October is National Disability Employment Awareness Month (NDEAM)! Despite there being many amazing pieces of assistive technology that empower many with disabilities to work, as well as, laws that protect a disabled person from discrimination in the workplace, accessibility and inclusion regarding employment continue to lag. In response to this discrimination, self-employment may be a good option for many in the disability community. This process can be daunting, however, that goes for anyone, not just people who are disabled. So why is self-employment a good option for many in the disability community? It is the same answer as it is for many non-disabled entrepreneurs. You are your own boss! Like most entrepreneurs, Daman Wandke finds self-employment as the best option for him.
Daman, the Founder and CEO of Wandke Consulting, has Cerebral Palsy. He is an entrepreneur, not despite his disability, but with his disability. Some could even argue he is an entrepreneur because of his disability. Daman did not instantly start on the path of entrepreneurship. He built a resume in the workforce but while doing this, he faced many employment biases and encountered many more inaccessible office spaces than most people realize exist.
Back in high school, it was difficult for Daman to find employment because he could not physically do most jobs other high schoolers did, like work at a fast-food chain or in retail. However, Daman accrued many volunteer hours at the YMCA (Y) Day Camp and United Cerebral Palsy, as well as in student leadership and clubs. Even while volunteering, Daman faced discrimination. When Daman ran for ASB President, he and his friends overheard a student say that they believed Daman was qualified to run for ASB President, but they were unsure if Daman could do it because of his disability. And this really is where Daman’s disability advocacy career started.
Another incident of discrimination while volunteering happened after Daman had volunteered for a couple of years at the Y. The Y had told Daman that when he turned 16, that they would hire him as an employee but right after he turned 16, they explained that something had happened and they could no longer hire him.
So, Daman branched out on his own and started building websites for his friend’s parent’s company in high school. Right after high school, he received an internship supported by the DO-IT program at the University of Washington and started to build a large network for leadership opportunities.
Daman was appointed to the National Council on Disabilities Youth Advisory Committee. In his senior year of high school and in college he became involved in the Student Advisory Council of the U.S. Leadership Network, now called Disability:IN. He also received support through Vocational Rehabilitation (VR) to get his undergraduate and MBA degrees.
Daman applied for internships in college which he did not get. But later, he became good friends with an employee of one business. This employee friend was told that Daman was not hired because he could not answer the phone. These biases that Daman faced in job interviews and the workplace are caused because people are not able to look past Daman’s disability and see the person he really is.
Daman shares about three different discriminatory acts he has faced while working. While earning his MBA, Daman coordinated web accessibility remotely for a federal government agency. He would fly from Bellingham, Washington, to Washington D.C. every couple of months to visit the workplace for office meetings with co-workers. When the office hired a new supervisor, she emailed Daman the day he was flying out to D.C. and said that she required him to always have his PCA at the office. Daman explained to her that he only needed help with small tasks like stapling papers or opening doors that are not automatic. Her response was that “stapling your papers is not in our job description.” Even though this accommodation was free to Daman’s employer, it was not considered reasonable by his supervisor.
At a second job, Daman’s employer had to install a long metal ramp down the outside stairwell. But, because Daman could not open doors that were not automatic, Daman had to knock on the window to have someone open the door to allow him access to the building.
In a third job, Daman’s boss would not allow him to speak on client phone calls without someone typing what he said. His boss was worried that people may not understand what Daman was saying. Since this job had a disability-related focus, a reasonable expectation should have been for the organization to focus on teaching others how to interact with people with speech disabilities. Daman is totally fine with people asking him what he just said and realistically, in the real world, there is not always a transcriber available.
Eventually, when Daman tried to work remotely, his remote job became difficult as he was not in the office where he could interact with others. After a while, people forgot he was working remotely on the other side of the country. Daman decided that self-employment would be the best option for him. He had dabbled in self-employment back in high school building websites for his friends’ parents’ so he decided to return to being his own boss. Daman shares, “I realized that self-employment would give me the flexibility I needed to be both successful and have a good quality of life.”
Would you like to hear more about Daman’s story as an entrepreneur with a disability? Contact Kyann flint, our Director of Accessibility at email@example.com.