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Moving beyond barriers

Moving beyond barriers

By Justin Caine

There’s a mentality that is found in many successful entrepreneurs and business owners. The will and the want to outwork and out hustle, to do what the others are not willing to do, in order to be as successful as possible. But this mentality is also prevalent in another group. A group I became a part of, long before I even knew what entrepreneurship was. When I was ten years old. When I became a person with a disability.

Disability is the only minority group that ANYONE can become a part of at any time. I’m no different. I was born fully able bodied. It wasn’t until I was ten years old, that a cancerous tumor, that no one knew about, had grown large enough that it stopped excess liquid from draining down my spinal cord. On the first day of fourth grade, while on the way to school, I bent down to tie my shoe and it was the final straw. I had a hemorrhage that nearly killed me. I got rushed to the hospital with a 40% chance of survival. I made it through, but I was left with physical, comprehension, awareness and memory disabilities from it. The surgery had removed, or severely damaged, the piece of my brain that controls motor skills and therefore needed to relearn to walk, talk and even swallow, using other parts of my brain, not built for those functions. I also developed a different view on life. A fun loving, worry free, goofy and a little over the top, view.

Employers never had the benefit of knowing my back story before my resume landed on their desk. They never got the opportunity of that perspective. And therefore, they had to shoot from the hip when seeing or hearing from me and first impressions weren’t kind to me. Or they had screener questions, such as, “Do you have a valid driver’s license.” I didn’t pass drivers training until I was 21 but I did have an ID and knew how to use public transportation. Those questions and those views caused stigmas that usually closed the door on me.

But once in a while, an employer would give me a shot, and when they did, they were rewarded with an employee that would consistently come in early, work late and outwork his non-disabled counter parts. Day after day, week after week. Always smiling, with a goofy, but determined attitude.

Yet, the stigma shined through, even with those employers, and I was kept at the bottom level, while others, that I outperformed, were promoted. So finally, I took my hustle out on my own and I have been successful.

But here’s the thing… my work ethic and hustle is not rare in the disability world. Many people with disabilities have that drive. Unfortunately, the success that I have is rare in the disability community. 70% of people with disabilities are unemployed. There’s a disconnect there.

At this point, I’m hoping you’re seeing the opportunity here. There are 500,000 people with disabilities who are unemployed in the state of Michigan. 33% of those individuals with disabilities who are employed are still under employed. Over 60% of people with disabilities have college degrees or other post-secondary training. So, maybe we actually don’t have a talent shortage in our state. Maybe we have a perspective shortage. Maybe it’s time to see beyond people’s disabilities and look at how these individuals, when provided the tools and resources, can be an untapped asset for your business. Maybe it’s time to move beyond barriers.

Editor's Note: October is National Disability Employment Awareness Month. For additional resources, please click here.

Justin Caine co-owns Good Fruit Video (goodfruitvideo.com), an award-winning video production company in the Lansing area, specializing in making video easy. Their fast, flexible and authentic approach has been effective for thousands of clients throughout from the state of Michigan, across the United States and even overseas. Justin's history and passion for disability advocacy, coupled with his drive for solutions and innovation, led him to create a second business, Beyond Our Barriers for Michigan (bob4mi.com), currently working with organizations representing individuals with disabilities, such as Detroit Public Schools and Wayne RESA, MSU's Resource Center for Persons with Disabilities and others, as well as many businesses dedicated to diversity and inclusion throughout the state.

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