature. I graduated from Jacksonville State University with a BA in Political Science, Corrections. Since I graduated I have had a range of jobs. When I first left university I worked in criminal justice and public administration, and after that I became a probation officer in both states of Georgia & Texas. In 2007 I started working with Walmart as a greeter and was then promoted to sales associate. In 2010 I was Disabled Employee of the year in Walmart’s world magazine.

My diverse education and career has allowed me to be a disability advocate, to do public speaking to shows others that you can rise above a disability and achieve greater things.

It can be a challenge looking for work as a disabled person, can you tell us what challenges you have faced?

My challenges in seeking employment have been the same as most people with a disability – you always get the non verbal but very obvious; “your not seriously trying for this are you?”

A disability is a stereotypical type of thing that people react to and have preconceived notions about, before even knowing what the type of disability you have, so just by showing up you are looked at differently. At the time I wad looking for work I was walking with the use of arm crutches, which made my condition look more pronounced. It was tough knowing that from the minute I stepped through the door I would see people’s expressions change. This is a situation you can’t walk away from or you can’t hide. However, in some circumstances that can be a plus – if they see you as determined, educated, and able to perform you may actually get hired.

What did you do to overcome these challenges?

You have to play the cards you’re dealt and trust that your qualifications and skills will stand alone. Play to your strengths. Highlight your education and what you’ve learnt. Be confident and in doing so, by the time the interview is over, make those doing the interview not see the disability.

Can you tell us about your experience of working as a probation officer?

Working as a probation officer was wonderful. Dealing with people on probation is a unique experience, especially as your disability never comes into play. When in court to accept a plea, your dealing strictly with attorneys and the judge who already realise you are fully capable, and once client is placed on probation, they are usually too scared never notice your disability.

The idea of having a set goal, going to school and then being able to achieve what you want is beyond words. Being in a position as an officer of the court in your respected states, working for judges who realise your abilities as well as your shortcomings and expect you to perform is very humbling and gratifying.

How does your service dog Finn assist you at home and work?

Finn is truly awesome, as are all service animals trained to assist persons with a disability, but Finn is special. Before I got him he was given a personality profile, as was I, and these were then used to try and achieve a bond between dog and handler. Our personalities are very closely matched. Finn can turn lights on and off, open and close doors, take clothes out of the washer, put them in the dryer, push buttons on machines, elevators etc. He’s incredible.

Can you tell us how you aim to educate others about disability and employment?

I’m doing it as we speak, through media. I also hope to do public speaking to educate a wider majority of people, to show and tell by example that anything is possible within the constraints of your disability if you truly want it.

How did you get started in public speaking and consultation counselling?

I started speaking locally in my home town and one thing led to another and it has steadily grown from there. Whether speaking to a group of 4,000 or only a few, the objective is the same: to get the word out and show others that determination, perseverance and faith you can rise above a disability and achieve greater things.

What advice would you give disabled people in search of employment?

Be yourself. Update your CV frequently with new skills. Go into an interview confidently (but don’t be cocky!). Rely on your level of knowledge of the job you’ve applied for and let them know you won’t give up.

How would you advise someone to stay motivated while looking for work?

Always realise you were not in control of your particular disability, but you are in control of how you deal with it.  A disability comes to most of us for a reason (I believe), so it is pretty much up to us to push the envelope and do the best with what we have. So many non-disabled people out there won’t work, let’s show them how different we are.

What has been your proudest achievement so far?

By far graduating college, but also being named employee of the year and representing disabled people with the world’s biggest retailer.

If anyone is interested in using your services, how can they get in touch?

They can contact me a number of ways e-mail: Twitter: @spannservicedog, LinkedIn, they can also message me through my website

By Zubee

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